Five students who were suspended by their university for “health and safety” reasons following a protest they organised have had their punishments dramatically overturned.
Sussex University reversed the suspensions last night, after a national outcry in which even supermodel Cara Delevingne spoke out, but promised to continue the disciplinary process against the five, for their part in “organising or leading the repeated serious disruption of campus through occupations”.
Vice-chancellor Michael Farthing said: “I take the view that the immediate need for the suspensions to remain in force has now passed. I am therefore lifting the suspensions and exclusions with immediate effect.
“We will keep the position under review as the disciplinary processes are taken forward over the coming weeks.”
The five students, all undergraduates or postgraduates at Sussex with prominent roles in an ongoing campaign against the outsourcing of vital services at the university’s Falmer campus, were suspended last Wednesday, to a national outcry which reached Parliament.
In his letter to the students announcing their suspension, vice-chancellor Farthing said they had represented “a threat to the safety or well being of students, staff or visitors”, and “a potential hazard to sustaining the university’s policies on health and safety”.
The move was quickly labelled draconian, and hit the national press. John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington promised to table an Early Day Motion.
He said: "It’s outrageous that students exercising their traditional democratic right to protest have been persecuted in this way."
Cara Delevingne yesterday tweeted “Support the 5 Sussex uni students suspended indefintely for taking part in democratic protest!”.
Michael Segalov, 20, one of the five, described the u-turn as “an important achievement” in holding university management “accountable for authoritarian diktats”.
“However we are a long way from victory. The ability of the vice chancellor to unilaterally suspend students has been challenged, but we are still a long way from the democratic public university.
"Our disciplinary processes continue, and privatisation is continuing to descend upon our universities. It is clear that students, staff and faculty coming together will provide a framework to continue to work in fighting the commodification of education.”