fifteen days later, six demands met.

After a successful fifteen day occupation we have left the building formerly known as Deptford Town Hall; knowing at the very least management will follow through with some of our key demands. Our decision to continue the battle beyond the occupation’s walls has been determined by close communication and successful negotiations with management, a commitment to further building the Free Education movement within the campus, the local community and the wider student movement. In addition, we believe the Occupy Goldsmiths network has the reach and the resources to hold management to their word.

The Goldsmiths occupation and the ongoing process of negotiation are about much more than challenging the university’s management. It is about demanding and creating an education that is not committed to the precarious reality of un-employability within an ever growing and privatized education industry. Goldsmiths, after all, is planted right at the heart of a Borough with one of London’s highest rates of unemployment. From what began as a proposed flash occupation in solidarity with University of the Arts London (UAL), King’s College London (KCL) and London School of Economics (LSE) last Thursday, we garnered support and made progress far beyond what the original group of 30 occupiers expected.

Since initially taking the building on Thursday 26th March, our student-led film-screenings, workshops, guest talks and words of encouragement from external speakers, proved that there is a critical need for a space that is self-directed, autonomous and inclusive to house inventive and creative discussions. We’d like to thank the many people who supported our campaign; students, staff, friends, members of the community and members of other occupations from across London. Creating and sustaining a decentralized and democratic movement is not an easy feat, and has relied on support, fraternity, comradery, debate and ultimately a shared belief in free education for all.

Banners tied to the railings of the Deptford Town Hall, a grade two listed building that was erected in 1905, declared our collective rejection of cuts and attacks to our vital front line services: such as welfare, counselling and the Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA).

We consider these cuts and attacks as indicative of wider attacks on higher education, and representative of a movement towards a privatized, commodified and marketised education. Our list of demands communicates the myriad of different issues affecting students, staff and academics. These include the euro-centricity of the curriculum, international student fee increases, insufficient representation for marginalized students and the staggering pay disparity within the University. We challenge these and call for full financial transparency, regular open student forums where we are included in the decision-making processes, a full-time Women’s and BME officer positions, and for an end to out-sourcing staff; to ensure job security, avoid redundancies and maintain front line services are run for students and not profit. During the occupation we held workshops with FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Higher Education), the Precarious Workers Brigade and many other groups that reflect the dispossession of labor and education from the hands of the people. These important campaign groups are fighting for free education and an end to direct and indirect attacks on university staff.

For many of us, this is our first occupation and we are not versed in the legalities and logistics of political protest. We are simply students who realize that to critique neoliberal systems from the edges only goes so far, and that it’s up to us to disrupt top-down mismanagement and participate in the change we want to see. As with any protest, we have been subjected to criticism from others, who feared for the care of the space we occupied. Therefore we have tried to be as responsive to everyone’s needs regarding accessibility to the occupation space and the campaign as a whole. Specifically, there has been a lot of concern around a Steinway classical Piano, with which management used as leverage to split the student body from the focus of the campaign. The sound of music students playing the Steinway piano in the great hall resonated through the building, as familiar faces returned through our doors with new supporters in tow. Such access to the music facilities in the building has been precisely because of our presence -the space would usually be closed due to the Easter break. Such misuse of Deptford Town Hall is one of our primary points of concern.

As Goldsmiths students, we can only live up to the responsibility that we have taken on through occupying the space, a space that was given to Goldsmiths College under the auspices that it would be used as a space for public forums. In direct contrast, currently Goldsmiths’ Warden and the rest of the upper wage bracket operate from this building.

From this point on we aim to build more solidarity with the zero hour contract custodial and security workers on campus. Inclusivity has been fundamentally essential to our movement. A staggering level of support has come from all across Goldsmiths- from full time lecturers, students from almost every department, part-time and zero-hour-contract staff, cleaners, security staff and disabled students who defeated the access issues by sending solidarity through a live stream. We see that the struggle for free and truly liberating education must be fought on all fronts, tackling all issues, and working together as workers, academics and students. On the same day our occupation has ended, the tremendous fall of the Cecile John Rhodes statue on the campus of Cape Town University reminds us that this struggle is global. Every act of change, of radicalism, of demanding something better, fundamentally rewrites and challenges the narrative. Whilst it can sometimes feel that change remains just beyond our reach, the victories of the Goldsmiths occupation, the fall of the Cecile John Rhodes statue in Cape Town, suggest that we have the power to enact and become the change we want to see.

