Thursday, 29 January 2009

Template letter to Cambridge Vice-Chancellor

Dear Professor Alison Richard,

I am writing to express my disgust at the heavy-handed approach of the University of Cambridge authorities in responding to those students who have decided to take action for Palestine through the non-violent, non-disruptive occupation of university premises. As an established academic institution, one would hope that the University of Cambridge would understand this sort of peaceful action within the context of the vibrant history of effective student activism, and that of the general outrage with which public sentiment at the recent atrocities in Gaza has been characterised.

The recent wave of UK student occupations in solidarity with Gaza, of which the Cambridge occupation is one of the latest, has resulted in many universities engaging in productive dialogue with their students to find ways in which they may use their privileged institutional position to provide help to Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation. That its students are sufficiently compassionate and engaged to interrupt their own lives in order to speak out in solidarity with the victims of violence and oppression is something to be celebrated by the University of Cambridge, and their willingness to work together with the university administration to help it achieve practical aid and support for Palestinians something to be exploited. The occupation has been carried out in a manner that has been measured, reasonable, and peaceful. The way that it has been dealt with by the university has been tyrannical, oppressive and dishonouring to the tradition of intellectual and expressive freedom for which the University of Cambridge is esteemed.

We hope that you will reconsider your tactics and think about how best to take advantage of the passion and commitment which the students of the occupation have shown.

Yours Sincerely,

(Sussex student)

Our Response to the Vice Chancellor's Rejection of the Amendments

Dear Phil,

The occupation is saddened to read your latest response. The changes that we proposed for your original statement were meant to be constructive. These changes were written with the intention of clarifying the position of the University and to enable the students of the occupation to leave with confidence that the University is committed to fulfilling our goals. It also saddens us to hear that you are reducing this process back to the very first stage, when it was so close to being completed. If, as you say in your email, these changes are of little significance, then it should not be difficult to include them in the final statement. We have a general meeting planned for 8:00 PM, at which we would hope to be able to announce the end of the Occupation.

Students of the Sussex Occupation

University Response to Our Amendments

Dear Joshua and Christakis

The Vice-Chancellor has asked me to inform you of his deep disappointment at your response in the early hours of this morning. The amendments add very little of substance to an agreement that Professor Wright and I explained to you very carefully yesterday needed to be settled and the occupation ended last night. The additions and your intention to occupy the theatre for a further day are unacceptable.

Accordingly, I am writing to confirm the contents of a message conveyed to you by 'phone earlier this morning by Andy Jupp that, unless I have your agreement to the statement without your additions and the protest and occupation is ended by 9.00am this morning, the University will withdraw its statement, which in effect will take us back to square one.

I do hope this withdrawal will not be necessary. I should be grateful therefore if you would 'phone Andy to confirm you are willing to move forward by agreeing the statement and ending the occupation by 9.00am today.

Dr Philip K Harvey
Registrar & Secretary
University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 9RH

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Draft from VC 26th January


The Occupation Group of students and the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Michael Farthing, are pleased to announce that the occupation of Lecture Theatre A2 in protest at Israeli military action in Gaza and in solidarity with the Palestinian people, ended at …….. on ………., by mutual consent.

Professor Michael Farthing, has said of the crisis in Gaza that he fully understands the concerns felt by many students and by many others around the world about the events of recent weeks. The University concurs with Professor Trainor, President of Universities UK who speaks for the sector as a whole in calling for an end to the conflict in and beyond Gaza. As he has said, many civilian casualties have occurred in educational establishments. We give unqualified support to his statement which says that: “the UK’s universities are resolutely committed to the right of education, enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Higher education, in particular, is a global activity and we value our academic links with universities all over the world. The international nature of higher education means it is force for understanding, tolerance and respect between people.”

Professor Farthing has said the University will stand by internationally agreed conventions on conflict and human rights, in particular the United Nations Agreements on Human Rights ( Accordingly, we condemn attacks on civilians, any obstruction of provision of humanitarian aid and the targeting of public buildings and facilities like universities, hospitals and schools, wherever such attacks take place in the world. The Vice-Chancellor noted the United Nations Secretary General’s call for an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967, and a just, lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours. He further noted the UN Secretary General’s demand that where civilians have been killed and there are allegations of violations of international humanitarian law, there should be thorough investigations, full explanations and, where it is required, accountability.

The Vice-Chancellor also made clear that the University has a duty of care to all students at Sussex and will continue to work even-handedly and without favour to foster and preserve harmonious relations across the international community of students and scholars studying at Sussex.

The group’s concerns and representations were made in its Press Release: Sussex Students for a Free Palestine. Agreement on the following issues raised by the students was reached.

