Universities minister David Willetts quits Sussex University appearance in face of protest threats


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The Independent Online

Universities Minister David Willetts has pulled out of a guest lecture at the University of Sussex where students were planning to protest against his appearance.

The Conservative MP was due to speak at the institution next Wednesday but cancelled yesterday, ostensibly to attend a vote in the Commons.

A Facebook event organised by campaign group Occupy Sussex, called “David Willetts Comes to Sussex” said in its description: “We want democratic universities. We want free education. We don't want David Willetts on our campus.”

An email released by SQ Magazine and sent to Sussex’s education officer Juliette Cale said that the MP for Havant was withdrawing due to a “three-line whip” meaning he will be “expected to be available to vote in the Commons”. 

The message added: “I am sorry that we have to let you down at such short notice.”

Meanwhile, Sussex University has been told by human rights lawyers that refusing students the right to legal representation is “unlawful”. 

The claim from legal officers comes after five students face disciplinary action for their part in a protest last year which originally saw them suspended from the institution.

Following claims of ‘bias’ against former deputy vice-chancellor chair Prof Michael Davies at a hearing in January, the university’s original disciplinary procedure was scrapped and replaced with a new procedure that does not include serious sanctions but also does not give the students the right to legal representation.

ITN solicitors, which represents three students, wrote to the institution to say its proceedings were a “clear abuse of process” and had been established “outside the relevant regulations”. They said: "We maintain that these proceedings are unlawful. This is because the proceedings amount to a clear abuse of process and have in any event been established outside of the relevant Regulations.

A spokesperson for the university told the Huffington Post UK: “Several students continue to be subject to a disciplinary process, since they are alleged to have breached student regulations.

"Students can have support with them (eg a friend or a students' union rep) but that person does not speak on their behalf. It is a long-standing provision of the discipline regulations agreed by the Student Discipline Committee and Senate that the presence of lawyers for this level of disciplinary case is not necessary or appropriate.”