The relationship between students and staff, particularly in universities, has always been an interesting one. There is an element of trust between the academic and the student based upon a common respect. Surely, then, this is fundamentally challenged when lecturers are asked to spy on students’ activities and report them to the authorities? Unfortunately, it is an issue that has been debated for a number of years now and one that has gained a new focus this year.
Back in 2006, the government first asked academics to report on Muslim and “Asian-looking” students who they suspected may be involved in, or supported, terrorist activities. Earlier this year, university staff and student unions were asked to report any Muslim students who were feeling depressed or isolated to the police as part of Prevent.
…unduly scrutinised based simply on their racial background…
It is not entirely clear when being depressed or isolated became a crime if you are a Muslim student, but perhaps the fact that reporting them to the police is a priority over providing the support the students may need is a clear enough indication of the absurdity of this policy.
Fortunately, many lecturers and student unions have refused to cooperate with this spying operation. This includes the National Union of Students and the University College Union who have both advised their members that they do not have to provide any details about students to police without a warrant. For these unions it is both a matter of welfare for the students who are being unduly scrutinised based simply on their racial background or their religious views and an issue of maintaining trust with students.
there to either arrest individual students or facilitate the breakup of an occupation.
This strange spying exercise does not only affect this section of the student community. Similar requests have been made for information regarding students that organise politically within universities. Guidance for lecturers in the event of a student occupation is often to report the individuals involved to management who then inform police, even though occupations are a legitimate form of action. In the past, this had led to scenes of riot cops on campuses, there to either arrest individual students or facilitate the breakup of an occupation.
This very point has often brought students and their lecturers together. During the winter of protest against the rise in tuition fees last year, campuses across the country went into occupation for periods ranging between a few hours to several months. The NUS offered its support for the actions but lecturers went even further and played a fundamental role in backing the occupations and challenging attempts to punish students for taking action. Often they dropped in to speak about why it is so important for students to work together in defending education.
…happy to use their lecturers as a bartering tool…
The solidarity is often reciprocated in the form of students joining their lecturers as they strike over issues such as pensions. Yet, sometimes you find those who are happy to use their lecturers as a bartering tool when dealing with university management. Unfortunately, this all too often means that neither the lecturers nor the students get what they are after.
Students are privileged in their ability to campaign, and in many ways so are their lecturers. This is why it is hugely important that both groups continue to support each other based on principles of respect and solidarity.
Images courtesy of the NUS