Blog: Lady Mitchell Hall Occupation

The occupation keeps going, but lectures have started to be moved as a result. A big few days await.

4.20pm November 30th

The protesters scored a huge victory last night at CUSU Council, as a majority voted to support their actions.

In an extraordinary mood swing from this time last week, the Council resolved to support the aims of the occupation and engage with CDE’s efforts in fighting the White Paper.

A counter-charge was led by Queens’ JCR Pres and External Officer, who argued that little had changed since reps from half the colleges wanted to disaffiliate from CDE just eight days ago. However, the motion was defeated.

Liam McNulty, one of those occupying the Lady Mitchell Hall, tweeted that it was a “spectacular victory” in “defeating a reactionary conspiracy to divide students on the eve of the strike”.

Philosopher Ramond Geuss addressed the occupiers yesterday.

Those at the protest on Sidgwick yesterday were treated to a talk on free speech by philosopher Raymond Geuss. He argued that freedom of speech had to be connected to a context, thus supported CDE’s actions in stopping Willetts from talking because they refused to submit to his “political performance.”

6.30pm November 28th

As the Lady Mitchell rumbles on towards its seventh night of occupation,  the protest has started to call disruption to lectures.

Two economics lectures – one today and one tomorrow – were moved out of the Lady Mitchell hall primely because of the protest that is ongoing. The decision was made by the faculty, and sent round in an email to students.

This comes as a blow to CDE’s stance of defending education if more begin to be moved, and could damage what has been a fruitful few days for them.

A rare recital by Cambridge poet J.H.Prynne rounded off a busy weekend for CDE, and he also gave some crowd-pleasing views. He told those at Sidgwick last night: “I am in complete support of your occupation here. To me it is a defence of free speech. I support you fully.”

A poster outside LMH. Do all students support it?

With a number of academics behind the occupation, CDE are working on getting more involved, targeting those who supported the Old Schools Occupation last year. There have also been moves to distance the Willetts action completely from the occupation of the lecture theatre.

After a small victory at CUSU Council on Saturday when the motion to disaffiliate was modified, the protesters will be hoping to secure their support at the meeting tomorrow night.

Plans for Wednesday

It is not yet clear whether CDE will continue the occupy the lecture theatre after the strike day on Wednesday. Meanwhile, there has also been a lively debate on Facebook between students after a page was set up by John’s student Anna Stansbury to send an apology to Willetts. The petition disputes the actions of CDE in driving the minster off the stage, and states:

“Please do not take the actions of a handful of protesters as representative of the majority of students.”

It has prompted a cross-fire of views, with Varsity blogger Tom Belger one to take issue with the idea of an apology letter. 217 are seemingly giving their support to the apology idea by ‘attending’.

4.20pm November 27th

Cambridge Defend Education say the movement remains strong even after CUSU Council’s motion yesterday. “CUSU haven’t formally disaffiliated from us, and they are also about fighting the White Paper.”

A second extraordinary meeting, to discuss whether CUSU support the aims of the occupation, has now been scheduled for 6pm this Tuesday.

The front of the Lady Mitchell Hall

When asked if the mood had been brought down by CUSU’s comments yesterday CDE remained positive: “We have had overwhelming support in every JCR open meeting in which CDE’s aims have been discussed.” These meetings have happened at Girton, King’s and Newnham so far. Corpus will have an open meeting on Tuesday.

After Skype sessions with similar movements across the country, CDE said: “We are feeling really positive about or support from similar campaigns in Bloomsbury, Goldsmith’s and Warwick Universities.”

Occupation reading material

Over 100 people are expected to attend a poetry reading by J.H. Prynne tonight at 11pm. “He has been coming in regularly since the beginning of the occupation,” said one member. “He even brought us a cake once.”

When asked about party affiliation and representation in the CDE movement as a whole, one member said they were keen that all different political parties at Cambridge were represented.

“We tried to have a debate yesterday morning at 11am with representatives from all the main student political organisations, but it was cancelled because there wasn’t much interest.” She then added: “Postponed might be a better word.”