Free education for all.

The occupiers and campaigners of Goldsmiths.

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THE FREE UNIVERSITY

OUR OCCUPATION

We are Goldsmiths students occupying Deptford Cultural Centre for Free Education (formerly known as Deptford Town Hall), the site of university’s management services.

We stand in solidarity with the other members of the Free University of London, and with the current wave of university occupations.

This is in direct response to a commercialisation of our universities, and the commodification of education.

We seek to establish an alternative vision of education, free from restrictions, oppression and the whims of the market.

We have taken the space and plan to use it productively in accordance with a more democratic form of education.

***

Occupy LSE https://www.facebook.com/pages/Occupy-LSE-Free-University-of-London/403346286492972?fref=ts

Occupy KCL https://www.facebook.com/OccupyKCL?fref=ts

Occupy UAL https://www.facebook.com/occupyual?fref=ts

Our Non-negotiable demands and a response from Liz Bromley, Vice Pro-Warden. BUT HOW WILL GOLDSMITHS KEEP THESE PROMISES?

To whom it may concern

We, the occupying powers of Deptford Cultural Centre for free Education, are writing to present our final, non-negotiable demands. These demands are:

  1.  College management will not pursue any individual students for costs incurred during the occupation.
  2. College management will guarantee a sizeable reduction (50% by June) in the counselling waiting list by the start of next term and recruit more not less counsellors.
  3. Any government cuts to tier one DSA will be matched with subsidy from Goldsmiths to ensure disabled students aren’t negatively impacted.
  4. College management will commit to supporting the case for Full Time Liberation officers inside the SU.
  5. College management will outline how students and staff will be consulted on the Sustaining Goldsmiths project, including oversight from the staff and students unions.
  6. College management will confirm dates for the agreed working groups as noted in minutes from the negotiations. A date in the next 3 weeks will be confirmed for the Director of Finance to present a detailed look at the college accounts and answer questions.

We remain committed to fighting for the full list of demands, however we accept that this is an opportunity to get some concrete victories. The formation of key working groups will further our campaign.

We hope to have a reply by 3pm on Thursday the 9th of April, and will leave the occupation within 24 hours of responding. These demands are non-negotiable, and we hope an agreement can be reached. We believe these demands are fair and reasonable.

********************* ********************* **********************

To the students in Deptford Town Hall

Thank you for your recent correspondence. Our answers are below.

As such, we request that you leave Deptford Town Hall by 5pm today, Wednesday 8th April. This will enable us to clean and repair the premises this evening so that music students can have the access they need to prepare for examinations and performances, as soon as possible.

Our response:

  1. College management will not pursue any individual students for costs incurred during the occupation.

Agreed. The costs of this occupation will not be passed on to any individual student and will be published as part of our commitment to financial transparency.

  1. College management will guarantee a sizeable reduction (50% by June) in the counselling waiting list by the start of next term and recruit more not less counsellors.

Agreed. As already discussed, this is the primary objective of the improvements being made to counselling provision. 

  1. Any government cuts to tier one DSA will be matched with subsidy from Goldsmiths to ensure disabled students aren’t negatively impacted.

Agreed. As previously stated, Goldsmiths is absolutely committed to ensuring that there is no negative impact on disabled students from changes to the DSA. We are actively lobbying to resist any government imposed changes, whilst making contingency plans through our budgeting process.

  1. College management will commit to supporting the case for Full Time Liberation officers inside the SU.

Agreed. We can support the case, as already offered, but any decision remains with GSU. 

  1. College management will outline how students and staff will be consulted on the Sustaining Goldsmiths project, including oversight from the staff and students unions.

Agreed. There will be full and meaningful consultation on the Sustaining Goldsmiths programme. As agreed this will be through the formal negotiating mechanisms – the TUs and the GSU. Representative students from the GSU will be invited onto the Project Board for the programme.

