NEW: Statement by the Senior Proctor

From the official University website:

Proctors’ Office

28 January 2009

On Thursday, 22 January, a number of students occupied part of the Clarendon Building, and in doing so, sought to publicise their deep concern about the recent conflict in the Middle East and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. As students, they particularly wanted to draw attention to the destruction of a large part of the university in Gaza. They also wished the University of Oxford to make a statement about the situation, and to try to help students from Gaza – who will not now be able to study for some time – by offering scholarships and other aid to help repair the educational infrastructure.

I am pleased to say that the points raised by the protestors have been considered carefully. The Vice-Chancellor has written to colleagues about the matter. He has also asked me to answer some points arising from my own discussions with the students and deal with points that are more suitably made by the Proctors.

All of us in Oxford believe in the transformational power of education and learning. We have a duty not only to hone and express our own beliefs, but to listen and to learn from each other and to speak with each other, regardless of how far apart initial positions may seem. As Senior Proctor I hope that Oxford will play its part in enabling deep and tolerant discourse on a range of difficult problems. This may not produce solutions; but it might lead to real leadership for the future. In the present case, it will be a challenge to the Palestinian community and its supporters and to those who hold other views, to see how well we can all respond to our different initial viewpoints within the academic traditions of Oxford.

The Vice-Chancellor has articulated his view clearly that the views of the protestors were no doubt sincerely held, and that they are certainly not alone in holding them.

Those protesting raised six specific issues, and I deal with them in turn.

1. Free speech. The University believes in free speech and in the right in a democratic society to lawful protest. As Senior Proctor, I cannot condone the occupation of a University building. This is a University offence; but I welcome the fact that this protest was peaceful and good-natured.

2. The Vice-Chancellor’s letter expresses concern for the recent conflict in the Middle East and for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. It also notes the recent statement of the President of Universities UK supporting ‘calls for an end to the conflict in and beyond Gaza’. It is regrettable that many civilian casualties occurred in educational establishments.

3. It was agreed that efforts to attract endowments to fund scholarships at Oxford for the most academically talented Palestinian students, to help lessen some of the obstacles to education that now prevail, would be welcome.

4. There is also agreement that help might be offered to restore the damaged educational infrastructure, as it would elsewhere, by making available surplus books, journals and other educational materials and resources. This should be done in consultation with academic colleagues in Gaza so as to ensure that appropriate materials might be provided.

5. As Senior Proctor, I have now written to the Master of Balliol drawing his attention to the protestors’ concerns about the proposed title of the lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres.

6. I have decided to raise in Council the concerns regarding possible University investments in arms manufacturers and ask whether the University’s policy of socially responsible investment is being adhered to.

7. Lastly and additionally I report that I have received representations from academic colleagues who have volunteered their time to help teach in Gaza and help during the restoration of university facilities there.

Note: The occupation of University property or facilities, and disruption of the activities of the University, are offences. They are described under the Code of Discipline in Statute XI.2 of the University, and the Proctors have a duty to uphold this Statute. Moreover sections of the criminal law may also apply. In the present case, I wish to state that negotiations with those occupying the building and their representatives were held with goodwill and in a very constructive manner. This led to an early and peaceful departure of those occupying the building.

As Senior Proctor, I can not agree an amnesty from prosecution under the Statutes. However in pursuing any consequent action, I shall recommend that account be taken of the fact that all occupiers of the building left by 19.00 the same day; no damage was reported; no complaints were received from any of the library staff whose offices were occupied; and that two protestors remained behind to make sure the rooms were tidy. In the light of these circumstances I am minded on this occasion to recommend a relatively lenient course of action.

However it must be clearly understood that any future offences of this kind will be viewed as serious disciplinary matters by the Proctors.

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