On 30th November, CDE will provide a base for striking academics as they prepare for picket lines at the major University sites including the New Museums Site, Downing, Sidgwick and Addenbrookes Research Facility. “We are not directly supporting the strike, but we support industrial action in general,” said Malcolm from CDE.

The occupation will be continuing definitely until the 30th, and possibly even after, CDE have said. “It really depends on the general mood. The University have not tried to throw us out. They haven’t really even spoken to us.

Reporting and photographs by Papatya Sutcliffe

10.00pm November 26th

CDE have responded to CUSU’s action today:

“We at CDE are overall very pleased with the result… The main motion was originally for CUSU to disaffiliate from CDE. This was amended to ‘disaffiliate from the Willetts action’ and passed.

“This is a good result, the best amendation we could have hoped for under the circumstances.”

“We have put forward a petition calling for another EGM, to debate our own Emergency Motion which asks CUSU to support the aims of the occupation. This is in line with CUSU’s stance and ideology and we hope the motion will pass.”

5.50pm November 26th

After a drawn-out debate, CUSU Council officially condemned Cambridge Defend Education’s actions.

The motion, which resolved “To condemn the acitons which prevented students hearing and questioning David Willetts” and “To disassociate CUSU from these actions of Cambridge Defend Education” received almost-unanimous approval, with only two votes against.

Over 100 students attended, including a substantial presence from CDE, who had made attending the meeting an official part of their day’s schedule.

The CDE representative who had previously assured CUSU that they did not plan to prevent Willetts speaking claimed that this was miscommunication between CDE and him, rather than an attempt to mislead.

Several attempts to amend or alter the motion in favour of CDE were quashed. A motion to support the occupation was deferred to another emergency meeting, which will occur within the next 72 hours.

CUSU President Gerard Tully was positive about the outcome, telling The Tab “This is student unions as they should be – condemning something we find as anathema to what we are about.

“[as a result of the meeting] I can unequivocally say that the actions disrupting David Willetts were wrong. Full Stop”

CDE declined to comment at the time.

Reporting by Kieran Corcoran

2.30pm November 26th

The University Council has released an official statement on Willetts’ speech, condemning the protesters:

“The Council values diversity of opinion and view. It believes that freedom of expression and speech is a fundamental principle of the University. The action of the protestors violated this principle.”

A post by CDE on their blog acknowledges the statement, but sidelines the criticism to focus on the occupation:

“Cambridge Defend Education notes the statement by University Council.. Though some of us may disagree with Council on the nature of free speech, we do not wish to belabour the point. We invite all those who wish to oppose the White Paper and support the 30 November strikes to join us in organising towards these ends, regardless of opinion on the Willetts interruption.”

This is part of a growing trend by CDE to dissociate the occupation from the Willetts protest, which The Tab understands has been a source of division within the group.

9.50pm November 25th

Girton College JCR, like King’s, has taken a stance on the occupation.

A statement released by JCR President Alex Wessely said “Girton voted that we condemn the interruption of David Willetts’ speech on 22nd November… However, we also voted that we support the subsequent occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall.

“This support is on the condition that lectures continue undisrupted. We defer to the debate at CUSU council for the decision on the motion.”

8.35pm November 25th

The movement is growing. Admittedly, more in enthusiasm than definite numbers, but the spirit of last year’s Old Schools occupation appears to be arriving at Sidgwick. 

As the occupation moves through a third day, more posters are adorning the Lady Mitchell and more are being made. The decision by King’s to support CDE has provided a boost, and a full schedule has been arranged for the weekend.

Professor Raymond Geuss and the poet J.H.Prynne are just two of a busy weekend of activities going on that includes talks by the academics Dr Priya Gopal and Dr Brendan Burchill.

Food supplies and poster-making. The occupation seems to be gathering pace and energy.

Andrew Diver, a PhD student at Corpus, was positive about the momentum of the occupation. He told The Tab that numbers are slowly improving, with 25 sleeping over last night after a successful open mic event.

