Students and staff taped their mouths shut to show their opposition to a management move that the protestors say will “end University democracy”. The protest took place on Wednesday 18 March during the opening of Senate, the highest decision-making body for academic matters at the University of Sussex and the place where management will deliver their proposal to slash the elected component of Senate by 66%. The proposal would make the majority of Senate un-elected which critics say will end the University’s democratic tradition.

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A petition opposing the new proposal has attracted over 800 signatures in the three working days since management released their new plans. The petition will be presented to Senate by students in the room, while protesters at every entrance to the building protested silently with the slogan ‘Don’t Silence Us’. At present, students have 9 elected members in Senate; under the new proposal, they will have just 3 or 4.
Josh Jones, a student representative on Senate and the organiser of the campaign, commented “Our University management seems to think it can destroy our right to representation.”

Currently, the majority of Senate members are elected from the University staff and students which results in approximately fifty elected staff and nine elected students sitting on Senate.

Under the new proposed model, elected representation would be cut to between 13 and 20 staff, and just 3 or 4 students. Meanwhile, unelected posts will rise, meaning elected representatives will no longer have a majority in Senate.

Laura Tazzioli, President of the University of Sussex Student’s Union, said “This is an insult to democracy. I am outraged that such a proposal would even be brought to the table.”

Three years ago in the same location, a student protest against proposals from the then-Vice Chancellor, Alaisdair Smith, to close chemistry led to intense criticism from scientists up and down the country. The proposal was eventually blocked by Senate.

It is expected that University Senate will discuss the controversial new proposals later today.

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  • The paper that management presented at Senate was overturned.

    Following a very effective silent protest on the stairs leading to Senate, and the outspoken disapproval of at least 20 Senators, the notion that unelected members of Senate could ever outnumber elected was completely rejected by Senate.

    The protest outside was very effective, with many at Senate commenting on how impressive it was, and there was clearly a strong confidence among Senators to speak out against management’s proposal. The petition also proved effective at showing what a broad base of support this movement has.

    Other victories were also won. In Senate, our student reps argued that if our Uni is hoping to improve the student experience it should be looking for more engagement, not less. There was a widespread acceptance in Senate today that reducing the number of student senators was not the way forward – and even the suggestion that there should be one per school, meaning at least 13 students.

    One point didn’t find common ground. Many academic senators argued that reducing the size of Senate was still a good idea as it may help decision-making. Others proposed that increasing the size would improve accountability and engagement.

    The meeting agreed that it was necessary to appoint a body to consider how Senate be structured. Significantly, the meeting acquiesced to the Vice-Chancellor’s proposal that the issue is taken up in the ‘Governance Workstrand’ – a group that no-one seems to know much about or have been invited to. So the first battle has been a clear victory – but there are still more to be won.

    A massive thankyou to everyone who showed their support to the movement through signing the petition or coming to the protest. Also, congratulations to all the Senators who stood up and spoke out against the proposal. This is a great victory for our University, and a victory too for democracy!

    The ‘Save Our Senate’ movement will continue to work for the preservation of our democratic rights. Best wishes to all,

    Josh