‘I don’t think we should ever ban anyone from speaking on campus’: Adam Tickell weighs in on campus censorship and students in hotels

He gave us flapjacks and brownies

Despite our constant meme-ing and content about him, we actually speak very little to Adam Tickell, if at all. Whilst we both were clearly aware of each other’s existence we had not taken the plunge to sit down and have a chat.

However, on November 28 we were invited to visit the Vice-Chancellor to talk about all of the big issues facing Sussex University right now.

As we entered his office, Adam greeted us with a firm handshake and questions all about our experiences at Sussex. At one point, we had forgotten who was interviewing who.

We wanted to focus on some of the big stories that have hit Sussex during his time as Vice-Chancellor. It was a chance to speak to the main figurehead of Sussex University and clear up issues such as Varsity, Sussex in the press, and indeed the relationship between the university and the Students’ Union.

Once we set up shop on his soft sofas, accompanied with flapjacks and brownies on the table, we commenced our interview.

Freedom of speech on Sussex campus and the UKIP Bill Etheridge story

From speaking to Adam, it felt as if he really enjoyed speaking to students and everyone at Sussex University, and enjoyed helping them out. Whilst it seemed that Adam wished to repair bridges with institutions of Sussex University, we wanted to know whether Adam necessarily agreed with things the Students’ Union do. The recent issue of MEP Bill Etheridge’s supposed no platforming and prevention from speaking on campus was addressed.

We asked if he agreed with the SU’s decisions surrounding Bill Etheridge.

“Yes we do, but the Union’s position is much more complex than simply trying to ban him”. Adam went on to explain that the position the press took was very classic and assured us that his strong view is that “no one should be banned from speaking on campuses unless they are breaking the law or we are falling short of our statutory duties.”

These statutory duties include PREVENT (the UK’s anti-terrorism strategy) and the Public Sector Equality Duty (the UK’s anti-discrimination strategy).

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UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge was subject to the External Speaker Policy at Sussex however the organisers believed it was stifling free speech

“Other than that though, I don’t think we should ever stop anyone from talking. I think it is reasonable on the other hand that there may be things that people don’t want to participate in. The classic example is sexual violence where it could be damaging”.

Adam continued to say that the nuances of the story meant that some had considered the SU was banning him from speaking on campus when this was not the case.

The society involved in bringing Bill Etheridge to campus stated that the external speaker policy was ‘no platforming by another name’ and that it stifles free speech. We asked Adam if he thought the external speaker policy stifles free speech.

“No, and I think the way it was interpreted was one where it made it appear as if it was stifling free speech. But I don’t think they were, after speaking to them (Students’ Union) they would have been comfortable for him to come in and talk. It is just when controversial topics may be brought up we have to fit around that.”

“The exact analogy was when we had problems around so-called Israel Apartheid week where we didn’t prevent any of the events from going ahead that would have been offensive to some people but we made sure they were properly policed. I believe the Students’ Union attempted to do the same thing but didn’t communicate it in the way they should’ve done.”

Varsity and Sussex University in the press

We found it interesting that Sussex University tends to always be in the press for all of the wrong reasons. Somehow, what happens in Sussex always ends up in national news and unfortunately, it tends to be negative. We wanted Adam to explain why he thinks this happens.

“The funny thing is that Sussex University gets a lot more column inches than almost any other university in the country – apart from Oxford or Cambridge because this country has an obsession with them – and Sussex partly because there is a story about us as being a left-wing university, which I don’t think is true.”

“But partly because the city is full of national journalists, genuinely full of national journalists. They pick up things in the local press that wouldn’t elsewhere and run a story. And then it plays into a particular narrative.”

We then continued onto varsity. Tickell went to explain that it was very damaging in the short run and that ultimately it can be boiled down to students who were too drunk and “behaved like a bunch of thugs”.

“It was embarrassing for a few days but we have taken action from it. The students have learned, but it was a real mistake to allow people to start drinking and not stop drinking early in the morning” Adam explained.

The Vice-Chancellor assured us that when Varsity happens in the future it will be more about the sport and less about drinking and the rivalry between universities. Adam revealed that Varsity will be returning perhaps next year or the year after but in a different form.

