Extremism, Police, Resistance

The news that a Defend Education Birmingham activist is being treated as a domestic terrorist does not, despite its extremity, come as a surprise. The unnamed student was arrested unlawfully in January 2014, held for 30-40 hours in police custody, and suspended from his course. Not content to leave matters there, the West Midlands Police have now turned to harassing his relatives over concerns of ‘domestic extremism’ and ‘young people supporting terrorists’. The letter sent to the activist’s family reeks of Orwellian paternalism, promising that ‘[y]our son is not in any trouble’ and that the Prevent initiative ‘is about supporting individuals [...] not about criminalising them.’ Given that Prevent actively gathers intelligence on the politics, sexual activity, and mental health of innocent people, Cambridge Defend Education may be forgiven for suggesting that education activists are doing just fine without such invasive ‘support’.

This is not an anomaly – we’ve all heard stories like this before. November of last year brought the similarly surprising revelation that Cambridgeshire police had tried to persuade a local activist to inform on political organisations, including ‘student-union type stuff’ and Cambridge Defend Education. Justifying his interest in the names and numbers of students involved in national demonstrations, the officer noted that

it gives the officer or whoever’s looking after it on that side of things, as in at the protest, an idea of how many people are going to attend [...] so they can put measures in place to keep them off the road and things. It’s not because we want to target people and round them all up and arrest them.

We are fortunate that the Cambridgeshire police, much like their West Mercian relatives, are so interested in facilitating political engagement and safeguarding our wellbeing. We can only assume that their continuing attempts to recruit informants are the result of deepening pastoral sensibilities. We wonder what they imagine a world without police spying would look like. Fortunately, Cambridgeshire county’s Police Commissioner is on hand to provide the answer, noting in November 2013 that ‘[y]ou and I know that there is always that sort of [spying] activity taking place. One dreads to think that something could happen in Cambridge like it did in Woolwich. [...] And you know it has to go on.’ Apparently, the watchful eye of the state is all that keeps student activists from slaughtering soldiers in the streets. This is more than the ‘criminalisation of protest’, more than the abuse of ever-increasing surveillance powers. Under the hazy label of ‘extremism’ – of which even the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit accepts there is “no legal definition” – we are becoming targets of the state, enemy combatants in the ‘war on terror’.

The state does not negotiate with terrorists. Instead it disproportionately punishes minor infractions, targets and detains central figures, and arms itself against perceived threats. It does not negotiate with us, and so our demands go unheeded. It enables Metropolitan police chiefs to note that ‘austerity measures are likely to lead to further protest’ without contesting the legitimacy of austerity itself. Part of contesting this neoliberal orthodoxy demands we secure a space for progressive thought and radical dissent in our universities. The state and university administrations increasingly turn to batons, handcuffs, and spies in response. The jackboot of the police everywhere supports the state’s attempt to corrupt this element of higher education and to turn universities into places of conformity; conformity to a programme of marketisation, of fees, cuts and outsourcing, which is changing the character and function of higher education for the worse. Those who resist are treated as terrorists, radicals against whom the most authoritarian and invasive tactics are deemed legitimate. We are all domestic extremists.

These are dangerous methods of suppressing legitimate student dissent; of attacking a student movement which is fighting for free, fair and democratic education. Let’s be realistic – these demands are only ‘extreme’ to the grey monotony of neoliberal practice. This fresh act of police intimidation is a further threat to the progressive environment which must be fostered at university. As long as our protests are met with arrests and our demands with batons, the police are not welcome in conversation nor on our campuses. They can take their ‘extremism’ with them.

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An open letter to Leszek Borysiewicz and the university administration

In recent decades we have seen a series of unprecedented moves towards the marketisation of education in England. Undergraduate fees have been introduced, increased, and tripled – despite mass student protests. Student debt is being sold off to private interests. The Education Maintenance Allowance, designed to support low-income students, has been scrapped. Funding for research councils has been cut drastically, leaving many postgraduate students without the financial support necessary to study. University administrations across the country increasingly exploit low-paid, outsourced, or zero-hour contract labour. We believe that these events are underwritten by a concerted, cynical strategy of privatisation that seeks to turn lecturers into service providers, students into consumers, and universities into businesses. The drive to maximise profit ensures that the most marginalised elements of society are pushed further into the periphery, economic and social advantage are increased unfairly, and that the elite remains unaltered and homogenised. The university should be defended, not sold.

