Militant student activists are doing more harm than good for lecturers
‘You will lose the support of sympathetic students’
This week we were greeted with the news that members of 'Bristol Student-Staff Solidarity' have 'occupied' Senate House and are demanding a meeting with Bristol University Vice-Chancellor, Hugh Brady.
A series of demands were posted on Facebook including: "Our university should: cut the extortionate rent students face in halls, divest from fossil fuels, fund our mental health services adequately, and pay all university workers the living wage, with stable in-house contracts and a 5:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid staff."
Furthermore, "The Government should: scrap tuition fees altogether and guarantee all students a grant that is enough to live on; and end the Prevent programme and recognise our right to free speech and protest."
Let's put aside for a moment the fact that the British government is probably not going to change its higher-education policy because of a few militants camping in Senate House. What has any of this got to do with a pension dispute?
I respect people's right to protest. I respect legitimate grievances against a change in pension arrangements that will inevitably lead to many lecturers receiving less than originally anticipated. I accept that the optics of our vice-Chancellor's salary looks bad although I think the actual substance of it in the context of a pension dispute is limited. By all means strike or picket in order to resolve what is specifically a pension dispute.
But, when you start using the protests to advance your own political agenda you are doing a disservice to the very people whom you are seeking to help. It is the definition of hijacking. The policies proposed are almost totally in line with the Labour Party's education policy (something which I'm sure has nothing to do with the fact that members of the group are also members of the Labour Party) which was rejected by the British population at the most recent election.
You might think that all the suggested policies are fair and reasonable. Fine. But, they are not what is being discussed. What is being discussed is a change to pension arrangements. Criticising an element of the government's counter-terrorism strategy, Prevent, has nothing to do with it. You look like opportunists who are using a crisis in which students are losing precious contact hours to advance your own goals.
This approach only disadvantages the lecturers. It allows all those strikes on to be labelled as militant and undermines the media relations battle. Most people can get on board with protesting pension cuts. Fewer can get on board with students 'occupying' a building in order to enact a far-left manifesto with limited support from the general public. The time to put forward such proposals is an election and not a protest. You are doing a disservice to the lecturers by doing so.
At the same time the public relations battle is only made worse by some students appearing to be proud of their 'occupation' appearing on Russia Today; the Russian State TV channel which has been censured by Ofcom more times than any other news network. Protestors need to recognise why the propaganda arm of the Russian government might be suddenly taking an interest in their proposals.
Bristol Student-Staff Solidarity has good intentions. They genuinely want a resolution to an ongoing dispute which is robbing both students and lecturers of precious contact hours.
I applaud people who are prepared to do something about their views rather than just rant on Facebook or Twitter (one of my own many faults!). But, by using it as an excuse to discuss issues that, may be relevant to its members, are not the subject of the protest they come across as opportunist.
They allow university management and the media to label all protestors as far-left activists with an ulterior agenda that they cannot possibly meet. You will lose the support of sympathetic students if they feel that they are losing contact hours because of your desire to criticise the government's counter-terrorism strategy.