Last week a curfew was imposed on a politically active student for his involvement in an action drawing attention to the operation of military interests through an innocuous-seeming social organisation on campus.
‘Flexing its authoritarian muscle over its students through such draconian measures is barring them from participating fully in campus life’
This should set alarm bells ringing for us all. There is no doubt that this disciplinary measure has been strategically designed to silence a politically active voice. The measure is damaging to Koos Couvee’s ability to function as a student and has no relation to the nature of the incident that it purports to punish: it is a straightforward attack on his individual freedom of movement and of association.
With the motion to rid Sussex of its military presence (put forward and defended by Koos) having been passed indicatively at the AGM and soon to be decided in a referendum, there is no doubt that the URNU will benefit enormously from the terms of this ‘punishment’. The same can be said of the university bureaucracy with regards to Koos’s activity in the Sussex not for Sale campaign. Most campaign meetings take place outside of the hours of curfew, as do drinks in the bars with friends.
In flexing its authoritarian muscle over its students through such draconian measures as barring them from participating fully in campus life, the university presumes to be able to regulate our private lives in its own interests.
Several articles and comments in this paper over the past few weeks have been bemoaning student apathy and lack of political engagement. Whatever your opinions of the URNU or of the action, Koos was part of a small group of students acting with conviction and political passion to try to make Sussex University a more ethical place.
They were doing so with few resources, and against the economic and political might not only of the university bureaucracy, but also that of the state, who directly fund URNU activities. The vast asymmetry of power here ought to make any appeals to an abstract un-probed ‘freedom of speech’ ring hollow and ridiculous in this case. And yet this ‘punishment’ is precisely designed to remove a student’s capacity for free political activity.
As seen in the recent pre-emptive barring of targeted students from the graduate fair and the invitation of police onto campus in advance of the Shut ITT demo, the university administration would love to silence this sort of dissent. It inconveniences them, damaging their brand name, and disrupts their ability to function and profit as a commercial service selling us our education as consumers of a product. This type of political ‘discipline’ goes hand in hand with the proposed plans for the marketisation of the university.
We must not think that this is one student’s problem and does not concern us: our right to freedom of movement and freedom of political expression is essential to our lives as students and as citizens. It may look as though this stealth silencing by bureaucracy of one active individual is not such a big deal, but as Koos observed in last week’s article “the university is setting a precedent.” That precedent indicates that “the core Sussex values of freedom of speech and association” will be blindly defended for those representing state and corporate interests, but do not apply to its own students. We must condemn this action by the university bureaucracy, and in doing so defend our basic rights.