Since my election as VP Education there has been an obsession by unelected senior managers and certain invertebrates in the union to not only prevent me from delivering my manifesto for a campaigning, democratic Guild, but also to remove me from office altogether.
In line with their campaign they have begun their second attempt to fire me on clearly political grounds without any consultation of the student body. In fact, they are now acting without any of the usual dressings of legitimacy and have simply called an emergency meeting of the Trustee Board for April 21st to vote on my removal.
This is a raw coup not just against me, but against all those in favour of a Guild truly being run by and for students. This follows the University expelling me from all committees, which along with my open letter to vice chancellor are amongst the reasons the Guild seek to remove me for.
Last September, with considerably more formalities, the Guild attempted a similar manoeuvre: suspending me for three months for taking part in peaceful protests and for attempting to re-energise the student rep system.
My one regret from the suspension was that I conceded to their threats of more punishment if I spoke about the allegations being made against me. This time, despite the same threats I will not concede to any demands for secrecy. I am making all the allegations against me public so that those I truly work for, the student body, can decide for themselves whether I should be removed from office.
I believe that all the allegations made against me are of a political nature and therefore demand a public debate to allow for transparent and democratic decision-making (although it should be noted that me going public with the contents of my last disciplinary has been added to the latest list of charges, as apparently transparency “undermines” the Guild).
I’ve always stated that I will happily face a vote of no confidence at Guild Council or by referendum, and that should I lose such a vote I will resign from office without protest, confident that legitimate democratic processes have been fulfilled.
The full case of the Trustee Board is attached HERE – please read for yourself the allegations made. I have also written a necessarily lengthy post in which I go through point by point rebutting their allegations.
The grounds for my removal
The grounds that the trustees bring against me include; the ‘Protest Against the Protest Ban’, my participation in the protests to defend students being disciplined for taking part in protests, the fact that the University have expelled me from their committees, criticizing the Guild for supporting the protest ban, going public with the truth about my previous suspension, and flying the Palestinian flag outside my office at the start of Israel Apartheid Week. The full breakdown in the order presented against me is below, attached are the Guild’s letters to me.
“(i) The demonstration on 15 February 2012”
This is for my role in the protest against the “ban on protests”. The demonstration was organized by the University of Birmingham Defend Education Campaign, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and Defend The Right to Protest, and only a week before the protest took place was it finally gifted the Guild’s begrudging support. However, the Guild, in a bizarre act, claimed the protest as solely their own, seemingly for the purposes of implicating me as the “sole organiser”. Their investigation recognises the other organisations who took part but fails to interview representatives of those organisations.
I had to scrape and claw to get the basic and minimal last minute support I did from the Guild (begrudging as it was). The demo was called months before the Guild came on board, which they only did a week before the event after Guild Council mandated them to do so.
The allegation is essentially that I “hijacked” “the Guild’s” demonstration by going a different route and that as such, I’m responsible for ‘putting students at risk’.
First, we need to start with the question of how the protest could be ‘hijacked’ against its will? What could cause hundreds of students in attendance to protest a certain way despite a multitude of Guild stewards and the rest of the Sabbatical Officer team attempting to physically block them and screaming at them not to leave the ‘official’ route? Those stating so loudly that the protest was ‘hijacked’ are essentially asserting that the entire protest ‘hijacked’ itself. They are suggesting that hundreds of students at our University are unable to think for themselves and instead hypnotically followed me, an allegation that is as ridiculous as it is insulting to the hundreds who attended.
The allegations that students were at risk are massively overstated: “On leaving the Guild the protest turned left onto the University ring road into head on traffic” – this statement is completely ludicrous. The “road”, which can be seen circling the back of the Aston Webb building in the picture, is a private campus road, used for parking. There is next to no traffic and the traffic that is there is restricted both by speed limits and parked cars on either side of the road. Campus road regulations specify strict rules that cars must travel at low speeds on campus.
The second allegation of “risk” to students involves the protest entering Chancellor’s Court and approaching hazardously close to a “dangerous drop”. Firstly, Chancellor’s Court was part of the Guild’s “official route”, so any risk here was in the Guild’s original plan anyway. Stewards and myself very quickly asked the two students who got onto the wall (near the drop) to get down for their own safety. This was a risk built into the original assessment that was easily managed. Thus to claim that the deviation put participators at risk is void, as their form of protest would also have done so.
