On the 21st November we received the following response from the University secretary and registrar, in response to the letter which branch President Aisha sent on 23rd October.
I write in response to your email of 23 October 2023 about the Just Stop Oil (JSO) protest on 12 October 2023 and the concerns you raised regarding the presence of Police on campus and their response to the incident.
In your email you refer to the JSO incident as a peaceful protest. The University is committed to supporting freedom of speech and freedom of expression; however, this is a qualified right – free debate, enquiry and protest should take place within the law. Anyone seeking to organise an event on campus requires permission from the University in order that relevant health and safety checks can be made, and to ensure that the event is lawful and respectful of the University’s values and ethos.
In the weeks leading up to the protest, JSO had publicised its plans for protests at university campuses across the country. JSO posted content on social media channels showing a succession of university buildings being sprayed with orange paint, and published a message specifically regarding a protest on our campus on 12 October.
The Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, had also written to University Vice-Chancellors on 15 September 2023 to warn about risk of serious disruption from JSO. Universities were asked to engage directly with local Police to manage this risk.
The JSO protest which occurred on 12 October involved criminal damage to University property, in the form of orange paint being sprayed on the exterior of Great Hall. The individual who was arrested is not a current student or graduate of the University, and did not seek or have permission to protest on campus. In choosing to deface our Great Hall, the protestor crossed a clear line. What could have been a legitimate protest about climate change, which is an issue of deep concern to many on campus, became a vehicle for criminal damage which is wholly unacceptable.
We maintain regular dialogue with our Police Liaison Officer and work closely with West Yorkshire Police to protect the health and safety of staff, students and visitors to campus, and to safeguard the physical estate and assets. It would have been irresponsible of the University not to review security and safety arrangements around the event on 12 October given the significant risk of disruption and the threat of damage to University property outlined above.
In your email, you state: “Having Police on campus decreases the likelihood staff and students from marginalised backgrounds feel a sense of belonging and inclusiveness on campus”. I would be interested in basis for your claim so that we can explore this further.
While some of those who had gathered on 12 October were supportive of the JSO
protestor, it was clear that many were not, and were deeply concerned about damage done to the Great Hall.
I, like many others, have been extremely disheartened to see the damage done to one of the University’s most historic and much-loved buildings. At the time of writing, works are continuing to try to remove the orange paint from the stonework and windows of the Great Hall. This paint persists despite the efforts of an external cleaning firm which has visited campus on two occasions and attempted its removal, and the periods of heavy rain in the intervening period in recent weeks.
In closing I would reiterate that I am satisfied that the University did not inhibit the freedom of expression of the remainder of JSO supporters that day – those
assembled were free to voice their views both before and after the protestor was arrested.
University Secretary and Registrar
This page was last updated on 3 January 2024