Students occupy the Senate House
As I write, the Student Occupation of the Senate House in Cambridge is entering its sixth day. To be precise they are occupying the University Combination Room -- which is a wise decision, as it is a large room, has a lot of comfy chairs, a controversial lift and wont be much missed by most working senior members of the university, who haven't got a minute to take a coffee break/lunch there anyway.
They are protesting against the now usual combination of "fees and cuts". Am I on their side?
Well, in one way, of course I am. It would be worrying if the students (and sixth formers with some eye on the future) didn't see what government proposals were likely to do to higher education, to the realistic chances of the less well off going to university (the coalition can go on till it's blue in the face about how there is nothing to pay up front, but the likelihood is that £30-40k of debt will put off many of the kids we want to attract), and to strength of Arts and Humanities in particular (which cant possible operate successfully on a supply and demand model).So, yes, they are right to make a fuss.
And anyone who looks at what the students have been doing in the Combination Room can hardly help but be touched: vegan meals, poetry readings, improving lectures, art-house movies and a good deal of essay writing. In those terms, and lets hope this continues, it's a model of student protest. If I was thirty years younger (and didn't have getting on for 20 hours teaching to be done in the rest of this week), I'd be there.
My only worry is what it is actually going to achieve, and who is to be convinced about what. And more generally, what the academic community in general should be doing to get their point across most effectively about this damage that is being done.
The students are trying to convince the university authorities. But, by and large, the authorities are broadly on the same side as the students (even if they have rather different ways of getting there). And the full range of student demands are probably not something any authorities could agree to anyway, not to the letter ("That the university declare it will never privatise" ... never say never). Interestingly the supporting letter from academics (which I have just signed) stops far short of backing the full student manifesto: the letters asks the university to "take note" of the student demands, and the Vice-Chancellor to express opposition to the current government's destructive agenda.
But on the other hand, what are they supposed to do? If they have a peaceful little march through the city centre and go back to their rooms, then the government pats itself on the back for smiling benevolently on the citizens' right to peaceful protest, and takes not a blind bit of notice.
So what is the right answer? I'm not sure. There have been some good things said in television debates about what the reforms will mean for arts and humanities (close to death, being the answer) .. but our spokespeople do tend to look like rather languid Oxbridge types.
And some of us did send a letter to the Telegraph, which you can read here. The Tory party paper of choice, let's hope someone reads it.