Sebastian Wright reports on the occupation of Middlesex University in the fight against the closure of its Philosophy Department
Yesterday marked the second day of the Middlesex occupation at Trent Park. Some stayed at the occupation of the Dean’s boardroom, whilst others fanned out across the other campuses at Hendon and Cathill to canvass support. At Hendon there was a surprising amount of security. It was not clear whether this had anything to do specifically with our campaign, or not, but there was certainly a degree of paranoia there. Reception refused to point us in the direction of the Dean’s office, and security guards (about 8 of them in one building!) were checking every ID.
When we finally found what appeared the directorate’s corridor, it was not, then, shocking to discover that it not only had a keypad entry security system in place, but also a privately contracted security guard permanently positioned on the door. If nothing else it goes to show the estrangement of management in universities from their own students and staff when they feel the need to lock themselves away behind multiple levels of security provision.At Cathill we found more sympathy than at Hendon for the campaign amongst the generally arty student body. Through talking to students we learned that many programs had been axed with students being accepted to programs only for management to cut those specific programs once they entered; and, of course, paid their tuition fees for. Much the same logic, it could be noted, of the Middlesex university management’s decision to close down the philosophy program whilst keeping the research money the department had won for itself.
In the evening at Trent Park a philosophy society party had been planned. This was to be the launch pad for escalation. However, on a health and safety technicality—some form not being correctly filled out—management unilaterally rescinded permission for the party at the last minute. Around 80 people gathered outside Mansion House. When the English party, taking place in a ground floor room at the front of the building, was winding down, the gathered protesters stormed into the building through the windows. Very quickly the building was barricaded and the occupation secured. There were some problems removing all the security personnel. Senior security guards could not find all their people. One security guard, clearly in a state of shock and frightened by the events, alleged that he had been assaulted and limped out of the building. Judging by the people involved, and the fact that a similar bogus charge was levelled the day before, it seems highly unlikely that this was the case. When I arrived on the top floor, occupiers had given him a chair and a drink and were patiently waiting for his seniors to extricate him from the building.
Perhaps an hour after the building had been secured, a police car arrived. They talked with the security guards, and the shocked young guard was taken away in an ambulance, but no action was taken. Around 10PM a meeting was called downstairs. Occupiers resolved to turn the occupation of Mansion House into a beacon for other anti-cuts struggles across the country and to plan an autonomous program of philosophy and arts events in the building.