The relationship between the university and the Sussex Students’ Union

Intrigued in the ways that the university and the SU have previously disagreed on particular topics, such as the National Student Survey, we wanted to know what Adam thought the relationship between the university and the SU was like.

“It’s very good this year actually’ Adam quickly answered “the officers’ team this year … want to work constructively with us rather than shout at us. Which is a much more effective way of doing things.”

Adam went on to say that the university now is a lot more transparent and complimented current Students’ Union president, Frida. “She’s a very accomplished politician.'”Adam continued.

Tickell acknowledges that before his Vice-Chancellorship, Sussex suffered from a number of building occupations and there was a gap between Sussex House – which is the main administration building of Sussex and where Adam’s office is located – and the rest of the institutions that make up the university. “It isn’t how I like to run things” he commented.

“I go and have my lunch in Eat Central and people come to talk to me. On the whole, it is really nice” Adam remarked.

The conversation started to venture into the relationship with Adam and those who make up the university including students and staff members. Adam’s drop-in sessions tend to happen every month in Room 76 and he thought it was a good way for a dialogue to start with himself and everyone else.

“Again, it comes down to if you talk to me rather than shout at me it is much more effective” Tickell told us about his drop-in sessions.

The domestic violence case and Westmarland report

When Adam joined in September of 2016, Sussex University made national press once again for a domestic violence case between a lecturer and a student. The two were in a relationship and the lecturer, Lee Salter, continued working at the university despite his arrest. He resigned the day of the revelation.

We wanted to know what it was like for the university at this time.

“It was really difficult for the university to wake up to a topic that is not spoken about enough. All universities – Sussex in particular – consider themselves to be liberal environments in which bad things don’t happen. And when you get woken up by the fact that bad things can happen to a large community it is very hard for people to get shocked out of that sense that everything is fine.”

“I think, as does the woman involved in the incident, the whole environment has been helped by the response that was taken after the case. The report that Nicole Westmarland created was absolutely brilliant. I think it forced us to wake up that there is a problem with domestic violence and indeed sexual violence.”

“Student on student sexual violence is far too common, and student-teacher relationships are clearly not appropriate.”

Tickell went on to explain that there is now a staff/student relationship policy. This policy means that relationships between students and teachers have to be reported to the manager and that students and teachers cannot be in the same class should this be the case. Adam said that he really discourages those types of relationships and there are some ‘significant power dynamics’ within them.

Sussex students stuck in hotels and what the university is doing about it

We revealed that there are over 200 Sussex students stuck in hotels scattered around Brighton and Hove and gathered that their experiences in them were not positive in the slightest. Residents complained of shoddy buildings, overcrowding, and expensive rent which made us curious as to what Adam and his team thought of their situations.

“The evidence is that the students don’t feel like we do enough for them, “Adam stated. He then continued to explain that he has been working with SU officers and the head of housing in order to try and make things better for those in the hotels.

“I don’t want to be defensive about it, we don’t have enough accommodation. When the new accommodation is built it will take a lot of pressure off the local housing market.”

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We visited some of the hotels that were cramped

We then showed Adam pictures of the how the students live, which included photos of overcrowded kitchens.

“It’s not ideal, the challenge we’ve got is that we don’t have enough accommodation. If we reduce the number of students coming here then we have to significantly reduce the number of people that work for us.’ Adam then explained that this would deminish the educational experience of everyone at the university.  “The economics are challenging at the moment. The reason we put students in there is that they get support through other things like socials.”

“There is a wrap around them, it isn’t perfect and I won’t pretend that it is. We recognise it and will try to make it better next year but of course, that doesn’t matter to the students who are stuck here for the short amount of time anyway.”

After the official interview was over, we hung around in the office discussing what we, as students, were up to in our lives and began to talk about Adam’s sunset/sunrise photography. He was keen to fish out some of the snaps he took and featured in powerpoints that he presented.

Once everything was packed away we all shook hands, feeling happy with how the session went. Adam urged us to take a box of flapjacks and brownies that were on the table during our interview. We were more than happy to oblige.

You get a 24 hour meme pass Adam… thanks for chatting to us.