On the evening of 11th December, hours before the end of the second of the two occupations of the Goldsmiths College Library, and six days after the beginning of the first, we received a first written communication from the Senior Management Team (SMT). Mr Hugh Jones told us that “[w]hilst the threat of our losing control of the library remained, we were not willing to take the risk of opening the library without sufficient staff present to ensure that it remained in good order.” The SMT in other words was closing the library for three days as a precaution to prevent another damaging occupation. This is not the main reason Mr Hugh Jones first gave for the closure of the building.
In a letter of the 9th sent to all students and staff of the College, Mr Hugh Jones declared that “an extensive clean-up effort needs to get underway” (and therefore insinuated that students caused serious damage). We have acknowledged that some damage was caused, but have denied that it was serious enough to warrant the closure of the entire library building for a continuous period of sixty hours. Now we are told that the closure was a “precautionary measure” and was categorically not “retributive”.
The SMT has claimed that students have been frustrated or even “intimidated” due to disruptive protest action in the library. Student occupiers made the library open for students twenty-four hours a day. They did not choose to close the library to students at a vital time in the year, and at a moment – let us not forget – when the coalition government is eviscerating the UK HE sector.
The SMT now claims the closure of the library was a “precautionary measure”, that they were concerned that they “would again lose control of the library to those who did not care for it”. Evidently the SMT takes many precautions! But prior to the end of the first occupation on Thursday morning we had no direct contact with Senior Management, despite constant solicitations, statements and messages sent to them from the occupation. The management of Goldsmiths was blithely happy to shut down the building for three days without attempting any serious consultation with the occupiers. We respond that refusing to speak to legitimate student protestors about their substantive demands is not the best way to serve the student body.
This is why we occupied the building for the second time. The lofty disinclination to speak seriously to students who care passionately for the future of the College, and for the social good that Higher Education constitutes, is quite typical of a class of managers who are no longer accountable to their students and their staff. It is nowhere near enough to write, as the Registrar does in his letter, that the management cares about students “from all backgrounds”. This is execrable tokenism. The “large majority” of Goldsmiths students and staff are not in favour of increased fees and annihilated teaching subsidies. University administrations cannot continue to adopt a façade of comfortable neutrality in the face of one of the most concentrated attacks on the socially underprivileged in this country’s modern history. The consequence of the refusal to negotiate is that the “precautionary” decision to close the library is made in the most recklessly unreasonable way. Students protest — management declines even the most rudimentary negotiation — then, as a “precaution”, services are withdrawn.
SMT may assert that it is not consciously “punishing” or assaulting students. But after their response to the Deptford Town Hall and Library occupations we believe this to be patently false and in any case irrelevant, since the refusal to engage in serious dialogue with students will lead inevitably to failures in the representation of their interests.
This brings us to the most serious part of our response. Although we have struggled to keep the library building open to students in response to what we still consider a retributive attempt to close it, we are appalled at SMT’s “precautionary” failures – that is, their failure to speak to us before shutting down College infrastructure – for one central reason.
Management’s closure of the library and its refusal to represent the opinions of its student body are connected. Both actions are the quite natural outcome of a cultivated unwillingness to enter into serious consultation with students and staff on any issue of more than individual importance. Of course university managements often pander with consummately maximal slavishness to the supposed rights of fee-paying students to commodified services; but students and staff are sick of being debarred with impatient sighs and bureaucratic hot air from a consequential discussion of the College’s policy on issues of livid national significance.
The first Goldsmiths occupation of this week took as its principal demand not an increase in opening hours but the immediate public assertion by the Goldsmiths’ SMT of its opposition to all cuts and fees in Higher Education. The second occupation withdrew from the library because we won our immediate demand that the library not be arbitrarily closed to students: we wished to show that we student occupiers are sensitive to the lives and the needs of those in whose name we claim to act. However, we feel students and academic staff have been systematically denied the influence they ought to and historically have exerted on the institutions that they together constitute (though we would add that support staff deserve an equal participatory role).
And how did Goldsmiths SMT respond to our communicated demands? They responded, though tardily, with a soufflé of self-contradictory statements that avoided with total finicality any mention of any of our substantial political demands. Let us then state the issues simply. Why did management refuse to acknowledge even formally the existence of the political demands issued at the beginning of the first occupation? Because management is accustomed to avoiding any substantial dialogue with those who dispute its self-interested political timidity. Why did management schedule the closure of the library this weekend? The same answer.
According to the Registrar, writing on behalf of the Senior Management Team, the students who undertook the second occupation were “protesting about our decision to close the library over the weekend”. This is a true statement to the extent that SMT refused to acknowledge that student grievances could extend beyond a neutered quibble concerning the provision of services. But we were not protesting about one decision alone. We continue to demand that the Goldsmiths’ SMT come out and say no to a political programme that will devastate UK Higher Education. We will continue to fight until university managements in general and Goldsmiths’ SMT in particular cease to serve as a complaisant buffer between students, academic staff, and the politicians who ignore them.