Throughout the country, students are organising this defence. The response from university administrations and the police has been chilling: disciplinary proceedings and suspensions, injunctions against protest, police spying, draconian bail conditions, illegal arrests and beatings at the hands of police. The Vice-Chancellor and representatives of the University of Cambridge administration have yet to comment on any of these concerns. Their silence, whilst students are threatened, beaten and arrested for defending education, is deeply troubling. We ask that they stand with us, concerned students and lecturers, to work toward remedying the following:

–   The continuing collusion of university administration with the police, including the refusal to condemn police spying on student activist groups.
–   The tacit support of the administration for the series of undergraduate fee hikes, the student loan sell-off and the increase of the new, consolidated Graduate Fee.
–   The dismissal of the legitimate grievances of striking Higher Education workers.
–   The continuing use of zero-hour contracts, outsourced labour, and low pay within the university as a whole.
–   The university’s position on the commercialisation of higher education, from which we believe these issues stem.



Amelia Horgan; Amy Gilligan; Adrian; Richard Braude; Matt Phillips; Daisy Hughes; Decca Muldowney; Lucy McMahon; Alex Wolfers; Jia Hui Lee, CUSU Education Officer; Colette Howarth; Owen Holland; Megan Barford; Orla Polten; Johannes Wolf; Louise Banable; Isolde Penwarden; Naomi; Miranda Slade; Laurence Rowley-Abel; Joseph Persad; Alyson Cruise; Lolita White; Joseph la Hausse de Lalouviere; JG; Clive Peace; Harry Wright; Martha Perotto-Wills; Richard Bethlehem; E Turner; Sam Brain; Lucy Barnes; Marianne Brooker; Rachel Bower; Jesse Haughton-Shaw; Fred Cotterill;Anija Dokter; Emma Bourne; Gideon Farrell; Bram van der Velden; Rosie Jewell; T Kearey; Oscar Addis; Paul Raekstad; Ben M. Fulton; Philipp Klaus; Joe Jarrett; Ingvild Wathne Johnsen; Hannah D; Alex Moran; Olivia Bowman; Francesca Ebel;Gregor Donaldson; Hannah Davis; Oliver Finn; Jack Belloli; Luke Freeman-Mills; Hannah Graham; Christopher Clarke; Aubrey Richard Wanliss-Orlebar; Ben Platt; Caitlin Doherty; Gabriel Polley; Louis Willis; Jessica O’Driscoll-Breen; Jessica Denniff; Nienke Boomsma; Kyung Oh; C. P. Landin;  Leonardo Kellaway;  Joe Duffy;  Bethan Kitchen; Isobel Urquhart; Tom Arnold-Forster; Alex Nelson; Freya Curtis; Rebekah Kearey; Rosie Morgan; Maciej Godek; Rebecca Moore; Ian Kearey; Jasmine Hackett; Katie Stone; Justin Katko; E Robson; Richard Parker; Hugo Herman-Wilson; Ludivine Clément; Lucy Beynon; Lawrence Dunn; Oliver Titheridge-Stone; David Grundy; Hilary Hughes; Michael Tencer; Kate Lewis Hood; Joe Young; Natasha Collett; Tom Hallgarten; Rosie Nicolson; Nina de Paula Hanika; Qasim Z Alli; Robin Jones;  Ian Heames; Laetitia Ward; Rosie Skan; T. Lawson; Gabriella Prescott; Victoria Aubrey; Sara Stillwell; Lara Ferris; Daniel Macmillen; Martha Elwell; Sarah-Jane Ewart; Hester van Hensbergen; Rowanne Willett; Barney McCay; Sophia Peacock; Marjam Idriss; Dr. Andrea Brady; Gabriel Fleming; Abi Parr; Harry Hurd; Beau Marshall; C. Hinchliff; Rosanna O’Keeffe; Amy Reddington; Y Gereshon; Louis Goddard; Chris Hitchcock; Conor Mulheir; Tom Foxall; Tom Haniff; Joanna Dennis; Alice Housset; Sophia Flohr; Helena Kernan; Edmund Bolger; Pierrot; Wendy Rattray; Lucy Wilson; Vivien Chong; Dominic Hinkins; Michael Heaton; Mark S. Mendoza; Eloise Oakley; Susie Cronin; Andrew P. Diver; Sandra Kri; Irini Koulovasilopoulos; Max Crean; Marilyn Phillips; Dr. Laura McMahon; Silke Wildendahl; Oscar Farley; Joscha Thiele; Lili Thomas; Madeleine Pepe; Kate Edwards; Joe Simpson; Clare Hymer; Alexandra Barker; Conor McMahon; E. Thornton; Remi Oriogun-Williams; James Tytler; Prof. Brad Epps; Ryan Frost; Dr. Lori Allen; Gloria Dawson; Lauren Steele; Dr. Robert George; Sarah Garland; David Mears; Sarra Facey; March Gutt;Danny Tompkins; Fuad Musallam; Martin Levine; Marijne Mak; Toby Crisford; Eleanor Metcalf; Kelcy Davenport; Michal Koczwara; Chris Page; Felix Wilks; Joseph Dante Simpson; Prof. Clément Mahout; Liam A. Livesley; Rsoa Uddoh; Maximilian Fries; Luke Ilott; Elisif Wasmuth; Seva Kachanov; Rebecca Schofield; James Stafford; Ashraf Ahmed


