Students’ Union Communications officer and member of the now notorious ‘Sussex Five’ Michael Segalov has responded to the Universities ombudsman’s recommendation that the University of Sussex apologise and pay financial compensation to him and the four other students controversially suspended for peacefully protesting on campus.
In the report for the action taken against the students, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) found the University was unjustified, disproportionate and unfair in its decision in 2013 to suspend five students from their studies and ban them from campus for their involvement in the widespread protests taking place against the privatisation of non-academic University services.
As a result, each student will be awarded between £2,000-£2,500 in compensation “distress and inconvenience” caused, and receive a formal apology from the University.
Segalov said: “I’m pleased that the University administration will have to say sorry to us and I think by definition they are also apologising to the thousands of students and staff who supported us.
“But an apology isn’t good enough and I’ll be pressuring the University to ensure it will never again punish students or staff for taking part in campus protest.”
The Sussex Five were accused by Vice Chancellor Michael Farthing of playing an “organising role” in the anti-privatisation protests which gained support from students and staff, as well as the attention of the national media, members of Parliament and celebrity Cara Delevingne.
Segalov said: “I believe the University administration targeted us because we were considered to be vocal spokespeople on behalf of a wider campaign against privatisation, and the marketisation of higher education.
“I believe the University hoped to make an example of us, in what looks like an attempt to silence dissent. The way to deal with dissent is not to single out a number of students from a group of thousands.
“In my mind, this gives administrations like Sussex no alternative but to begin to listen to students and staff.”
The report ruled the suspension was unreasonable in the circumstances and that a fair procedure, which the University has a responsibility to uphold, had not been followed.
The disciplinary hearing, where the students were represented by barristers, collapsed after the discovery of the appointment of a potentially biased panel.
The University’s subsequent move in accordance with Schedule A regulations to adopt a new disciplinary process meant the students were no longer permitted to be legally represented; the ‘reasonably suspected’ motivation for the change, according to the report.
The report stated: “In our opinion, the University’s actions were politically motivated.”
A University of Sussex spokesperson said: “We note the OIA’s finding there needs to be greater clarity and transparency of information in regards to the process for student disciplinary matters.
“Prior to the OIA’s final report and in light of the incidents on campus in 2013, we established an independent working group of our Council to review and make recommendations on this matter. We anticipate putting these into effect through revised University regulations and will inform all relevant parties of this through the appropriate institutional channels.
“Alongside this, the OIA’s case recommendations will be implemented.”
The action taken by the University has racked up a “outrageous” legal bill of £55,495.55 which, amongst the other report findings, acted as the “final straw” to prompt a petition for Farthing’s resignation from his position as VC. The Students’ Union continues to hold a vote of no confidence in him.
Lewis Nielsen, another member of the Sussex Five, said: “The OIA has been very critical of the University, but it is vital to note the majority of the University community, both students and staff, have been entirely supportive of us throughout.”
Simon Natas of ITN Solicitors, representing the students, said: “This should be seen as a vindication for [the students] and an indictment of the manner in which they were treated.”