This evening student activists from Cambridge Defend Education prevented David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, from delivering a lecture on ‘The Idea of the University’ in the Lady Mitchell Hall lecture theatre.
As Willetts took the stage, activists collectively read an address which was repeated throughout the hall, echoing the worldwide ‘Occupy Movement’. It made clear that he was not welcome and that his mind was made up before the debate began.
After the speech, during which Willetts remained silent, Cambridge Defend Education occupied the stage, prompting the minister to leave. The group then delivered a speech on the catastrophic impact of the White Paper, should it be implemented.
Addressing the issue of free speech, an occupier commented: “Those who think that letting the talk go ahead would have influenced the debate on higher education are misguided. We have marched for a year, been kettled repeatedly and threatened with rubber bullets. Willetts has made up his mind; he is not for turning. That is why we shut him down.”
We understand some people’s concerns about freedom of speech and the value of open debate. But the discussion planned for today about the ‘idea of the university’ was a sham from the beginning. Debate over the future of higher education has been foreclosed by the government, with the voices of students and academics completely ignored.
The organisers of the series of talks of which Willetts was part neglected to invite any student speakers. Willetts came not to invite participation in the making of government policy, but as part of an extended and cynical PR exercise.
“No question, however carefully worded and rationally compelling, would have had the same impact as our action. We apologise to those who were denied this opportunity but Willetts has spoken before and he will speak again. Ahead of the strikes on November 30th, the present moment calls for more innovative and immediate tactics.”