Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Our negotiating team came out of the private discussion and shared the findings with all of us. The University have indicated issues which we can negotiate on, and we hope to make some progress. Our team are going back to talk to them, and we'll have another meeting later today. We're moving towards discussion of the serious issues, and it's starting to become apparent just how much our efforts can change this university's policy. Seventeen other unis are doing it - if you're not already, please come down to the law faculty and get involved.


  1. how much _can_ your efforts do for gaza?
    do elaborate.

  2. I think once you decide to send negotiators in private without any form of public witnessing, the strength of the movement is greatly reduced, process gets even more bureaucratic in terms of how the students involved are going to make an impact, and the demands will end up being eaten up into technicalities. I guess exactly what the University of Cambridge authorities want.

    Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what can be achieved and I hope some of the demands will be at least partially met. More than an 'occupation', this is an interesting experiment in autonomous democratic centralism, within the wider more feudal structure of the university as a whole.

  3. "this is an interesting experiment in autonomous democratic centralism, within the wider more feudal structure of the university as a whole."

    what does this even mean?

    'democratic centralism' is a leninist thing, right? so a contradiction in terms. but then autonomous *of what*?

    how in hell, in any case, is a few fanatics demanding with menaces that a that university of thousands do this that and the other "democratic"?

    if you disagreed with the protest you would see this characterization as nonsense; and if the university did give in, and, say, the BNP used the same tactics, how 'interesting' would that 'experiment' be?

  4. I actually tend to agree with much of what you are saying. Let me clarify a few points:

    - I find democratic centralism (in its leninist or non-leninist varieties, i.e. liberal democracy in itself is a form of democratic centralism) an unsatisfactory way of carrying out protest actions; I strongly believe that each individual involved in an action should be heard and considered and I think that any form of fixed hierarchy (i.e. people elect reps, negotiators, spokesperson) fundamentally kills the democratic element of the action;

    - On the other hand, I think that within the very limiting constraints of the University system, having a space for airing views and opinions which are different from the mainstream is always a good thing and might lead to different kinds of direct action in the future;

    - Yes, if the BNP was there and carried out the protest by the same methods, I would have been very uncomfortable, I am in perfect agreement with that; nonetheless, it would have been an interesting experiment that would uncover the authoritarian contradictions of so-called left-wing movements; i.e. how far is the process of the BNP from other left-wing movements?

  5. coercing a university to make a statement supporting your political agenda is an "experiment" in some sort of "democracy"? did minitrue declare that?
    you didn't even ask the students whos facilities you usurped if they support you.
    that's how "democratic" this "experiment" is.

    perhaps you should put your demands to a poll of all students and faculty. then if you get a majority, the university would make the statements and take the actions you want.
    that would be truly democratic, but somehow i doubt you'd risk losing.

  6. Interesting that the same contradictions that have emerged from within the protest reflect the general problem of 'democratic consensus' within the university (and in Western liberal democracies as a whole).

    Just a few points:

    - How does a 50%+1 decision make it more bearable for an individual who doesn't agree with that decision and feels that it is profoundly unjust and limiting of his/her own and other people's rights? Mussolini was democratically elected.

    - Why should everybody be consulted to enforce a 50%+1 totalitarian rule? How is occupying a building and attempt to re-assert different rules more totalitarian than signing a contract with the University of Cambridge to accept the established authority and rulebook as the binding "law" within the university? I find it much more 'democratic' to take direct action to assert my own rights and express myself and then, from my own standpoint, establishing consensus and direct interaction with other members of the community, at all levels.

    - I myself don't feel on either side (i.e. Cambridge occupation or rigor mortis & others). I participated up to a point with the protest, I then felt that there was no more space for individual deliberation than there would have been if all university students voted for it and I physically left the space. I don't feel the protest is illegitimate, I simply withdrew from actively supporting it. Either method (i.e. the way the protest is being conducted now and the Cambridge democratic alternative rigor mortis is proposing) does not satisfy my need for self-expression. I strongly feel that both infringe on fundamental individual rights to self-expression and freedom of speech and action.

  7. If the BNP staged a protest of a similar kind, I personally would organise a counter-protest, and make it abundantly clear to the university that they did not reflect the views of most students. The general acceptance and support for the aims of this protest (if not the method) that I have come across, would suggest that it is wider support for it than just the people participating in the event.