The Guild’s investigation of these events attempts to conclude that only my actions have been called into question by the witnesses interviewed. The investigation, however, has been a farce. The interviewees do not represent a broad spectrum of students, instead the process relies on evidence from a handful of students heavily engaged in Guild politics most of whom who had already made repeated statements against me in public well before this event. The only other evidence is given by Guild of Students staff members and University security. Ridiculously, none of the organisers of the demonstration have had a chance to give evidence and only one actual participant in the demonstration was interviewed.
The e-mails included in the evidence against me show a senior Guild manager making deals with the university about what would be allowed at the demo without input from either myself or organisers of the demo, NCAFC, Defend Education or Defend the Right to Protest. The e-mails show the Guild manager and the university attempting to force the demo onto an ‘official’ route permitted by the University, a 3 minute walk from A to B. Is it any wonder then that when I was forced to read out the Guild’s statement on the route demanding they follow these orders from the university the students present many of whom had been involved in the organisation simply laughed and ignored the statement? For this complete institutional failure to maintain legitmacy by the Guild I am being given the sole blame.
“(ii) The occupation of Staff House on 15 February 2012”
After the demonstration, in an unofficial action which the Guild made it clear they did not support, around 100 students occupied the University’s corporate conference centre, demanding an end to the ban on protests and the disciplinary process against Simon Furse.
I accept my involvement in this sit-in, which was both peaceful and lawful. I defend my actions on the grounds that the right to protest and freedom of speech is under attack at the University of Birmingham (evidenced for example by the condemnation of the University by groups such as Amnesty Intl. etc). My actions were a proportionate response in defence of a long and proud history of student protest. As students working in the education system we can’t go on strike. Instead we take our equivalent of a strike: we do sit-ins and occupations – a form of protest that has been a key feature of UK student activism for generations. Indeed, at the University of Birmingham all the student representation we have on University committees was won in 1968, when 800 students occupied the Great Hall demanding a democratic voice. Without these kinds of actions, the Guild as we know it would not exist.
“(iii) Disruption of the College Misconduct Committee hearing held in the Nuffield Building on 15 February 2012”
At Simon Furse’s disciplinary hearing, myself and a number of other students entered the room in which the hearing was taken place. We delivered speeches expressing our disgust at the entire process. After this was complete we left and the disciplinary continued, although it was later adjourned. There was later a protest outside the room where the disciplinary hearing was taken place which I participated in, here is the video of it the Trustee Board’s report refers to in their allegations against me.
The disciplinary against Simon Furse is for his participation in a lawful and peaceful sit-in. He is part of a list of many student protesters being attacked for their defense of the public education system. It is right that we take action in solidarity to protect him from suspensions like those that a Cambridge student has recently suffered.
In response to the claim that I failed my VP(E) mandate by behaving in a manner inappropriate to my position as Simon’s representative, I would argue that throughout this year we have seen that official processes are not followed by the Guild or the University and that following these processes alone has no real effect. Rather, assertive action has proven to be necessary. Furthermore, given that I consider this to be an illegitimate disciplinary hearing, I do not believe my role was undermined by my actions, rather I feel I responded in an appropriate manner, as to conform to the disciplinary process would be to indicate my support for its legitimacy. Because I do not believe it to be legitimate, this would therefore have been the wrong action to take.
“(iv) Your suspension from all University Committees”
While it may sound obvious, it’s important to remember that the University and the Guild are, or at least are supposed to be, distinct and separate organisations. As a students union, the purpose of the Guild is to represent the interests of Birmingham students, even, and especially when those interests are in direct opposition to the wishes of the University as an institution (see £9,000 fees etc.). Therefore for the Guild to be effective in its role, clearly it’s vital that it stays separate from the University, and not sleepwalk into being an ineffective half of a two-headed beast, merely providing an illusionary sheen of student representation.
It’s hardly a stretch to argue that the expulsion of a democratically elected student representative from University committees is a political move by the University to shut out elected voices critical of their policies. Unfortunately instead of making a clear stand against this maneuver, the Guild has in fact complied with the University’s move and has sent different “acceptable” officers in my place. The Guild is essentially punishing me because the University is preventing me from doing the job I was elected to do.
As such, this allegation is unfortunately a sign of the Guild’s weakness: rather than remaining cohesive and strong, the Guild is allowing the University to essentially divide and conquer, or at least undermine the strength of the officers’ positions. Instead, the Guild should support me in opposing this move – because it has devalued the very core of what the Guild stands for.
“(v) A significant breakdown in working relationships with the other members of the Guild’s Sabbatical Team”
“It is alleged that there has been a significant deterioration in your working relationships with the other Sabbatical Officers”
Since several of the other officers:
- Suspended me for the entire Autumn term whilst attempting to remove me on highly dubious grounds
- Imposed silence on me regarding this
- Then issued false statements about the reasons for my suspension
- Later publicly condemned me for releasing the true reasons for my suspension
- Isolated and slighted me once I was reinstated
- Gave evidence against a student to help get them disciplined then lied about this.
