Thursday, 8 December 2011

Initial statement, more thoughts to follow

Why we're leaving

A group of students have been occupying the management corridor for almost 200 hours. They took possession of this space last Wednesday with the purpose of applying pressure to the Senior Management Team (SMT) to respond to demands outlined in the Principal’s Pledge. This document insists that Principal Paul Layzell publicly condemns the White Paper on Higher Education, halts all plans to cut academic departments and remove threats of redundancy to college staff.

We are vacating the occupation for a few reasons. We do not feel that legal proceedings have been a last resort. Rather, negotiations were undermined by the intimidation caused when SMT sought to take their students to the High Court rather than meaningfully discuss their concerns and demands.

Professor Layzell unilaterally suspended negotiations on Monday with the occupiers, after only two meetings, despite persistent appeals to reopen dialogue. He insists that he has spent “many, many hours” dealing with these students, yet over the course of the week we have been in occupation, he has only deigned to meet directly with us twice for no more than an hour on each occasion. We believe his continued hostility to productive discussion is indicative of the perverse management culture in place at Royal Holloway, where planned reforms are shrouded in secrecy and consultations are reduced to “farcical exchanges” (as described by the UCU) stage-managed by the SMT. Rather than engage in frank discussion with his own students, Professor Layzell has instead belittled our aims and defamed the respectable purpose of the occupation in communications with the student body. He has preferred to take costly legal action against us over the free option of negotiation.

Senior management have botched the consultation and negotiation process despite hiring an extortionately costly restructuring consultant. Senior management seem to mistake stating where they disagree and agree with an injured party as negotiation, and then plough on with their original policies (see the SMT’s initial response to the pledge).
Furthermore, they hide behind the white paper to justify cuts that they were beginning to implement before the tuition fees vote was decided.
They have additionally pressured the Students’ Union and the UCU to withdraw their support for us through alleged harassment and attempts to meet in non recorded meetings.

One of the final actions in the conclusion of the occupation, which is generally indicative of management’s short-sightedness was when it was indicated that the the vital annual college fund, which students rely on, would not be allocated if they were not assigned the room they had asked Occupy RHUL to provide.
These actions amount to nothing less than blackmail, and as such we believe that it is not efficient to remain in this occupation.

What we’ve achieved with occupation

The main purpose of the occupation, to have sensible adult discourse with senior management and to make the case against cuts, was derailed by the SMT refusing to negotiate. However we feel that the occupation has been justified by putting the issues and facts of the abhorrent cuts on the table with the student body and staff.

In addition we have put serious pressure onto the Senior Management Team, and demonstrated to the staff and student body where the SMT’s priorities really lie. As well as pushing for an unjust cuts agenda, they have demonstrated they cannot even do this successfully, blundering and posturing their way through unplanned proposals.

Finally, the occupation has expanded and galvanised the anti-cuts movement at RHUL beyond what we had previously hoped. This will help immensely in the continuing campaign against the unnecessary cuts at Royal Holloway.

What we're doing now and what we want

This occupation has proved many points. First and foremost, it has proved that the anti-cuts movement is more than a group of students sat in a corridor. Over the last 8 days, the movement has garnered messages of support from hundreds of lecturers and students; locally, nationally and internationally, with support from the American Student Association and numerous other universities and groups. This obviously puts management in a difficult position, and as such this has had management pressurise occupiers through despicable tactics of intimidation, refusal to negotiate and even threatening an injunction against all protest on campus.

Closer work between the UCU and the Students’ Union, as well as the Students’ Union’s recent motion of no confidence in David Willets, have convinced us that we have left to do greater things. This will certainly include peaceful, direct action as supported by the Students’ Union’s motion, in addition to taking part in what management have assured us will be a large number of constructive meetings.

Occupy RHUL calls on other organisations to use the break afforded to us by the holiday season to organise and prepare for a renewed campaign in the new year. We will be planning a series of actions starting early on our return to the college, and continuing frequently and often to disrupt the unjustified actions of the Senior Management Team.

Our final demands upon leaving of senior management is that there to be absolutely no victimisation of peaceful protesters, as previously agreed with the SMT and especially not to pass costs on to activists or the Students’ Union.

The occupation’s ending is not the end of our efforts, but is simply the resurgence of a strong ongoing movement by the anti-cuts community as we resume an encroaching campaign against the unnecessary cuts to vulnerable courses led by the Senior Management Team.

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