The survey results, which are going to be used as the basis of the Warwick Summit on Protest, are out.
There has to be a disclaimer attached to any analysis of the results. It is important to recognise that this is not a representative sample: because the survey respondents were a self-selecting group we cannot assume that this divide represents the general feeling amongst the university community.
It is likely that those 600-odd who felt strongly enough to respond are the more polarised ends of the university population, and who felt like they had a particularly strong argument. Therefore we cannot assume that any results are universal – if there had been at attempt at representative research perhaps we would have got a different spectrum of opinions.
Also, survey responses are likely to be restricted to those who had the time and resources to formulate a long response to a complex issue (and we shouldn’t ignore the fact that this capacity to take time out and spend mental energy on writing is limited capacity, not available to everyone in our community).
That said, there are some interesting general outlines which the research can help us see.
Firstly, there is one headline figure which broadly structures how we approach the survey as a while: 403 responses recorded concerns about the police and university reaction to the protests, whereas only 204 responses recorded concerns about the protesters. This means there is a roughly a 2:1 split in terms of concerns on average, across all respondents.
This is not surprising, given the 1000 strong demo which assembled the day after the incidents at Senate House and the 200 strong occupation of the Rootes Building. We already knew we had widespread support amongst students and staff – but is nice to see it so enthusiastically confirmed.
Secondly, a whopping 160 responses “raised concerns about the erosion of freedom of expression/the right to protest on the university campus and/or university management’s failure to protect freedom of speech/the right to protest.” It is revealing that this is a general understanding, explicitly mentioned by so many respondents. The university has become less and less willing to accommodate protest over the course of the last few years – if we think back to the PPU occupation of Summer 2013, protesters occupied Senate House for two weeks without any police or legal attention. On the other hand, the occupation of December 2014 was met with a large police and security presence and ended with an injunction that threatened students with tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs, and indefinitely banned occupation-style protests at the university. Even such a brief comparison shows that these concerns have a serious basis.
Thirdly, “62 responses identified the protests as symptomatic of wider concerns about fragmentation of the university community (and such concerns could be seen as implicit in many other responses).”
This plays into an understanding that the atomisation of the university community is provoked and encouraged by an ongoing neoliberal agenda. When the university becomes a business selling education/a factory producing employable graduates there is a distinct loss of a collective understanding of the public good. We stop working with and for each other, and the process of education becomes the development of (often contrary) individual interests. The whole life of the university begins to resemble a frantic competition.
All the students are ‘investing’ in their ‘personal development’ in order to get hold of one of the scare graduate jobs that offer a degree of financial security. We want to produce the most employable CV in the shortest time possible, and all the living and learning processes of university become subjected to the overriding demand that everything you do contribute to the possibility of reaching an employment situation where you are not trapped in precarious poverty, with stagnant real wages and no ability to even imagine ‘adult’ security.
Meanwhile, for staff, the same processes have mirrored effects. The expectations placed upon them have transitioned from demanding that they help students think by thinking alongside them, to demanding that they produce the perfect student experience commodity, which is worth the £9k students paid.
WFFE will be at the Warwick Protest Summit, and will be responding to the survey in much more depth at that point. This is only a preliminary examination of the results, not a full analysis.
We have organised a WFFE simultaneous screening on the 12th which we encourage both students and staff who haven’t got tickets for the event itself to attend.