Hetherington occupation to fight University request for closure

Published

Nick Sikora

The Free Hetherington has stated its intent to resist Glasgow University in its formal request for an end to the occupation.

The decision to continue the occupation, which was made at 5pm during an open meeting of the club, was made on the basis that occupiers felt their demands had not been met and that University management had been ‘misleading’ and ‘defamatory’ in their reasons stated for asking occupiers to leave the building.

The initial request to vacate the building had been circulated to all students at Glasgow University in an email signed by David Newall, the University’s Secretary of Court, who listed a series of four criminal complaints alleged against the occupation. These included breaking and entering, vandalism, and intimidation of members of the public.

He said: “Today the University management have asked the students to conclude the occupation and leave the Hetherington.

“The management of the University has supported the right of staff and students to protest effectively but peacefully and within the law. A small minority of protestors have repeatedly failed to do so.

“The protest is now affecting the safety and wellbeing of our staff and students. It is hoped that the occupiers will consider the views of others and end their protest in a dignified fashion.

“The management of the University is examining all options to end the occupation.”

The Hetherington’s response, which was released after a vote by Hetherington activists, was critical of the University.

It said: “This email is seriously misleading and potentially defamatory and we at the Free Hetherington feel you, the students and staff of this university, deserve a comprehensive explanation of these events.

“We contacted university management at the beginning of the occupation with our demands and did not receive a response… We have not had any direct communication from them outlining the issues as they have perceived them, any formal requests from them, nor any suggested means of entering into a dialogue with them.

“We believe that the university’s actions in sending this email, not to those it addresses but to the whole student body, with a series of distortions, and after three weeks of refusing to discuss any way to move forward, shows a lack of even perfunctory consultation or an authentic desire for reconciliation.

“We are not here on the sufferance of the university; the building remains open.”

The continued operation of the Hetherington Research Club has split opinion on campus, with several actions by a number of its members causing heated controversy and debate. The heckling of Aaron Porter, which some people claimed amounted to physical intimidation, was criticised by the SRC and a number of student organisations, while University staff have privately spoken of feeling unsafe in the vicinity of the building.

Meanwhile, others have stated their belief that the occupation is a strong representation of student activism, and important for the voice of students to be heard in months to come.

Whether University staff follow up on their ultimatum or allow the occupation to continue remains to be seen.

Hetherington response in full:

On the 23rd February all students and staff at Glasgow University received an email from senior management detailing events that have occurred surrounding the student occupation of the Hetherington Research Club.

This email is seriously misleading and potentially defamatory and we at the Free Hetherington feel you, the students and staff of this university, deserve a comprehensive explanation of these events.

University management have seen fit to send a campus-wide email condeming the student sit-in of the Hetherington, feigning reluctant necessity as a result of recent events. This email is their first and only response to the student and staff call for negotiation regarding the Hetherington and planned cuts to university services and courses.

We hope through the following to inform you of the truths behind the statements the senate and court have made, and we would be happy to hear your views over a cup of (free!) tea or coffee at the Free Hetherington.

We contacted university management at the beginning of the occupation with our demands and did not receive a response.  We remain keen to meet with them.  Prior to their general email communication a process had been initiated by security staff on 23rd February and we expected to be meeting imminently with security staff. However the occupation has had no direct communication from university management at any point.  We were therefore surprised to receive an email from the Senior Management Group of The University of Glasgow directed not at the occupiers, but at all students and staff.  We have not had any direct communication from them outlining the issues as they have perceived them, any formal requests from them, nor any suggested means of entering into a dialogue with them.

We reiterate our demands:

  1. Maintained freedom of access to the building, on the terms of the occupants.
  2. The Hetherington Research Club to be returned to democratic control by students and staff, with the return of the block grant. All those who lost their jobs as a result of the closure should be offered their jobs back.
  3. Anton Muscatelli should condemn the cuts and student fees and take the average wage of university staff, or resign.
  4. No cuts at Glasgow University. We demand no job cuts, no course cuts, no cuts to student services, no cuts to teaching budgets and an end to the voluntary severance scheme.
  5. Glasgow University must become a democratic place of lifelong learning for all residents of Glasgow.
  6. We demand investment in higher education and wider public services and an end to the Government’s programme of austerity.