[ Originally published on Varsity Online, 12/05/14: http://www.varsity.co.uk/comment/7183 ]

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Cambridge Defend Education presents: Striking 101

All the information you need for // TOMORROW (6 FEB), ALL-DAY STRIKE // in CDE’s Striking 101. Please share widely!

Also, check out this great blog post on Dons Speak Out, ‘Industrial Action: A Student Guide‘, where our lecturers respond to the the top five comments from students crossing picket lines at the last day-long strike.






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130 Cambridge academics raise concerns about police spying

A letter has been sent to Vice-Chancellor of the University, urging him to clarify the University’s position after it was revealed that Cambridgeshire constabulary had approached an undergraduate to become an informer on the political activities of students. The letter has been signed by 130 senior members of the University, and can be read below:

November 18, 2013

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

We are writing to you with regard to the story published on the Guardian’s website on November 14, 2013 entitled “Police tried to spy on Cambridge students, footage shows.” (The link is available at http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/14/police-cambridge-university-secret-footage [1]). Based on secret filming, the story indicates that Cambridgeshire Constabulary has engaged in covert surveillance of what one of its members terms “student-union type stuff.” Cambridge Defend Education, environmental groups and UK Uncut appear to have been among the groups targeted for highly invasive practices.

We know that as the head of an institution which is committed to protecting a diversity of legitimate and peaceful student activities, including political and social campaigning, you will share our grave concern at the level of intrusion that appears to be intended in such covert monitoring of legitimate activities. We cannot help but feel that the very threat of such unjustifiable surveillance will have a chilling effect on students involved in or hoping to join campaigning organisations. As teachers and researchers at this university committed to the highest standards of academic and personal freedom, we ask that you issue an official statement condemning such covert practices, which infringe the traditional boundaries of University self-governance, and call for an official explanation and apology from both the Home Office and from Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

