Cambridge University promises its students ‘a supportive environment’ and ‘specialist assistance should you need it’. ‘Students who are struggling with a particular problem or feeling a bit lost won’t go unnoticed,’ it reassures us. ‘Don’t worry.’ But when the Guardian revealed last week that Cambridgeshire police have attempted to infiltrate student activist groups and record the names and details of protesters, the university declined to comment, saying the case was a matter for the police.
The police officer who invited a Cambridge-based activist for a friendly chat revealed that a key focus would be ‘student-union type stuff’. He also singled out Unite Against Fascism and the tax justice pressure group UK Uncut, as well as the English Defence League. When asked if the police would be interested in Cambridge Defend Education, a group that campaigns against education cuts (I’m a member), the officer said: ‘That’s the sort of thing that we would be looking for.’
You might expect an educational institution to be concerned by solid evidence that the police are gathering information on its law-abiding students. More than 130 academics have called on the vice-chancellor to condemn the police actions. But the university has form when it comes to collaborating in the crackdown on student dissent. Last year, a group of us protested against a visit from the universities and science minister David Willetts. One of our number was hauled before the authorities and ‘rusticated’ (suspended from his degree) for seven terms. After much outcry and an official appeal, this was reduced to one term.
Last month, I stood on a picket line alongside striking lecturers. A private security guard muscled into us, throwing a student to the ground. We still don’t know who hired him; the university won’t comment.