23 October 2023
Dear University Secretary
We are writing to you concerning the presence of police on campus on 12th October 2023 with regards to a peaceful protest by Just Stop Oil (JSO). We are shocked and saddened to see police in large numbers around University Road and the Great Hall. We have been made aware that police were already on campus guarding the Ziff Building prior to the JSO action of painting the Great Hall (which was quickly removed by university staff).
As a union we care deeply for the safety and wellbeing of staff and students at our university, as well as their right to protest and freedom of speech. Therefore we seek clarification on police presence on campus which was unprecedented in the following items listed below.
Permission to be on campus
Given the University of Leeds is on private property, were the police invited into campus? Our understanding from dealing with previous university secretaries is that they have advised the police against entering campus when protests are occurring or have liaised about a perimeter presence. Given this context please clarify 1) if the police were invited on campus and 2) if so, the reasoning behind this.
Freedom of protest and speech
The heavy presence of police prior to the protest would seem to be a breach of the university’s own policy of Freedom of Expression (see here). Particularly, “The University is committed to promoting and positively encouraging free debate, enquiry and protest”. “The university has an explicit duty in law to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students, employees and visiting speakers. This duty includes a responsibility to ensure that the use of University premises is not denied to any individual or group on the grounds of the belief or views of that individual or any member of that group or on the grounds of the policy or objectives of the group.” We would suggest that the invited presence of the police would knowingly act as a deterrent or inhibition to the freedom of expression as outlined by the University’s own commitments.
This policy also states that “Freedom of expression also has to be set in the context of the University’s values, and the values of a civilised, democratic, inclusive society. The university expects speakers and those taking part in protest activities to respect those values”. The protest highlighting universities’ role in climate change aligns with the University of Leeds’s values and action points on climate change (see here).
We also believe the protest reflects the values enshrined in the University of Leeds Decolonising Framework Key Principles (see here). Specifically, the protest sought to elevate the voices of students and young people who are concerned about the university’s role in climate change and urge the university to transform its practices. This reaffirms the university’s commitment to decolonising, particularly addressing the below key principles outlined in the uni’s decolonising framework:
- “To ask whose knowledges and voices are undervalued and silenced.
- To work proactively to rebalance such unequal power dynamic
- As well as addressing questions of curriculum and pedagogy, it also encompasses wider university structures and practices.”
We believe the protest was aligned with the above values by confirming, consolidating and accelerating them through one direct action (which was swiftly cleaned up by university staff and no harm was done to the building).
Staff and students wellbeing
The University of Leeds’s Access and Student Strategy (see here) highlights the university’s intention to increase the presence of groups which have historically been excluded from attending Higher Education such as students from low participation neighbourhoods, mature students and Black and Ethnic minority students. These are communities who are more likely to be harassed and racially profiled by police. We have already highlighted how the increase of security staff in the Ziff building has made students from underrepresented backgrounds feel unsafe in our communication at the Joint Committee of the University and UCU meetings in the year 2022/23 in relation to the closing of the Ziff. Having police on campus decreases the likelihood staff and students from marginalised backgrounds feel a sense of belonging and inclusiveness on campus.
Finally, we are incredibly concerned about the possibility of a breach of the (legally binding) Student Contract (see here). What measures were taken to ensure the health and safety of the people present in the JSO rally? This is particular relevant to the single protestor who painted the building and was met with disproportionate reaction of a large number of police officers handling them while they were not resisting. Is this not a failure of the university Health and Safety obligations if this young person, or any other, is injured by police action on campus?
We look forward to hearing from you regarding the above concerns.
Given our members’ concern for the events which occurred on 12th October, we will make this email public.
On behalf of University of Leeds UCU branch committee
This page was last updated on 23 October 2023