We do not believe these demands impossible or unreasonable, in fact we consider them essential to any decent society. We are still committed to highlighting and campaigning against the destructive nature of multi-million pound cuts at Glasgow University, as proposed by senior management, and as announced by the Herald (senior management did not consider these proposals important enough to warrant an email to all staff and students.) We have also shown support to the union which most academic staff are members of, the UCU, and support them in their defence of all our courses and jobs, and will continue to do so during any industrial action they may choose to take.

Since opening on Tuesday 1st February the Free Hetherington has hosted a range of successful events attracting a wide range of different people. We have been glad that so many people have found us a useful and stimulating venue – as detailed by reports in newspapers, radio and on the television – and have given us support with their time and other contributions. These events have included guest lectures, tutorials, student society events, discussions, workshops, film showings, quiz nights, poetry open mic nights, and cooking demos. As well as these events many hundreds of people have used the Free Hetherington to study, to read and to have a coffee and a chat. All the while we have endeavoured to highlight the effects of the cuts on campus and beyond.

As regards the facts of the matter, which at points differ from the claims made in the Court email:

– Our demands, as restated above, have at no point, in versions publicised or those delivered to management, included anything concerning Egypt and the ongoing issues in that country.  We are against cuts to courses at Glasgow University, in wider society, and the attempted full-scale reconfiguration of the nature of education in this country.

– On the 3rd of February an event occurred which will be familiar to everyone who has run a student venue, or a pub anywhere in the country. A drunk man unknown to us attempted to gain access to the Free Hetherington, and we refused him entry, as the university would expect of us. When he persisted he was stopped from doing so by members of the Free Hetherington’s own security team. He became more aggressive, and a member of the campus security guard intervened. Those involved have co-operated with all requests for witness statements from the police. Other such events have been dealt with without issue, including verbal abuse and violence from a minority of the student body towards those in the building at the time.

– On the 21st of February security staff informed members of the Free Hetherington that damage had been caused to doors between 13 and 14 University Gardens. The members of the Free Hetherington strongly condemn the damage done to the doors, and the space upstairs. Incidents of this nature have occurred in the past and by no means is the Hetherington exceptional amongst university establishments in this regard. In the past, large club-nights repeatedly had similar problems as a result of the internal door between 13 and 14 university Gardens being a fire escape.

– We have evidence that suggests this event is connected with a similar event which occurred on our second day in the building. The occupiers informed the university security staff of the damage, and offered to pay for any repairs, but this offer was refused by management. In this latest incident nothing was taken, however it was understandably distressing for the occupants of 14 University Gardens that their office space was subjected to such an attack.  In addition paperwork from the Hetherington was left around the vandalised offices.  It is certainly an odd way for a random vandal or thief to act, and we believe it to have been done by someone antagonistic to the occupation as a potential act of sabotage. We are currently investigating whether we have any witnesses and, as we have previously stated, we will work with any police investigation.

On being informed of the latest event the Free Hetherington organised an emergency meeting to discuss the incident and the steps that could be taken to avoid it. This meeting was well attended and lasted nearly two hours, highlighting the seriousness with which we view the incident. Since being informed we have worked with the staff of 14 University Gardens to ensure that the issue is resolved. Action has been taken which includes installing an alarm on the door, and placing people permanently on the door until the alarm is installed. The Free Hetherington has also reviewed its general security policy and will continue to review this policy regularly. These actions reflect the desire of those involved in the Free Hetherington to continue to operate it as a free open space both for those involved in the occupation and the staff working in adjacent buildings, as it has been over the past three weeks, and will continue to be.

We believe that the university’s actions in sending this email, not to those it addresses but to the whole student body, with a series of distortions, and after three weeks of refusing to discuss any way to move forward, shows a lack of even perfunctory consultation or an authentic desire for reconciliation. We are not here on the sufferance of the university; the building remains open.

The Free Hetherington’