“This is a battle for the soul of this university” - 300 march on city in support of suspended student

HUNDREDS of students and academics marched through Cambridge today in support of a suspended student amid a growing backlash against the university’s decision to bar him for two and a half years.

More than 300 of the marchers gathered outside Cambridge University’s Old Schools before completing a circuit of the city and holding an open meeting on King’s College lawn.

Academics and students alike condemned the university for the seven-term suspension of English PhD student Owen Holland for his part in last November’s protest against universities minister David Willetts.

Dr Priya Gopal, a teaching fellow of English at Churchill College, said: “I see what is happening as a battle for the soul of this university.

“Unless we stop what is happening this university is dead and destroyed.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) president Gerard Tully who said: “Student anger over this sentence will be heard.”

Addressing the crowd, Mr Tully read out a statement from Mr Holland, who is believed to have interrupted Mr Willetts’ speech with a poem and then taken part in the subsequent occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall.

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In it, Mr Holland apologised he could not be at the protest today but said he had been advised to stay away. He thanked everyone for the support he has received and said: “Don’t let anybody tell you that the idea of solidarity is dead.”

He urged the protesters to be “unflinching” in their opposition and stated his intention to appeal the sentence handed down by the Court of Discipline on Wednesday.

Dominic Morris, 22 and a student at Corpus Christi College, said the punishment was “totally disproportionate”.

“The broader issue is why he is being punished. The university’s act is one to stifle free speech,” he added.

Meanwhile, a petition in support of Mr Holland passed 3,400 signatures.

At a sit-down meeting on King’s College lawn a group of protesters, loosely known as Cambridge Defend Education, planned their next protest and called on the CUSU council to hold an emergency meeting to condemn the university.

The group also unanimously agreed a vote of no confidence in the chancellor, vice chancellor, university management and Court of Discipline.

Ian Patterson, who teaches English at Queens’ College, and was Mr Holland’s supervisor, said the punishment amounted to “scapegoating”.

“But my anger, like everyone’s, is directed not only at the absured and destructive disproportion of the sentence but at the way it uses bureaucratic authority to punish effective dissent,” he wrote in a blog for the London Review of Books.

Other support took the form of a “Spartacus” letter signed by more than 60 dons and students demanding they be punished for the same charge as they took part in the protest too. They called the disciplinary action “arbitrary and wrong”.

A spokesman for the university said: “The University notes the decision of the Court of Discipline in its proceedings held today.

“By Statute the Court of Discipline is an independent body which is empowered to adjudicate when a student is charged by the University Advocate with an offence against the discipline of the University.

“The Court may impose a range of sentences as defined in the Statutes.”

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