Today the University of Cambridge suspended a junior member of the university until the end of 2014 for his part in a protest last November against David Willetts, government minister for Universities and Science. In a hearing that lasted six hours, the university Court of Discipline ruled that for his part in the peaceful disruption of Willetts’ speech the student would not be allowed back into the university until October 2014, and would not be allowed to use its premises. He has a right to appeal the decision in the next 28 days.
During the protest, the student read out a poem criticizing Willetts for his role in the implementation of £9000 fees and the Higher Education White Paper. He went on to condemn the minister as “a man who believes in the market and in the power of competition.”
In response, over 60 dons and students wrote a ‘Spartacus’ letter to the University Advocate admitting to their role in the original protest, and demanding that they be charged for the same offence.  In the letter the signatories object to the fact that only one person has been prosecuted for the protest. The signatories denounce the charges as “arbitrary and wrong” pointing out that the protest was “a collective act and that we the undersigned were all involved in it – whether directly or indirectly, actively or in a supportive capacity.”
Gerard Tully, President of CUSU (Cambridge University Student Union) said: “A balanced judgement reflecting the evidence and severity of the charges would not have handed down seven times what the University itself asked for. Should an appeal be lodged, we fully expect the University to apply reason and quash this heavy-handed and unfair sentence. For a University that so rightly prides itself on academic freedom and the justness of its procedures, there is simply no alternative.”  They have also launched a petition which has gained over 2000 signatures in less than two days from staff and students at the university. A petition open to all members of the public has reached over 3000 signatures. 
Rees Arnott-Davies, a student at Corpus Christi College said: “this is out of all proportion. Two and a half years for an entirely legal and peaceful protest is an absolute travesty and makes me ashamed to study at this university. The idea that you can protect freedom of speech by silencing protest is the height of hypocrisy.”
In a bizarre twist to the story, it has emerged that the presiding Judge had previously upheld the right to Freedom of Speech. Judge Colin Colston, QC, ruled that a publican whose customers simulated sex with an inflatable doll was protected from prosecution under European Human Rights legislation.  Judge Colston also previously acted as a character witness for a don accused of sexually assaulting a student.