Yesterday saw a new low in the movement against the University’s governance, with a ‘peaceful’ protest that quickly spiralled into intimidating mob-like antics and shouting profanities.
What started as a small gathering outside Lime Tree of a few passionate activists quickly gained traction as they ploughed through the middle of campus, making as much noise as possible whilst simultaneously not really saying anything. After the library became the centre for biscuits to be flung about, as fellow students tried to work undistracted, the crowd grew as more and more people jumped on the bandwagon. As one member of the protest said, when asked about his reasons for attending: “I don’t know to be honest. Just saw everyone coming here, thought we’d join in.”
The protest leaders had obviously taken note of famous activists such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., as they yelled through megaphones: “We are sick of (the university’s) reputation being tainted by Glynis, AND HER FUCKING PAY.”
The march took itself to 4W, where a meeting of the University Council was under way on the third floor. Outside, protesters threw more biscuits at the outer windows of their meeting room. As I wandered along the path underneath the window, looking at the mess of broken biscuits, a security guard approached me: “they could have fed the homeless, instead they’re doing this.”
As well as being home to the office of the Vice Chancellor, 4W is also the main building of the mathematics department. One maths student told us that he found himself unable to get to a meeting with his personal tutor, due to the protest having effectively “barricaded” the building. It’s interesting how a protest that claims to be for the good of the student population has no qualms about repeatedly disrupting the studies and general lives of people on campus.
The protesters eventually set up camp on the second floor of 4W, where security had cut off their access to the third floor where the upper management meeting was taking place: “We’re planning on staying here until they leave, and shouting at them.”
A loudspeaker had been sourced that broke up the chants of “shame on you, shame on you” with charming songs such as Earth Wind & Fire’s ‘September’, and Lily Allen’s ‘Fuck You (Very Much)’. I’ve personally found yelling “fuck you” at people is a very effective method of getting your way, so fair play to them on that one. An impromtu dance-off was also present, as disheveled men attempted to play bongos and booped their kazoos. The protest was really at its peak.
It is worth noting that while various staff members came to watch, they seemed to understand the importance of protesting maturely. They were much more keen to talk about the issues, as opposed to many of the students who thought that shouting profanities, setting off flares, and hurling biscuits were more effective techniques.
There were also sections of the protest who seemed to be there for separate reasons other than the main focus; some were denouncing capitalism as a general concept, some chanted anti-Tory slogans, others were there to protest against the current price of housing in Bath, and many were just there to watch the madness.
CampusTV managed to have a quick chat with Zeid Truscott, who was one of the main organisers from the group organizing the protest – Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts. He was asked about the recent HEFCE investigation report on these issues, the results of which the University has accepted and have said they will implement.
CampusTV: “Are you familiar with the higher education report that came out two weeks ago, and the recommendations that were made as to how the uni should be changed in the future?”
Zeid Truscott: “Erm, I’ve read bits of it, but I haven’t read it in that much detail.”
CTV:”So you don’t actually know what the report says?”
ZT:”No… I have talked to members of staff and students about it.”
One would think that someone who had the gall to participate in, let alone front, a protest of this nature would at least try to educate themselves first, but sadly not; unfortunately, this was a recurring theme throughout the afternoon.
Much of the fury surrounding the VC is built on a lack of understanding of many of the issues involved in the University’s leadership. The humble biscuit has been a figurehead of the anti-Glynis movement, and came from the report that £2 was claimed on expenses for digestives by the VC. Many of the students questioned about this appear to think the VC popped down to Fresh to get herself a packet of biscuits to munch on, then figured she’d put it on her expenses just because she could – they seem to be unable to comprehend the idea that perhaps these biscuits were bought as part of the VC’s job, which involves entertaining potential contributors and financiers to bring in greater value and talent to the university.
“No, I’m not sure what a vice chancellor does”. – UoB student during the protest
One of the frequently touted opinions at the protest was that Dame Glynis and the upper management should leave immediately, and the fact that Glynis is staying on is outrageous. It isn’t clear how the protesters expect the University to keep running if its leadership is completely removed, or how they plan to replace the upper management with equally talented and connected people immediately.
Under U.K. employment law, it is illegal to fire someone with no fireable offence without providing a financial redundancy settlement. Dame Glynis, despite being paid what is arguably an excessive amount, has not committed any such offence. This means if she were to be fired anyway, she would be legally entitled to a financial settlement, so the idea that “she should leave with nothing” shows the ignorance of those who are saying it.
It’s a real shame that people seem to be ok with demonising a 65-year-old woman who has been our Vice Chancellor for the past 16 years, during which the University has risen up the league tables to within the top ten UK universities (not to mention that Bath Uni has placed #1 in rankings for student satisfaction twice in the past 5 years). It is pretty much undisputed that her pay is excessive, I make no bones about that, but the way she has been treated is disgusting. It is clear to me, particularly in her prior interviews, that she genuinely cares about the university and its success, and the incessant desire to hound her out has been revolting, especially since much of the blame seems to lie with the whole of upper management rather than her specifically.
My overarching opinion on this was summed up very well on Twitter.
Emily Rempel, a PhD researcher in Bath, tweeted: “Very disappointed by the @UniofBath students today who threw biscuits at the VCs window. What a childish attempt at civil disobedience! Maybe try using your words next time!”
Interestingly, it seems that the support for the protest (and the campaign generally) has been blown up to seem much larger than it actually was – while the SU’s referendum implied that 86% of the student population had no confidence in the University governance in relation to the remuneration committee, this is actually untrue; there was only a 15% turnout for the referendum, meaning that actually only 13.5% of the student population voted that they had no confidence. This means that 86.5% were impartial, or don’t care. It seems this is the voice of the few and does not accurately describe the true view of the whole student population.
The pathetic and immature way in which this protest was carried out has damaged the campaign, the reputation of the University, and the image of the student population. Yelling abuse and throwing things is not how adults at one of the best universities in the country should behave, no matter how angry we are about issues. This is not intelligent. This is not how we get change.
If you would like to share your thoughts on yesterday’s protest please email firstname.lastname@example.org.