Ethical investment/divestment
The University is not aware of any investment or research directly or indirectly connecting Sussex to companies that are allegedly complicit in human rights abuses in Gaza or anywhere else.

The University will however review its ethical investment policy that aims to ensure the University only engages in making socially responsible investments. It will establish a working party of Strategy and Resources Committee to undertake this review. The working party will include the student representative on SRC. The working party will be pleased to receive any data or evidence that shows that the policy is knowingly or unknowingly being breached. Any such breach identified by the working party will result in divestment and cessation of the activity.

Sanctions against Israeli goods and products sold on campus
The University is not aware of a call for or agreement by the UN for economic sanctions against Israel. The University would wish to work with USSU to ensure that produce sold on campus indicates clearly its source or provenance so that members of the community can make an informed choice prior to purchase. The University notes that its catering and retail strategy already makes clear that it is the University’s practice to source food and other produce from local farmers and suppliers wherever possible.

Scholarships for Palestinian students
The University will undertake to work with USSU to establish an international scholarship scheme that extends opportunities available for students from regions affected by conflict or catastrophe. The University would seek to develop a scheme that has, as a minimum, six scholarships targeted at such regions in the world. The University will hold discussions with the Director of Development and Alumni relations and the President of the Students’ Union about how alumni and other possible sources of scholarship funding might be approached to establish the scheme.

Meanwhile, the University will review its promotion of the international scholarships that it has currently available in order to increase the number of applications from Palestine and other regions suffering conflict or catastrophe.

Support for Palestinian universities
The University will work with USSU and assist in efforts being made by other UK universities to dispose of or re-cycle surplus books, computers and other learning materials for the benefit of deserving institutions in Palestine currently affected by the conflict, meeting any reasonable shipping costs if necessary. We agree to explore the practicalities of getting this underway; particularly in ensuring that such stock is wanted, functional and in the case of IT, can be supported by the host institution.

No reprisals
The University acknowledges the constructive approach adopted during the protest and in particular the students’ commitment not to disrupt teaching, to preserve the quality of the teaching environment , and to respect the views of other members of the community. The University reaffirms that protest that is lawful and not in breach of the University’s Regulations will not result in action being taken against any student or students involved.

The University and USSU will consider the practical steps needed and associated timetable for implementation of the action agreed above.

Second response to VC

Sunday 25th January

To the Vice Chancellor,

Following your letter sent on the 22nd of January, we have responded with the following as a continuation of our negotiations. We are willing to discuss any of these points further and work together to ensure they are carried out both quickly and effectively. We would also like to point out that the occupation to date has remained peaceful and has caused a minimal disruption, as your security will tell you. As a proviso for further negotiation, we ask for a re-confirmation of point six in our demands.

1. We have constructed the following statement that the occupiers would like to be issued by the University.

The University of Sussex stands behind the United Nations Secretary General in his call for an end to the Israeli Occupation that started in 1967, and the demand for investigations and accountability where accusations of war crimes are made.

In light of recent events the University of Sussex wishes to acknowledge the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular drawing attention to the following clauses:

Article 1.

(1) All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education.

In the spirit of this statement, and as part of its responsibility towards academic freedom and the right to education, the University of Sussex, with the assistance of the USSU and alumni support pledges to set up new schemes. These will provide international scholarships for areas that have suffered from conflict, and will assist in the redevelopment of educational facilities where they have been destroyed.

In composing this statement, we have taken your previous comments into account, especially those where you clearly state you would agree to back up the UN’s position and to:

“uphold the principles of internationally agreed human rights such as that of the United Nations and in that context will denounce military attacks on civilians, any obstruction of provision of humanitarian aid and the targeting of public buildings and the facilities like universities, hospitals and schools wherever such attacks take place in the world”.

Although we accept that the University does not wish to “deplore the actions of a particular Government”, in this case the government of Israel has been shamed by the UN as a government that has no regard for these international laws. Continual statements from the UN, including the latest comments issued by the Secretary General, show the Israeli government to be the clear aggressor and responsible for breaking numerous international agreements. This statement does not prejudice a people, and if we are to remain an institution that has reputation internationally and prides the qualities of “tolerance” and “understanding”, then we as a University must speak with the UN against violations of these principles.

We would like you and your colleagues to feedback to us your sentiments and amendments to the statement, if not an alternative.

Any statement that is released by the University, we will insist be made available to all and published widely.

2. We are aware that the institution has an ethical investment policy, however, by use of the Freedom of Information Act, it has come to our knowledge that at the very least two companies that the University have invested in are known weapons manufactures and traders, whose names we have already supplied. It is clear that for whatever reason the current ethical policy is not being implemented effectively. We call upon the University management to adhere to the ethical policy of the University and disinvest at the earliest opportunity. For negotiations in this area to continue, we will need a timeline for when this will be able to be achieved and evidence to be provided once completed.