- Supported the ban on protests
- Demanded that I sign a letter to the student body containing false information regarding the protest injunction.
- Ignored democratic mandates to create an acceptable officer disciplinary policy
- Ignored democratic mandates to support the NUS week of action.
It should come as no surprise that there has been some breakdown in my working relationships with some Officers on the Sabbatical team. However, to claim that this is purely as a consequence of my actions is problematic at best.
“Non-attendance at meetings;”
This is a joke allegation surely? Three weekly meetings of the Sabbatical Officer Group regularly missed by many officers have been picked out as a reason to remove me. All these meetings I was either off ill or at another meeting.
Further, I’m alleged to have missed one meeting of the Trustee Board on March 27th, firstly they have the date wrong it was on the 26th. This was a meeting that I couldn’t attend at the request of lawyers representing the students under police investigation. This is only Trustee Board meeting I have missed, a fact that is particularly pertinent when one considers that attendance by Trustees is rarely over 2/3rds. Furthermore even if I wanted to attend this meeting it would have been extremely difficult for me to attend as it was called three working days in advance on a day I had already arranged to have off.
As to why I didn’t attend the SOG meeting on March 5th, the Trustee Board need not look any further than page 3 of their own appendices document: “The Vice President (Education) was requested to come in on the 5th & 6th March for interview. On both of these days the VPE notified the Guild that he would not be at work due to sickness.” There, mystery solved.
These are pathetic points, clutching at straws in an attempt to present me as lazy or unprofessional. Considering that since I came into office last June that I have only taken 7 days off in annual leave, been sick for only four days and missed only these four meetings (out of dozens) all for good reasons, I can only laugh at this desperate allegation.
“Social media postings”
Even I am completely lost for words as to the nature of the postings that are considered a reason to remove me from office, especially as none appears to be given. The articles certain members of the Trustee Board are attempting to remove me for are below, all of which are factually correct. I believe this is simply an attempt to scare future officers into silence.
1. My public letter to the VC David Eastwood in response to expelling me from all committees. https://eddbauervpe.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/public-letter-to-vc-david-eastwood-re-my-expulsion-from-University-committees-new-disciplinary/
2. My article arguing for democracy in the Guild https://eddbauervpe.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/where-is-the-democratic-culture-in-the-Guild/
3. My article publically explaining the reasons for my suspension, providing the facts to students http://brumoccupation.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/suspension-letter/
4. This post on twitter “@Guild_President I have just been found NOT GUILTY – due to there being “no evidence” against me, thanks for the punishment before trial.”
5. My post criticizing the Guild for supporting the “ban on protests” http://brumoccupation.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/injunction-letter-why-i-didnt-sign-it-is-not-the-Guilds-job-to-cover-up-for-the-University/
“The attempted Vodafone occupation on 14 March 2012”
For the record, it wasn’t attempted, I did occupy it. This is because Vodafone has been involved in a tax avoidance scheme that has cost the country £6 billion whilst the government claims cuts to higher education are ‘inevitable’. More importantly in terms of the allegation however although appendix 11 does include Redbrick’s coverage of the protest and occupation, it does not include any evidence of the Guild maintaining any damage to its reputation as a result. Furthermore this is the same NUS demonstration the Guild refused to support yet here they are implying that it was an official Guild event where it becomes convenient, and anyhow the Vodafone sit-in was a personal protest done after the NUS event not as part of it.
Watch this video to see the successful peaceful demonstration against the increasing privatisation of higher education. http://vimeo.com/38760045
“The prominent display of a Palestinian flag in your VPE office window”
see my article “Why the Palestine Flag is Hanging from my Office Window”
I did this modest action to draw attention to Israeli Apartheid Week (starting that day) and to the suffering of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. It harmed nobody and if anti-Palestinian elements on campus being “offended” by this flag is justification to sack an elected officer without a democratic vote then I can think of far more ‘offensive’ things done by other officers…
This new attempt to remove me from office has been cleverly timed to start and finish during the Easter holidays whilst students are away from uni, not paying as much attention to Guild politics and unable to protest the undemocratic sacking of one of their elected officers. The allegations against me are clearly to do with my campaigning activity and reflect political disagreements between myself and those attempting to remove me. Thus the decision on whether or not I should be removed must be made by students at Guild Council or referendum not by a secret process of the unelected majority non-student Trustee Board that students were not supposed to know was even happening until after it was completed.