However, there is still some concern over the CUSU Council meeting tomorrow. Liam, studying an MPhil in Modern European History, said: “It will be a real shame if the motion [that CUSU disassociates itself from CDE] goes ahead.” He added that it would feel tough to split the student body ahead of the events coming up.

Attendance in the daytime remain sparse too. Only a dozen were keeping camp this afternoon in the hall and lobby. Tomorrow could be crucial in deciding the mood of CUSU and CDE but, for now, spirits are high at Sidgwick.

The lecture room has remained pretty empty in the daytime, despite Rosa’s best efforts.

Reporting by Simon Bajkowski

2.40pm November 25th

CDE has invited all of Cambridge’s JCR presidents to a discussion hours before tomorrow’s extraordinary meeting on whether CUSU should condemn CDE’s actions against David Willetts and “disassociate CUSU from Cambridge Defend Education.”

The group of presidents, many of whom crafted the motion in opposition to CDE, have been invited to “a discussion of the White Paper and how to fight it at Cambridge, at 11am this Saturday, in occupied Lady Mitchell Hall.”

The CUSU meeting is scheduled to begin at 3pm that afternoon.

CDE posted a schedule for the day on their blog; activities include a workshop on “women and the cuts”, a UCU (University and Colleges Union) activists’ meeting, feature Vice-President Simon Renton, and a film screening in the evening.

Meanwhile, Twitter has been buzzing with messages of solidarity sent between occupation groups from other universities, including Birmignham, Goldsmiths, Warwick and Edinburgh.

One slightly out-of-the-ordinary tweet came from occupation parody account @fauxcialists:

Our readers’ poll on Cambridge Defend Education broke 1,000 votes last night, and currently stands at 158 votes for (15%) and 921 votes against (85%).

Reporting by Kieran Corcoran

8.35pm November 24th

A protest took place outside the Law Faculty this evening, where Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove gave a talk at 6pm.

Around 30 protesters marched on the Sidgwick site chanting slogans such as “Michael Gove! Get out! We know what you’re all about!” and “What do we want? Free education! When do we want it? Now!”

Protesters outside the talk

As the talk was due to begin they gathered in front of the Law Faculty where security personnel were present. Students continued to enter and exit the faculty. Michael Gove reportedly arrived and gave his talk, but did not use the main entrance so avoided protesters.

Harry Wright, an English fresher at Caius, told The Tab that the protest aimed “to send a clear message to Michael Gove that we don’t support his ideas at all – they could have a serious impact on students looking to go to university in future.”

The entrance to the Law Faculty just before the talk

Meanwhile the occupation continues at the Lady Mitchell Hall. Numbers were low in the evening because occupiers were taking part in actions elsewhere, such as the Gove protest and a talk at Sidney Sussex, but CDE sources estimate that around 120 people have been in and out of the occupation during the day.

In response to the motion proposed earlier today by CUSU to disassociate with CDE, occupier Silkie Carlo, third year PPS student at Churchill, told The Tab “we would like to have a good relationship with CUSU,” adding that CDE’s response to the motion “will be apparent at the meeting.”

The occupation’s full plans for tomorrow are yet to be finalised, but it has been confirmed that the vice-president of UCU (the University and College Union) will address the occupation.

Reporting by Kieran Corcoran

5.45pm November 24th

Around twenty students stayed at Lady Mitchell last night as the occupation continues, according to those in the camp today.

After a lecture framing what will happen on the national day of demonstration on Nov 30th and a Soviet poetry reading, the protesters settled down for another night in the lecture hall.

Attachment has been a topic in the discussion today, and more action is expected when Michael Gove speaks later tonight at the Law Faculty.

The schedule for today

Reaction continues to be mixed. There has been positive feedback, with UCU, LSE executives, and a number of academics supporting their occupation. Others have been less kind.

Richard Parkins, a Trinitygraduate who attended the talk, told The Tab: “I was in fact one of the audience members who were shouting at the CDE activists to shut up and let him speak. I can’t see how CDE claim to be defending Education if they do not appear to understand what Education is.”