We hope that you will make it clear that the University is in no way involved in supporting such practices.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Anne Alexander
Dr Anna Alexandrova
Dr Salim Al-Gilani
Dr Lori Allen
Dr Mete Atature
Dr Hugues Azerad
Dr Debby Banham
Professor Basim Musallam
Mr Bruce Beckles
Dr Andrew Bell
Dr Duncan Bell
Dr Patricia Pires Boulhosa
Dr Adrian Boutel
Dr Deborah Bowman
Dr Siobhan Braybrook
Dr Brendan Burchell
Professor Bill Burgwinkle
Dr Catherine Burke
Dr Christopher Burlinson
Dr Sarah Cain
Dr Adam Caulton
Dr Jean Chothia
Dr Mike Clark
Dr David Clifford
Dr Philip Connell
Professor Helen Cooper
Mr Tim Cribb
Dr Jon Crowcroft
Dr PJ Cunningham
Dr Mark Darlow
Dr Susan Daruvala
Dr Christine Doddington
Professor Brad Epps
Dr Katrina Forrester
Professor Alison Finch
Dr Lorna Finlayson
Dr Christophe Gagne
Dr Sinead Garrigan-Mattar
Professor Vic Gatrell
Professor Raymond Geuss
Dr Martin Golding
Mr David Goode
Professor Raymond Goldstein
Dr Caroline Gonda
Dr Priyamvada Gopal
Professor Robert Gordon
Professor Nicholas Hammond
Dr Fride Haugen
Mr Ronald Haynes
Dr Anita Herle
Dr Adam Higazi
Dr David Hillman
Dr Edward Holberton
Dr Alex Houen
Dr Sarah Houghton-Walker
Dr Sarah Howe
Dr Jana Howlett
Dr Michael Hrebeniak
Dr MEJ Hughes
Dr Joel Isaac
Professor Mary Jacobus
Dr Hubertus Jahn
Dr Ian James
Professor Simon Jarvis
Dr Charles Jones
Dr Ewan James Jones
Professor Martin Jones
Dr Alexandre Kabla
Mrs Anny King
Professor John Kinsella
Professor Peter Kornicki
Dr Mary Laven
Dr Sian Lazar
Professor Angela Leighton
Dr Elisabeth Leedham-Green
Dr Malachi Macintosh
Professor Maria Manuel Lisboa
Dr Raphael Lyne
Dr Maryon McDonald
Dr Robert Macfarlane
Dr Jane McLarty
Dr Laura McMahon
Dr Leo Mellor
Dr Roderick Mengham
Dr Renaud Morieux
Prof Clément Mouhot
Dr Drew Milne
Dr Subha Mukherji
Professor Basim Musallam
Dr Eva Nanopoulos
Dr Mary Newbould
Dr Sebastian Nye
Dr Rory O’Bryen
Dr Roger O’Keefe
Dr George Oppitz-Trotman
Dr Fred Parker
Dr Ian Patterson
Dr Adriana Pesci
Dr Brechtje Post
Dr Robert Priest
Dr James Purdon
Dr Judy Quinn
Dr Surabhi Ranganathan
Dr Lucy Razzall
Dr Nicky Reeves
Dr John Regan
Dr James Riley
Dr John Robb
Professor Ulinka Rublack
Professor Simon Schaffer
Dr Jason Scott-Warren
Dr Sharath Srinivasan
Dr Zoe Svendsen
Dr Trudi Tate
Dr Deborah Thom
Professor David Trotter
Dr Eva Urban
Ms Isobel Urquhart
Dr Vincenzo Vergiani
Dr James Wade
Dr Christopher Warnes
Dr Ruth Watson
Mr Steve Watts
Dr Teresa Webber
Dr Flora Willson
Dr Ross Wilson
Dr Hope Wolf
Dr Oliver Wort
Dr Nicky Zeeman
Dr Andrew Zurcher

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Cambridge Defend Education statement on police surveillance revelations.

Cambridge Defend Education is not surprised to find itself the subject of police surveillance. As we have seen, the police will go to any lengths to gain ‘intelligence’ on activist groups, including deceiving women into long-term intimate relationships. It is telling that the police regard their activities as completely legitimate and legal, reflecting their crucial role in enforcing austerity policies through both violent and covert repression of those who oppose them.

This constitutes part of a wider attempt by the police, university management and the government to criminalise and suppress dissent within universities across the country. This can be seen in the police violence experienced by students in 2010 and beyond, the increasing use of injunctions by universities against their students, the arrest of ULU president Michael Chessum today, and now in these revelations about surveillance.

As staff salaries are cut and tuition fees rise, Cambridge Defend Education stand against the marketisation of education, against the brutal austerity measures of the Coalition government, and against the surveillance and criminalisation of activist groups who oppose them. We refuse to be intimidated by these coercive and underhand tactics, and will continue to resist – in our universities and on the streets.

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American-backed private Universities plan dropped

It is not often that CDE links to the Telegraph:

“A Higher Education Bill, which was to be introduced in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, has now been delayed indefinitely and is unlikely to be published before 2015.”

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Selma James speaking at Occupy Cambridge University (27 November)

Legendary feminist and Marxist Selma James speaking at Occupied Lady Mitchell Hall in Cambridge University on 27th November.

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Occupation Ended 30-11-12

The occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall ended today with students joining UCU picket lines and marching with thousands of strikers through Cambridge. Students collectively decided to end the occupation on its eighth day with a general assembly, attended by local trade unionists, students, and community members. In its eight days in occupation, Lady Mitchell Hall has served as a hub for student organising against the White Paper and in support of the public sector strike. Over five hundred students have participated in the occupation since last Tuesday. Events included a rare poetry reading by J.H. Prynne, talks by Selma James and Raymond Geuss (on free speech), workshops on Higher Education reform, film screenings and musical performances. Last night Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) passed a motion in support of the aims of the occupation and vowing to engage with its activities in support of the strike and against the White Paper. At the time of departure fifty-five academics at the University of Cambridge signed a statement in support of the occupation. Throughout the period of occupation, students were inundated with messages of support both nationally and internationally, from student organisations, trade unions, and local groups fighting the cuts.

