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Unfair punishment sounds alarm bells

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.

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5 Comments

  1. To even remotely suggest that Sussex URNU will “benefit” from Mr Coovee’s disciplinary proceedings shows just how bady informed some people (i.e. you) are of the whole situation. The URNU will NOT be in a better position whatsoever as a result of this and I find it extremely disappointing that ANY student has had to have action taken against them for standing up for something they believe in. The URNU has had nothing to do with the proceedings as it does not concern us. The University authorities have clearly felt that they had little choice in this scenario and the fact that Mr Coovee admitted the charge says everything. I sincerely hope that he can successfully continue with his studies for the foreseeable future.

    Reply
  2. Dear Simon –

    In response to your comments above…

    “I find it extremely disappointing that ANY student has had to have action taken against them for standing up for something they believe in. The URNU has had nothing to do with the proceedings as it does not concern us … I sincerely hope that he can successfully continue with his studies for the foreseeable future.”

    Unfortunately Koos Couvee’s studies will certainly be disrupted by this curfew – for one thing he is unable to access the library in the evenings after having campaigned for extended opening hours. He has himself stated that this punishment will impact on his ability to complete his degree successfully. Nobody has suggested that the URNU had any influence over the terms of the punishment. Given the fact that this punishment IS detrimental to his ability to function as a student can I ask you what punishment you/the URNU would have called for instead?

    “To even remotely suggest that Sussex URNU will “benefit” from Mr Coovee’s disciplinary proceedings shows just how bady informed some people (i.e. you) are of the whole situation. The URNU will NOT be in a better position whatsoever as a result of this.”

    The URNU’s existence is currently under threat following the motion to get rid of military-affiliated bodies from university premises being passed to go to referendum at AGM. Koos Couvee was a key figure in the campaign to rid Sussex of military-affiliated bodies (he put forward the motion); this campaign will directly suffer from his political voice having been stifled through this curfew (he cannot attend meetings or talks in the evening). So of course URNU is in a better position as a result of the campaign that poses a threat to its existence having to some extent lost a key campaigning voice.

    “The University authorities have clearly felt that they had little choice in this scenario.”

    I could understand that perhaps they felt they had ‘little choice’ over the need to impose some sort of punishment on Koos Couvee as an example – especially as this sort of student action might strain the university’s relations with the military. But they have absolute choice over the terms of the punishment. These particular terms are politically motivated, for reasons outlined above. Politically motivated punishments are unacceptable.

    “…the fact that Mr Coovee admitted the charge says everything.”

    What does it say? He admitted having taken part because he did. As to the unviersity’s charge of ‘intimidation’, this is what he says:
    “After having initially denied the allegations mentioned above, in the hearing I partially admitted to them, simply because I wanted to avoid a discussion on the semantics of ‘intimidation’, or ‘harassment’, and instead chose to justify my actions politically. I did however point out that the language used in the allegations was way too strong and inappropriate language to convey what had happened.”

    Reply
  3. I don’t see why Mr Couvee is surprised. Such open and gleeful vandalisation could hardly be allowed to slide without the university taking action. At the least this constitutes damage to public property.
    Politically, he is unjustified. Does he think the university is his? It isn’t. He applied to it, the existence of clubs such as the URNU being widely known. A place at the university is not his by right, and his actions were presumably acutely embarassing for the university and therefore they are perfectly justified in their punishing him. While they do not object to students holding and expressing political views, discomfiting other organisations on their campus reflects poorly on them. Peaceful protest is perfectly reasonable. If Mr Couvee seeks a more physical manifestation of his views he ought to restrain himself until after his degree, or be prepared to suffer the consequences of his actons. He seems to consider himself immune as he believes himself politically justified. Should it be permissible to vandalise the recruiters for every club and society which a student happens to have an objection to? Painting the rowing club, say? And when the university demands an explanation, the vandal can say, “Yes, but it was my political beliefs,” to which the university would bow in defeat.
    Lastly, mounting such a campaign against the URNU is mindless. Cadets hardly participate in overseas campaigns: indeed they certainly serve a more helpful role in society than Mr Couvee, as they assist stranded boats and yachts at sea. In addition, a mere 23% continue on to an Armed Forces career, and, in general, these are people who have joined the URNU with the specific intention of building a foundation for naval employment they would in any case have continued on to, and not as a result of recruitment withing the URNU. It provides training in various aspects of life for many people and enables them to have successful careers in completely unmilitary fields following their degree. Furthermore, it acts as a part time job and gives valuable experience to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Is Mr Couvee seeking to take away this splendid opportunity from fellow students, particularly ones that are not so reckless with their employment and positions at university that they wantonly engage in antisocial activities as Mr Couvee? There are numerous pacifists sevring in the URNU, all hoping to embark on a variety of careers. In one case a female cadet later applied to the UN. The understanding of the military which she gained was invaluable in this career, particularly in her pacifist capacity, which was justified by her understanding. Mr Couvee clearly has no understanding of the URNU entity.
    I am astounded that the RN has not pressed charges, while the university has been perfectly justified. This type of campaigning is bound to meet with repercussions, and surely this was perfectly evident to Mr Couvee before he mounted his attack. He should consider himself extremely lucky to still be attending university and not to have been arrested. However, it is admittedly unfair that the other participants in the attack, if, indeed, their actions were similar, were not similarly treated.

    Reply
  4. I agree, the university was justified in doing that. I hate how people vandalize stuff.

    The other day I saw “SMASH EDO” spraypainted on a house on my street. It made me so angry that someone could vandalize a house like that.

    Reply

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