The fact that these companies were invested in originally suggests that the ethical investment policy has failed and needs to be reviewed. To ensure that this does not happen in the future, we ask that the University management to work with elected USSU officials and interested students to collaborate on ethical investment and work towards an Annual Review. This process must be transparent, open and accessible to all if it is to work.

3. Though we understand your sentiments, we still demand that all known Israeli exports be boycotted immediately in line with your own ethical investment stance. As already mentioned, Israel has shown a blatant disregard for international law and openly profits from the occupation of another nation. Claiming that the University “sources such items ethically” whilst purchasing Israeli goods is hypocrisy and cannot continue.

To enforce this point, we would like to see these goods be applied to the same ethical process as highlighted in Point 2, again in conjunction with USSU and the wider student body. This issue has been taken to USSU already, who have their own ethical and environmental investment policy, and are dealing with the matter separately in due course.

4. In relation to our discussions with USSU, we would like to see the creation of a scholarship program akin to the Mandela Scholarship. We stand by our demands for 6 scholarship places, but being mindful that some courses last more than one year, ask this on the proviso that the target is to fund six scholarships at any one time.

We are willing to discuss how funds could be raised, and hope that the University management will accept the assistance of the USSU to find the necessary amount, including through Alumni and other external groups.

5. We are happy that you have accepted the request for re-allocation of surplus educational supplies. To take this further, we have already identified several charities that will be able to accept the goods and pass them on to places of learning bombed in the recent conflict.

However, rather than work through a third party, we would like to see the University – both management and students – working directly with beneficiary learning institutions, enabling us to foster relations and ensure the goods supplied meet the needs. We would also like to see the University co-operate with other Universities in the UK that run similar schemes, to ensure that resources are distributed in a way that does not accidentally favour some benficiaries over others.

As to the resources themselves, we have already identified the large amount of old, unused computer stock as well as old educational materials and books that would otherwise cost the University to dispose of. Issues such as the cost of software licensing could be resolved through further discussion, with the use of open-source software such as Linux being one solution.

Making our own electronic library resources accessible would be of serious benefit to places of learning affected by catastrophe. We hope that a discussion of this possibility can continue.

We should make it clear that with points 4 and 5, we feel that at present the people of Gaza and the West Bank are the most in need of this assistance, and to them we owe the most responsibility. This opinion is supported by the hundreds of students and staff who have signed our petition so far, expressing support for our demands. However, we hope that in time the schemes set up can continue to make a positive difference in other parts of the world.

We await your response and are willing to negotiate further. In order to confirm this matter resolved we do ask that the University provides in writing a confirmation of its action points and an accompanying timetable for when they will be able to be achieved.

Yours sincerely,
Students of the Occupation.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Wednesday 21st January

Over 80 University of Sussex Students have occupied a major lecture theatre in solidarity with Palestine under siege.

Motivated by the escalating crisis in Gaza, University of Sussex students have issued a set of demands to the University management calling for immediate action. The occupation is a response to recent Israeli military assault on Gaza. We stand in solidarity with the School of Oriental and African Studies, the London School of Economics, King's College London, Birmingham and Essex Universities. The occupied space will be used for education and dialogue until the following demands are met:

We demand:

1. That the University of Sussex issue a statement condemning the recent and continuing atrocities perpetrated by Israel in the Gaza strip. The University should officially denounce the attacks on civilians, the systematic obstruction of humanitarian aid and the targeting of academic institutions, hospitals, places of worship and international peace keeping facilities.

2. That the University of Sussex cease to invest directly or indirectly in companies complicit in human rights abuses in the Gaza strip and internationally. We would like to draw attention to the motion passed on this subject in the USSU AGM this academic year.

3. That no Israeli goods or goods produced by companies that have directly funded the State of Israel be sold on campus. The University of Sussex should remove these goods from all private retail and dining facilities as the Union is endeavoring to accomplish.

4. That the University of Sussex provide complete financial scholarships for three students from Al-Quds Open University in Tubas with which USSU is twined and three students from Gaza University which has been bombed by the Israeli military.

5. That any surplus educational resources available to the University of Sussex are provided to Gaza University and that the shipping of these resources be fully paid for by the University of Sussex.

6. That there be no legal, financial, or academic measures taken against anyone involved in or supporting the occupation. This extends to the Student Union. Students involved will be guaranteed free movement in and out of the occupied space.

This is a non violent and inclusive protest decisions are made on the base of consensus decision making. All University of Sussex students are encouraged to participate in this process. During the occupation we will adhere to the same codes of personal conduct as is expected of us as members of the student community.

Any disruption to our peers' education is expressly against our wishes and we will respect the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the right to disagree.