Alice Jones: What is Cambridge thinking of? This is the act of a thug, not a university

 

Share

Rustication. That's a word you don't read very often. It is Oxbridge's characteristically archaic way of saying temporary expulsion. Except in the case of one PhD student at Cambridge University, rusticated this week for seven terms, or two and a half years, it probably does not feel very temporary. For Owen Holland, banned from the book stacks until October 2014, the sentence lasts almost as long as his original degree.

The crime which brought down this draconian punishment? He read a poem out loud. Being Cambridge, he called it an "epistle", but no matter. What matters, at least in the eyes of the university's Court of Discipline, is that he read his poem at an event featuring the higher education minister David Willetts, right. He was one of 60 students and academics involved in the anti-fees protest. "You are not a welcome guest because you come with a knife beneath your cloak", they chanted. "We are not consumers; we are students."

Eventually Willetts gave up – heaven knows how the poor lamb copes with the spittle-flecked hecklers in the House of Commons – and went home without delivering his speech. There was no threat to his safety, no criminal damage done. The protesters used verse, not vandalism to make their point. You might argue, as the Court of Discipline did, that freedom of speech goes both ways and Willetts should have been allowed to say his piece.

Perhaps the protesters were guilty of youthful over-exuberance but for that a rap on the wrist would have sufficed. Singling Holland out and increasing by a biblical sevenfold the punishment suggested by the university advocate – one term's suspension – smacks of thuggishness. To make an example of one poetic voice of dissent in order to stamp out future outbursts is the act of a Bahraini dictatorship, not of one of the world's finest universities. Whatever happened to fostering independent thought and questing intellectual spirit?

Cambridge is already considered out of touch by some (for that, thank terms like rustication). Now, in punishing a peaceful stand against government higher education policy, it has shown itself to be out of step with what vast swathes of its own students and staff believe. Already Holland's fellow protesters have turned Spartacus and demanded the same punishment be meted out to them. A shameful episode which may at least teach Cambridge a lesson: try to muffle protest and it will rebound on you - at least seven times as loud.

* The Special Relationship is safe - held together with hotdogs, chummy manhandling and colour-blocking wives. And gifts, of course. This week the Camerons gave the Obamas a customised ping-pong table. As if the White House doesn't already have 20 ping pong tables; the 40,00sqft Presidential jet probably has at least three - one per deck. Official souvenirs are rarely about utility or suitability, but the Obamas' reciprocal offering of a barbecue is revealing nonetheless.

Barack Obama may have attempted to "natter" like a Brit this week but he clearly has no idea about the British weather. If he had, he would have realised that his $2000 custom-made Braten 1000 Series grill (with essential American and British "friendship flags" engraved on the utility shelf) is destined to sit dusty and unloved behind a row of wellies in the garage only to be dragged out in a panic for an annual spin one unseasonally warm evening in April.

Still, there was thought there. The present is a nod to the barbecue the Camerons hosted for the Obamas' state visit last May. Isn't that rather like inviting someone over for tea and scones and them enclosing their own – implied superior – recipe for scones with the thank you card? This, booms the Braten's 67ins grill, cast-iron wheels and "top-loading firebox", is how you barbecue. Forget that puny little tabletop number from Homebase you flipped burgers on last summer, this barbecue is bigger, better and made in America. As I said, the Special Relationship is safe.

a.jones@independent.co.uk

Twitter: alicevjones

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee