The University of Cambridge doesn’t seem to be very good at PR.
These last two weeks, we’ve seen the rather lenient slapping of the wrists of a paedophile Don, whilst at the same time seen a student sent down for two and a half years for taking part in a protest. It doesn’t sound quite right – and surely this is just another own goal in the list of own goals that our wonderful institution seems to score. And to single out a student seems bizarre at best – unless there is information that we haven’t yet been told.
Now don’t get me wrong – the protest was ludicrous, erring on dangerous. I fundamentally oppose any attempt to shut down an event when the sole reason for doing so is because someone with a differing view to one’s own is speaking. David Willetts, the universities Minister, has undoubtedly upset a good number of students and Fellows alike in his higher education ‘plans’ (education plans, we must admit, which were a natural conclusion to Higher Ambitions, the Mandelson-sponsored Labour predecessor). So, like any thinking person at the time, I was fairly appalled by the crass way that our so-called saviours, some of whom hailed from, Cambridge ‘Defend’ Education, attempted to destroy the idea of debate.
But the whole argument got a bit more convoluted yesterday when a petition against the suspension, partly fronted by CUSU, had as a major statement that ‘opposition to the government's higher education policies is a stated aim of a broad range of organisations’. In what way is this relevant to the petition? Rather, it gives implicit support to the protest, as a method of ‘opposition’. I do not support the government plans. I do not, however, see the protest as anything other than idiotic, misjudged, childish and useless. Therefore, I do not see this rustication as having anything to do with ideology – and nor, seemingly, does the university court, given their ruling on grounds of freedom of speech. Once again the extreme left, who doubtless had some shaping over the statement, have attempted to justify their actions by lumping an ideological viewpoint with the petition – and it will put people off signing it.
They didn’t help themselves, either, by C’D’E’s release of a tweet stating ‘this means war’. What on earth does that mean? Why are the extremists so imprudent that they can’t realise the best way to win an argument is to stick to the parameters in which that argument is framed. Students who protest do so in a country where it’s legal – and where we should defend that legal right. They also go to a university which prides itself on freedom of speech – something these fanatics prevented that day. How they manage to do their degrees at the same time, I have no idea – some of us have to work for ours. And for some in the protest movement, two and a half years away from studying won’t be much of a change, I might uncharitably suggest.
But taking it all together, and rising above the nonsense spouted by the self-confessed radicals, I still support, and have signed the petition against the sentence, on the sole grounds that it is disproportionate and will not help in the university’s furtherance of freedom of speech. The university should have every right to punish people who obstruct lectures, occupy their property and prevent freedom of speech – but should be proportionate about it.