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22nd April 2024

Manchester Leftist Action member speaks out against academic suspension

A student involved with action group Manchester Leftist Action has spoken out against his suspension by the University
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Manchester Leftist Action member speaks out against academic suspension
Credit: Miles Davenport @ The Mancunion

The occupation of the Roscoe building has ended since this article was written. 

A student at the University of Manchester has spoken out against his suspension by the University over a recording he made of Vice-Chancellor Nancy Rothwell and his participation in the occupation of the Simon Building over the University’s ties to Israel.

Suspension

At an open meeting for the School of Science and Engineering, the student, a fourth-year Physics student and a high-profile member of activist group Manchester Leftist Action (MLA), made a recording of the University’s outgoing Chancellor Nancy Rothwell.

In this video, she stated that she considered that arms companies were not unethical. He was told to remove the video under threat of “disciplinary action” but refused. 

Subsequently, the student visited the occupation of the Simon building. The Mancunion understands that the student was not, however, directly involved in its organisation.

Having been named in “one line” in a report from the security team, the student was subsequently suspended from the University. He deleted the recording, but was told that his role in the occupation meant that his suspension could not be lifted.

Section 3.1 of the University’s ‘Procedure for Suspending a Student’ establishes the “power of temporary suspension” that can be “exercised by the President and Vice-Chancellor.”

Clause 3.1.3 states this power can be used in order to “protect the reputation of the University.”

When asked by The Mancunion if the University were within their right to suspend the student, a spokesperson for the UCU acknowledged this rule but described it as ‘a drastic and ridiculous measure’.

They continued, “We wish the University cared less about its reputation and more about how it might be implicated in war crimes.”

The student noted the short time-frame of the action, claiming he had received the warning whilst away over the Easter break and found out about his suspension upon his return. 

He claims that he was the only student personally identified, saying: “it seems pretty clear at least in my opinion, it was a deliberate singling out of me as a result of me having previously had the case that the University was raising against me.”

The student in question claims that he believes that part of the motivation of the University was “in order to try and scare students away from going back in.”

Another student involved in Manchester Leftist Action, said in response to this that they “didn’t want to cave into the University’s blatant intimidation tactic.”

They argued that “the issue of this genocide is more important than this threat of disciplinary action.”

The student reiterated that they did not have a leading role in the current occupation and that he felt as if the University held a “personal vendetta” against him, although he hoped this wasn’t the case.

This was corroborated by the UCU spokesperson, who said, “this does seem personal, yes.”

In regards to the recording, the student said he believed that he was within his right. “I think that students have a right to know what the Vice-Chancellor is saying,” he stated, “especially about war crimes and genocide and the University’s ties to that.”

The student continued, “If she [Nancy] didn’t want that to be public, maybe she shouldn’t have said it.”

Discussing the support they had received, the student told The Mancunion that they had received support from the Students’ Union and the UCU. The student believes that the UCU played a role in the review of the suspension by raising concern over the lack of right to repeal.

The UCU detailed their involvement: “We (the officers) wrote to the SLT protesting the suspension, both on process grounds and on the principle that UoM should not celebrate its radical history while being complicit in genocide and suspending a student who objects to that complicity.”

Manchester Leftist Action’s Occupation of the Roscoe Building

The group occupied the Roscoe building from Monday 8 April until Wednesday 17 April.

In relation to the occupation, the other student told The Mancunion that it was “going well.” They estimated that around 50 people were involved. 

During the occupation, workshops have been put on showcasing a variety of issues surrounding support for Palestine. They aim to inform the student body of the links between the University and Israel. 

The student also noted the support of students, having heard of no negative interactions with students. “Students are obviously supporting what we are doing,” she stated. 

The group will not leave the building until the “collective” agreement is made to do so.

Ahead of this occupation, MLA had been contacted by Patrick Hackett, Registrar, Secretary, and Chief Operating Officer of the University. 

Hackett informed the group that the [at the time] prospective occupation “will not be tolerated, and formal disciplinary action will be taken.” The email, signed off personally by Mr. Hackett, also disputed MLA’s suggestions that the University had not engaged with the issues.

Previously, the group had occupied the Simon building for four days. That occupation started the day after a court order was lifted.

This court order, from one year ago, led to many students, including the student now suspended, being dragged out of the Simon Building by bailiffs, costing the university well over £100,000.

11 students were taken for disciplinary action by the University. The student claimed that this “could easily have been avoided if they had engaged in some form of dialogue with students.”

Demands of Manchester Leftist Action

The group has made four demands linked to this ongoing occupation of the building, linking to the University of Manchester’s alleged links to Israel and the Israeli military. Text on the group’s Instagram reads:

“Four demands made:

End Partnership with BAE systems

End ties with Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem

End Unethical research

No disciplinary action against students involved in protests or occupations.”

The University has in the last year received well over £800000 from BAE Systems, an organisation working in the “defence, aerospace, and security sectors.”

The organisation has been criticised over ties to the Israeli military. Projects that the University has worked on with BAE Systems include, among others, providing data science for faster jet engines. Last year, Amnesty International ran a project at the University of Manchester and others to ‘“Stop Killer Robots”, which included calls for the University to cut ties with BAE.

The University has a research partnership with the University of Tel Aviv. In June 2023, the University of Tel Aviv had a direct partnership with the IDF, hosting a “soldier’s program.”

In 2021, more than 200 academics signed an open letter calling on the University to cut ties with the University over its role in a wave of bombings in Gaza. They argued that the partnership “contravenes the University’s ethical commitment to oppose racist violence and oppression.”

The University also has an exchange program with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  

When asked about hopes for the new Vice-Chancellor, with Duncan Ivison holding the position from September, the students said “we can only hope that this represents a change in the University’s direction.”

Asked about representation by political figures which has conflated pro-Palestine protests with antisemitism, The Mancunion was told by a member of Manchester Leftist Action that it was “inherently misguided and categorically false.”

On a personal and a representative level, this member said “we are not antisemitic, we are anti-Zionist.” The group takes “active measures” to tackle racism “of all kinds.”

It was added that the group felt that “state crackdowns” on protest has “made the university management feel comfortable to do the same.”

When asked for comment, a University of Manchester spokesperson said:

“We do not comment on the detail of actions or investigations regarding individual students particularly while they are ongoing. We can confirm that a student has been subject to a partial suspension which allows them to attend campus for activity directly related to their studies, or access to welfare support.”

“Further details remain confidential.”

Previous statements and information from the University on the Israel/Gaza conflict can be found here.

When asked for comment, an SU spokesperson said:

“While we refrain from commenting on ongoing individual cases, the Students’ Union remains dedicated to supporting and advocating for our members.”


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