In addition, one of the CDE representatives talking to The Tab today was called an “arrogant wanker” by a student leaving the lecture hall.

A welcoming message outside Lady Mitchell

Nearly 1,000 of you have voted in the poll at the bottom of the article at the time of writing, with just under 87% against CDE actions. The occupation goes on.

Reporting by Harry Shukman

8.00am November 24th

CUSU has proposed a damning emergency motion, to be decided on in a special meeting this Saturday.

Thirty-one JCR officials representing 15 colleges jointly proposed the motion, which resolves: “To condemn the actions which prevented students hearing and questioning David Willetts” and: “To disassociate CUSU from Cambridge Defend Education.

It also notes that CUSU was “misled” by CDE regarding their intentions to disrupt Willetts’ talk.

The motion is worlds away from CUSU’s response to last year’s occupation of the Old Schools, which CUSU quickly pledged its support to.

Meanwhile CDE’s Facebook page has outlined their schedule for the day ahead. It includes several meetings, one specifically on JCR motions surrounding the occupation.

The occupiers will also protest against a talk by Michael Gove, Tory MP and Secretary of State for Education scheduled for 5.30pm in the nearby Law Faculty.

Reporting by Kieran Corcoran

6.50pm November 23rd

The occupation of the Lady Mitchell Hall plans to continue for another week, although disagreement with the stance has already been clearly voiced by colleges.

Cambridge Defend Education confirmed to The Tab this afternoon that the occupiers are setting up camp until at least 30th November. On that day, there will be a nationwide public sector strike and many are marching in opposition to the controversial White Paper regarding higher education.

The timetable drawn up by the occupiers

Since the events of last night, those involved in forcing Willetts out of the building have been busy giving flyers to passers-by at Sidgwick and setting up events for protestors, much like the actions at the Old Schools Occupation last December. They have also confirmed their efforts to make sure that no lectures or security staff are obstructed, and lectures did go ahead as planned today.

One male supporter has suggested that this occupation is different from the actions of CDE last night. He said: “It’s possible to support one and not the other, and people are welcome to come and transform this space. It’s an ‘open space’.”

A ‘Solidarity Wall’ and slogans are recent additions to the Hall. Not sure what Lady Mitchell would think.

The backlash from the stopping of Willetts’s talk has already been seen. After CUSU President Gerard Tully and CULC Chairman Richard Johnson slammed the impeding of the speech, a motion has been brought before King’s Student Union to join them in taking a stand.

In an email sent to all college members today, a member of KCSU proposed a motion, to be voted on tomorrow, stating that it cannot support an organisation that prevents freedom of speech and doesn’t keep its word, and so is discouraging people from supporting CDE. It did add that it was more the methods that caused the stance, rather than the aims.

[It was previously reported that KCSU had already passed this motion. This was a misunderstanding and has been corrected].

The proposals to be put before KCSU

With the declaration of an extraordinary CUSU meeting involving college JCR presidents on the matter of the occupation, more developments are expected soon.

At the time of writing, a remarkably steady 87% (538 votes) of you have voted against the CDE actions in our poll at the bottom of the page, while only 81 votes (13%) have supported them.

Reporting and photographs by Sophie Hoare and Elise Morton

3.50pm November 23rd

Opinions remain divided on the actions of the actions of the occupiers.

In a press release this morning, Cambridge Defend Education quoted poet and Caius fellow Dr J.H. Prynne, who said the lecture series’ lineup of speakers “included no representation of the student voice, they were simply excluded.

“They stormed this citadel by taking the expression of their collective views into their own hands… much blame must be attached to the organisers of this series for effectively instigating this episode.”

Professor Helen Cooper, who was in the audience last night, meanwhile told The Tab: “Quite apart from the matter of wrecking a lecture, free speech is not best served by chanting someone else’s words.

“And it is not a good strategy to hand over the moral high ground to anyone you think is wrong. Recommended reading: George Orwell, Politics and the English Language and Animal Farm.”

Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, an outspoken opponent of the fee changes, got involved over Twitter, saying: “disagreeing with someone is no excuse to stop them speaking. One value that universities should prize is freedom of expression.”

Closer to home, at the time of writing our readers’ poll has clocked up 64 votes (14%) in support of CDE and 402 votes (86%) against them.

Reporting by Kieran Corcoran

01.00am November 23rd

Cambridge Defend Education have issued a press release on the occupation. They claim that 50 students are occupying the lecture theatre, and state their intention to use the building to “run a ‘free school’ over the coming days.”

11.30pm November 22nd

As of 11.30pm people are free to enter and exit the building, though a security presence remains. Cambridge Defend Education reaffirmed their commitment to remain overnight.

The Lady Mitchell Hall hung with “Occupy” banners


Cambridge activists shut down a talk by David Willetts and occupied the building he was speaking in.

The Universities Minister was expected to give a talk on ‘The Idea of the University’, but a chorus of protesters from Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) shouted him down before he started speaking.

The minister attempted to reply early in the 15-minute-long statement, but students did not allow a response.

Members of the audience stood up from their seats and shouted “let the man speak!” and “get on with it” during Cambridge Defend Education’s 1000-word “epistle” to Willetts, which included lines such as “Your name is anathema to us” and finished with “Go home, David, and learn your gods anew.”

Protesters gathered outside before the speech. Photo: Chrystal Ding

Willetts then left the stage, and around 25 protesters occupied the space chanting: “Willetts! Willetts! Willetts! Out! Out! Out!”

Shortly after it was announced that he would no longer be able to give his talk.

Cambridge Defend Education have since announced they have “closed down and occupied” Willett’s stage and placed a call on Twitter and Facebook for people to join them. University security responded by securing the building, though The Tab understands that people are now free to come and go.

Audiences leave as students occupy the stage

Professor Simon Goldhill, who had organised the talk, blasted the protesters’ actions as “self-indulgent nonsense” and “a shame to Cambridge.

CUSU have released a statement on the incident condemning the actions of the protesters: “Freedom of expression is one of the founding principles of University education – no matter how objectionable the views being espoused are. Students believe in this principle and so does CUSU, so we cannot support any protest that violates it – which the disruption of David Willetts’ talk tonight clearly did.”

The Tab understands that Cambridge Defend Education last night addressed CUSU council emphatically saying that they were not intending to prevent Willetts from speaking.

The locked outside of the occupied lecture hall shortly after the occupation began

Richard Johnson, chair of the Cambridge University Labour Club, told The Tab: “I think that David Willetts and the coalition’s university policies are a disgrace, but democracy requires that even those with whom we disagree deeply are allowed to speak freely.”

University sources indicated that the actions of CDE have lost them the support of many senior sympathetic academics by denying Willetts the freedom of speech.

James Jackson, a second year art historian at Emma who was taking part in CDE’s actions, told The Tab: “Willetts has spoken in Parliament, interviews and press releases. He has made his mind up, regardless of academic and student consultation.

Willetts has probably said enough, and it’s our turn to speak.”

Protesters at the event suggested to The Tab that Simon Goldhill had sent emails to the mailing list of CRASSH (the group who organised the talk) asking for people to ask pre-prepared questions after the Minister’s speech and that there “was going to be no real debate.”

Lorna Finlayson, a King’s philosophy Fellow who was at the event, told The Tab: “I realise a lot of people think he should be allowed to speak. But the time for that has now come to an end. We have heard and seen quite enough.

“The argument that we have a debate has ceased to be relevant… it is irresponsible of us to allow him to have a platform.”

Around 25 occupiers were establishing conditions for University officials, pledging to stay the night. Cambridge Defend Education has called for people to join them via Facebook and Twitter.

Reporting by Kieran Corcoran


The Tab wants to know what YOU think of the occupation. VOTE in our poll below:

If you hear any news about this occupation, please contact [email protected]

This is part of a growing trend by CDE to dissociate the occupation from the Willetts protest, which The Tab understands has been a source of division within the group:

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