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12th March 2016

UCL comes under fire after threatening student journalist with expulsion

A young journalist was supposedly threatended with expulsion by UCL executives after she gained access to a confidential report forecasting the university profits from accommodation fees

University College London has been met with allegations of bullying after threatening to expel Rebecca Pinnington, the 21-year-old president of Pi Media, UCL’s official student media outlet.

University executives, led by Rex Knight, endeavoured to censor the student news magazine after one if its publications had been found to contain classified university finance forecasts. These documents, according to the UCL, Cut the Rent Campaign (UCL-CTR) prove that the university had been lying to the student body and the public about its rent cutting plans.

The report included information which detailed that the university would generate a considerably high profit from student accommodation fees alone next year. This stands in direct contrast to UCL management’s previous statements that “We make every effort at UCL to keep rents as low as possible.”

This news is directly linked to the ongoing rent strike in which over 500 students are said to be withholding over £1 million in accommodation fees. In their press release, the campaigners said: “The UCL Cut the Rent campaign – who have organised the ongoing rent strike – condemns this repression of legitimate dissent as the actions of a beleaguered and anti-democratic administration that must be held to account.”

Students working for Pi Media gained access to the documents after they were accidentally left open on a Microsoft Outlook Online calendar by one of the university executives. Furthermore, an internal university report was left accessible to students and staff only last month which also included information on the university’s financial projections.

When Pinnington published an article containing details of the university’s classified report, she was approached by UCL executives who have allegedly threatened her with disciplinary action, potential expulsion and legal action.

Although Pinnington did not include any official figures from the document, she was told by UCL executives that publishing confidential information would result in negative consequences for her. Pinnington told The Independent: “I felt intimidated, anxious and scared.

“As a student journalist I felt sad because this was information that was interesting and integral to student life, but it was made very clear that if I were to publish anything more I could lose my degree.”

Following the publication, Pinnington was allegedly approached by UCL Vice-Provost Rex Knight who ordered her to “immediately deliver up or destroy all copies of the UCL Confidential Information.”

UCL denies charges which accuse management of threatening Pinnington with expulsion. Campaigners for UCL-CTR, however, claim that they are in “possession of a letter clearly threatening journalists with expulsion, personally signed by Rex Knight – a UCL Vice-Provost.”

One of the rent strikers, Sarah Benemar, expressed her solidarity with Pinnington: ‘We rent strikers support Rebecca and admire her courage for speaking out about UCL’s repressive/aggressive actions.”

“This situation highlights what the strikers have long denounced as a culture of secrecy on the part of UCL management in their attempt to hide the exploitation of students in their undisclosed rent setting policy.”

The UCL-CTR campaign believes this is yet another example of UCL management abusing its power. Only last week the university proceeded with plans to evict rent strikers from their halls of residences. The campaigner further state that the university’s threats directed against Rebecca Pinnington are a “serious attack on press freedom” and prove that “UCL management’s response to student concerns has been to lie, bullying and threaten, with a total disregard for student welfare.”

The campaigners have announced plans to conduct a mass demonstration on Thursday, 17th at 6pm on the UCL quad.

Vix Nowak, a fellow rent striker, told The Independent: “UCL management’s repeated attempts to bully and threaten students are indefensible and we will make our outrage clear at the demonstration at UCL on Thursday. The rent strike will not be intimidated.”

The Mancunion will continue to update this story as it unfolds.

h/t The Independent.

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