  1. College management will confirm dates for the agreed working groups as noted in minutes from the negotiations. A date in the next 3 weeks will be confirmed for the Director of Finance to present a detailed look at the college accounts and answer questions.

Agreed.

Let us not be divided.

Occupy Goldsmiths have just had a meeting with the music students regarding use and access to the chambers. We have decided to lock the chambers in order to protect the piano that is integral to their studies. We are offering the space openly and freely to the students for practice. Tonight’s open mic will be going ahead utilising the other spaces inside the building. We stand in solidarity with the music students and will not allow management to turn the student bodies against each other.

In response to a number of music students regarding the Steinway Piano in the great hall.

To students it may concern,

It has been brought to Occupy Goldsmith’s attention that students on the Music Course are concerned with the condition and ongoing safety of the Steinway piano in The Deptford Cultural Centre for Free Education (formally Deptford Town Hall).

We can assure students that all precautions have been taken to ensure the continued safety of this instrument. In including the attached photos, we offer these assurances to all those concerned about the state of both the piano and room.

Due to managements decision to turn off the heating (an action we are worried will have detrimental effects to the instruments tuning) we have not been using this room.

By way of showing our commitment to creating an open and inclusive space for education, we wish to offer the use of this piano for rehearsals to music students who so desire. We intend this action to be affective immediately, thus granting access to this space during the planned university closure, a week in which it would otherwise have been unavailable. With this gesture, we hope to establish an ongoing relationship with music students and, if needed for rehearsals and examinations, their lecturers. With regards to the raised concerns over disturbances of rehearsals/exams, we hope this mutual relationship will create a more respectful and positive ongoing collaboration.

Statement on Tuesdays events.

Today, Liz Bromley emailed us with her intention to shut the university down a day early due to a flash occupation of a corridor of the RHB building. This occupation was carried out after ‘negotiations’ with management had concluded and we were informed by a member of staff that after years of working with dyslexic students she would have to re-apply for her job due to a planned restructure in her department. This restructure will affect the counselling and mental health service Goldsmiths offers its students. The reason given for shutting down the university a day early was that they couldn’t guarantee staff would be safe or free from anxiety as a result of our one hour flash occupation of a corridor.

To clarify;
– We did not shut down student centre, we purposely chose to keep the student centre free from any disruption, this was a decision taken by management and we condemn them using vulnerable students in this way.
– We condemn the early closing of the university, occupiers are simply students who are concerned with the direction the university is going in. We are bewildered as to why management is so afraid of its own students that it can choose to close an entire university down. This is yet another example of how Senior Management Team is treating the university as its own private kingdom. – We demand that any member of staff who will not be paid as a result of management’s decision receive their pay in full. This includes student staff on zero hour contracts who have had shifts cancelled.
– We left the occupation when informed that disabled students would have their meetings disrupted if we stayed, management decided to close the university regardless.
– The planned restructure of departments and potential job losses as a result of that will cause far more disruption, stress and destruction then a one hour occupation of a hallway ever could.

We sympathise with students who are angry at the decision taken by management to close the university down a day early, we too are angry because we too are students. However the decision is management’s and that’s where the blame rests.
To finish with a quote from the buildings namesake “If you put the most important cultural elements in society into the hands of commercial people who want to make a profit they will bring it down to the lowest common denominator”- Richard Hoggart

Letter of support from Goldsmiths UCU

Dear colleague,

You will be aware that in response to the volatility of student numbers and challenging economic conditions – including the reduction of research funding by approximately £2m a year as well as increased payments for USS and LPFA pensions – the College has embarked on a new project. Sustaining Goldsmiths. This is designed to produce efficiency savings and to secure a strategy for growth in order to produce a surplus big enough for the College to survive in what has become a highly competitive educational marketplace.

We too want to sustain Goldsmiths and to protect and develop the institution as a place that delivers innovative and radical teaching, that supports independent and critical research, that treats all its staff and students with respect and that commits itself to social justice in all its operations.

However we do not believe that a short-term, panicked response to the problems we face will help anyone. We are currently a facing a slew of restructurings, rumours and plans for rapid growth that are unsettling staff and that threaten to undermine the reputation that the College has built up in recent years. The College is effectively full up and we are facing a huge strain on our ability to support students effectively, for example given the pressure on counselling services and library space.