  8. vito,

    your personal right to self-expression isn't the issue here. you may express yourself freely as you see fit.

    the issue here is an attempt to coerce the university, which is much larger than the group of "occupiers" to make statements and take action in line with the occupiers' political agenda. if their whole point was just a protest (ie self-expression), we wouldn't be having this discussion.

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  10. rigor mortis,

    I see your point.

    From my perspective, that's how I see it: University of Cambridge makes statements everyday through its actions and policies without consulting me (a member of the University community) or other members in any relevant way. I do not associate myself with any such actions or statements, regardless of whether I agree with them or not.

    From the same perspective, whether the University of Cambridge itself supports the Cambridge occupation demand for a public statement of condemnation of the Israeli occupation of Gaza is also in many ways irrelevant; it is relevant insofar as such a statement could change things in Gaza (unlikely though, whatever the statement to be made). I wouldn't feel represented by such statements either, because whether I agree with it or not, once again I am not being consulted.

    So, to conclude, I take your point about democracy. But Cambridge Occupation movement is as undemocratic as the institution of the university itself. I don't see how one organisation (the protesters) trying to hijack another (the wider university) for their own ends is any less democratic than what the university already does, especially since huge amounts of public funding are involved. The university itself hijacks public money, reputational gains and the intellectual resources of its students for its own ends, without really consulting anybody involved (i.e. taxpayers, students, government officials, mps etc etc).

  11. does cambridge really make regular political announcements and statements?

    i also see your point about the university itself being undemocratic, and i agree to a certain degree.

    the issue as i see it here is coercion. the occupiers are forcing the university to do things that possibly (although unlikely) nobody except the 100 occupiers thinks are correct.
    the fact the university may do such things as a matter of course because of the way it is run (although, again, i don't 100% agree with this line of thinking) really is irrelevant.

    do you want to make the university more or less democratic?

  12. The university is democratic - but the students aren't entitled to vote. It is the members of the 'Regent House' that are entitled to vote- which means many of the academics in the university (there are 'over 3000 members' from a quick google).

    That means that if the protesters made good cases to their college authorities and convinced them of their cases, then things could change.

    I'm sure some of you think that students should have a vote - actually, I disagree; the academics can look to the long term good of the university; students will generally focus on short term just because of the nature of their contact with the university. That doesn't mean students don't have a voice - just that they need to make their arguments good enough to convince people it's for the long term good of the university.

    The other difference is the length of time for things to happen. It takes time to work out the details of plans - e.g. where is the money coming from, and what loses out as a result; what books/computers is it practical to give, and are they actually what's needed now, or will they be taking up transportation space that would be better used for food, medicine, building supplies etc. - it would be very irresponsible for the uni to agree to things without thinking about these details, and that can't be done in one weekend.

  13. Stumo's description proves what a bureaucratic authoritarian nightmare the University of Cambridge is.

    Also, how does democracy work? Isn't it one of the principles that everybody has the right to participate on an equal basis at least at some levels of the decision-making process?

    Unless obviously we want to go as far back as Ancient Greek "democracy" where the majority of the population (i.e. slaves) did not have any say at all. Maybe, in this sense, the University of Cambridge is also a democracy.

  14. Not everyone has a right to participate. For example, as a UK citizen I have no right to vote in US elections, nor do Americans in the UK get to vote in ours. Equally you can't vote if you're too young. I believe that in the US at least convicted felons can't vote.

    The uni isn't run by the students. This shouldn't be a surprise to anybody. It's run by the people who are paid to do so, who have the time to do the research necessary for decisions, and the long term interests of the uni at heart. If students have reasonable requests, then raising them through CUSU and through colleges will work.

    Bureaucratic authoritarian nightmare? What alternative would you prefer? It's a large organisation dealing with millions of pounds and having to deal with many different groups of people - students, departments, colleges, prospective students - Yes, there's going to be bureaucracy. And I'm not claiming it's perfect. But it's good enough.

  15. And generally speaking, Stumo, academics - including yourself, I imagine - are a politically quietist bunch of self-seeking careerists. Apart from, of course, the ones courageous enough to come out in support of the occupation. It may well be, Stumo, that the 'long-term good' of the university - as you put it - comes into direct conflict with students' interests who can only sit back and watch (or, in your world, making the occasional plea to equally quietist college authorities) while institutions of higher education and learning get turned into profit-seeking business conference centres. Many people have made much the university's charitable status as a reason why they cannot take a political stance (adequately dealt with in a previous post); they are naive to think the university is a charity in anything but status. It's not good enough Stumo. It's not good enough.