On the evening of 5th December it was decided that the occupation of Grand Parade’s gallery would cease. The decision was taken after consulting with students whose work was set to be exhibited over the next few days: disruption to students was something we wished to avoid, and it became clear that due to the nature of the exhibition our presence would unavoidably have caused disruption.
Occupying the gallery of Grand Parade was about visibility and mobilisation, and in this regard the occupation was a great success. It was made clear that students at the university are willing to actively oppose the government’s higher education white paper, and that this resistance to the white paper is part of a broader resistance to our government’s austerity measures. Most significantly the occupation acted as message to our Senior Management Team: Professor Julian Crampton et. al. are in a unique position to oppose a document that will cause untold damage to what we currently understand as higher education. Given that what we currently understand as higher education already has significant issues, we believe that the white paper should be opposed by anyone who doesn’t want to see the fundamental privatisation of our universities; that is, by anyone who has the interests of university staff and students at heart.
Unfortunately, it was difficult to believe that the management of our university had the interests of staff and students at heart. It became clear that their response to the occupation was not to enter into dialogue, but to divide and rule. First, as we have already mentioned, management evacuated Grand Parade of its late night classes when we entered the gallery, citing security – but didn’t feel the need to evacuate an event in the Sallis Benney theatre happening at the same time.
Second, the first news that the occupation received regarding this week’s student exhibition was when we were told today by a member of staff that the exhibiting students had decided to cancel the show. However, when we spoke to the students themselves we were told that they had made no such decision, rather that they were informed by staff that the show would have to be cancelled. It quickly became clear that the exhibiting students were eager to work with us (potentially including our statements as part of their exhibition), however it was collectively decided that an occupation would only stand in the way of a significant part of their degree. We are in discussions with how best to reflect the occupation’s political objectives into their exhibition.
What is clear is that rather than working with its students to ensure the best result for all (encouraging dialogue to occur to negotiate a solution, as eventually happened), the university is willing to sacrifice the interests of students in order to further its own political objectives. A frequent criticism of occupations is that they hinder those in whose interests you are fighting: our experience with regards to the university management is that, by far and away, they act as the greatest hindrance to students’ educational experience.
An unexpected consequence of our occupation of the gallery was the politicisation of its space: the question of whose space it is, how this space functions and whose space it should be was forced to be confronted by us as much as others in Grand Parade. To that end it was a pleasure to finish our occupation with an open meeting addressing these issues, which was well attended by occupiers and other students.
Finally, to the Senior Management Team: you have a choice to publicly reject the higher education white paper, a document roundly condemned across the higher education sector. If you do not – if by your silence you tacitly accept the government’s proposals – we will enter into occupation again. In this instance we are likely to take to the advice of a senior faculty manager from the first night of the occupation: if we wish to make a political point, there are far more symbolically significant targets to be found in Mithras House.
Brighton Students Against Cuts