The College insists that we need to secure a surplus of 5% of turnover as recommended by Hefce. But the fact is that in the last ten years, we have achieved this just once (in 2013/4) – and this was only because of a one-off contribution to the surplus of funds designed for the VT assimilation process. In four of the last ten years, we have had either deficits or negligible surpluses and yet the College has managed to sustain itself through these difficult periods and to grow and consolidate itself. Indeed, the College has actually generated a total surplus of some £16.5 million in the last ten years and has doubled turnover in that same period. The most recent set of financial accounts actually boast that ‘Goldsmiths has significant resources including a positive balance of cash and investments of £35.6m’ and we all remember that the College felt confident enough last year to make a one-off payment of £300 to all staff to thank us for our contribution to Goldsmiths’ growth.

In these circumstances, any ill-thought through plans for rapid growth that can’t be matched by sufficient additional resources is dangerous. Any ill-thought through plan to merge Departments without providing staff with evidence of how such mergers will save money but nevertheless protect jobs and academic quality is counter-productive.

The students who occupied DTH – renamed by them the ‘Deptford Cultural Centre for Free Education’ – have raised a series of demands, many of which echo our concerns. In particular, we fully support their call for an ‘all-union committee’ to develop and monitor the Sustaining Goldsmiths plan, for any growth to be matched by sufficient resources and for an end to outsourcing.

In conclusion, we need a more measured response than the one that has been presented to us so far – one that involves both staff and students and one that is predicated on levels of financial transparency and democratic decision-making that we do not currently have.

Best wishes,

GUCU Executive

The Artist Taxi Driver

Former Goldsmiths student The Artist Taxi Driver came by on the morning of day three to offer some moral support. During his time as a student he protested against the introduction of fees by pushing a monkey nut from Goldsmiths to Downing street with his nose. He mentions us at at 3.50.

“I went to the Occupy at Goldsmiths and their safe space policy talks about respect. Don’t make assumptions about people’s gender, don’t make assumptions about people’s experiences, be kind, think before you speak. This is the philosophy of occupy, no leaders, it’s direct democracy. They invited me to their general assembly where everyone talks – it’s open, people take notes, people take minutes, everyone contributes and they make a decision as a collective.”

Week One

It’s day six of our occupation of Deptford Town Hall, which we have renamed Deptford Cultural Centre for Free Education. The sentiment behind this renaming is linked to our vision of a learning environment that prioritises education for the sake of knowledge, creative thought and expression, personal development and community over money. Our protest is a rejection of Goldsmiths’ current management system, which we feel excludes the majority of students from important decision making processes. We have presented our demands to Liz Bromley and Roger Burrows who accepted our offer to discuss the restructuring plans that have been proposed. Our demands cover a number of issues that effect us as students, including protection of the counselling service, financial transparency of how fees are used, international student’s rights, better conditions for low paid staff, greater representation for minority students (specifically a full-time BME and women’s officer), no cuts to the Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA), and for regular open student forums to be held so that the curriculum decision making process includes us. Following two meetings we are in communication about the logistics of the occupation and have issued a statement expressing our refusal to leave.

We began as a group of about 40 students, taking occupation in cooperation with security who have been supportive and accommodating. We have transformed Deptford Town Hall, which up until now has been used mainly for management, into a site of resistance. The Great Hall has been used for General meetings where we welcomed support from students from other London-based occupations; University of the Arts London (UAL), Kings College London (KCL) and London School of Economics (LSE). So far, we have welcomed talks from David Wallace, South London Communist Revolutionary Group…We have received support from staff, academics, the local community and other occupation groups.

Goldsmiths has closed for Easter so we pose no disruption to the learning of students. We plan to continue building our events schedule, which is already full of enlightening, informative and essential discussions, film-screenings, talks and entertainment.

We are a diverse group and our demands our intersectional. We believe that we have the right to have a say in our learning experience, especially given the hike in tuition fees. This is the result of an accumulation of dissatisfaction and frustration of student’s who felt avenues of change making had been exhausted and that direct action was the next step to take. We are here simply to exercise our right to protest and create the change we want to see.

Stay posted,

Occupy Goldsmiths.