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Support the strikes!

On Wednesday 30th November, more than 3 million public sector workers will be striking to defend their pensions. Teachers, for example, will be expected to pay between 50% and 64% more into their pension fund in order to receive less the same amount over a shorter period of time, with the retirement age being raised.

The occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall by Cambridge Defend Education has been called in solidarity with striking workers.

This is an emergency

The government’s cuts pose a fundamental threat to our public sector. These changes will disproportionately affect women and the most vulnerable in society. The Unison union, for example, has calculated that a nurse who has worked for 27 years would be forced to pay £597 extra each year into her or his pension scheme, but receive £1,275 a year less when s/he finally retires. All people’s best-laid plans will go awry overnight.

We urge all public sector employees to support strike action. We encourage non-unionised workers to join a union – on the picket line, if needs be! – and for employees of Cambridge University who are not directly involved in the industrial dispute to stand in solidarity with the pickets on Wednesday. Whether you work in the public sector or the private sector, this concerns everyone.

There will be pickets at the Sidgwick, Downing and New Museums sites. We will be providing hot drinks and food to striking academics and university staff all morning on the Sidgwick site, and visiting pickets all round the university to show our solidarity.

CUSU voted to support mass walkouts by students, and we encourage all students not to cross the picket lines, nor to attend lectures, and to come to the CUSU rally outside Great St. Mary’s Church at 11.30, and march to Parkers Piece for noon, where thousands of striking trade unionists will be rallying.

To find out more about actions taking place in your area, click here.

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Another open letter regarding disruption of Willetts’ speech

Dear Simon Goldhill,

I have read your books. I have learned a lot from them, and I admire you.
You are an educated man.

When David Willetts came to Cambridge to speak on a CRASSH platform last
week, he came not to listen, but to give the appearance of listening.
David Willets is a politician, not an academic. He has shown contempt for
the free exchange of ideas by developing and pushing through a higher
educational policy that subordinates free speech to market forces. But you
defend his own right to free speech, and you are an educated man.

The CRASSH series on the idea of the university has recruited from among
the professorial clique a predictable range of voices: men and women fully
franchised, who face in the government’s attack on our universities
nothing more than an insult to their ideals. They face no decades of debt.
They face no diminishing prospects. They face neither threat of redundancy
nor unemployment. Indeed, they embrace the opportunity to sally fully
plated into the lists of ideological opposition: economic security and the
moral highground all at once. But you defend the CRASSH series as a free
and frank exchange of a range of viewpoints, and you are an educated man.

I have heard it said that the CDE action last week denied many
participants in the afternoon’s lecture the chance to make their own
voices heard. This was an unfortunate cost of the action, but it’s worth
asking who would have heard these voices. The professors at CRASSH? Our
university administration? David Willetts? It’s true that challenging
questions might have been asked by thoughtful, concerned members of our
community. These people are my friends and colleagues, my students. I care
about their right to be heard, as if it were my own. Who would have heard
them? None but themselves. Speaking in a sound-proofed closet, to an
audience of sock-puppets, is no kind of free speech. But you defend it,
and you are an educated man.

You have called CDE’s action against Willetts a self-defeating action, a
shagging for chastity. You have said that CDE has mistakenly attacked the
core values of the university. Perhaps you have undermined them, by
inviting a politician to whitewash his ideologically driven rape of the
university sector, in a speech that would rhetorically redescribe it as
consensual sex. I am grateful to CDE for refusing a podium to this
apologist for the market prostitution of academic research. Last week,
your colleague and fellow classicist at Royal Holloway, Edith Hall,
resigned from her chair, citing ‘the intense stresses of a professional
environment in which the senior management do not in [her] view uphold the
values definitive of a university’. Whose side are you really on? But you
claim to defend the university, and you are an educated man.

The CDE protest text was a shambles. Their instruments were blunt. The
group’s members are of many minds. But these are principled, desperate
young people facing a university that will not hear them, a society in
freefall, a market currently captained by pirates, and an environment
steadily succumbing to degradation, spoliation, and greed. I can forgive
these students a lot. But I find I do not need to forgive them. I do not
need to forgive them for their honesty, their integrity, their unabashed
if clumsy righteousness. They are simply Cambridge, defending the
opportunity to pursue free enquiry, defending the opportunity to think and
to learn, defending education. And you are an educated man.


Andrew Zurcher
Queens’ College
Cambridge CB3 9ET
United Kingdom
+44 1223 335 572

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