It is worth noting that Pro-VC for Exchanges Paul Younger was personally impressed by our action and encouraged that there was 'finally' student activism at Newcastle University. Like Dr. Trottier, he has knowledge of Palestine and has lead 'capacity building' projects in the West Bank and Gaza and seemed genuinely interested in our demands. Dr. Trottier expressed that she was 'glad that we took political action'. Similarly, John Hogan admitted that (although he does not support direct action against the university)'the occupation did increase our awareness' of legitimate issues and ultimately made this meeting possible.
And, in an act of good-will, John Hogan bought us all lunch.
The result of the meeting was verbally decided actions on all of our demands (some met, some not yet), which will be written and sent to us by the University representatives within 5 working days. Because that document will be more detailed and published here, it is not worth writing at length about the discussions. The basic points on all our demands (and the action we anticipate) are noted as follows:
1: Newcastle University to issue a statement - demand met:
We demanded that the university issue a public statement in support of Gaza and recognising the humanitarian crisis that the people of Gaza are now facing. We asked Newcastle University to issue a statement similar to Oxford University's statement because we share a VC with Oxford. We though drawing this parallel would be persuasive, but it turned out not to be. The University representatives will issue a statement. A draft of the wording of this will be sent to us before hand, within 5 working days. Following discussions this afternoon about the University's refusal to be 'political' on the issue of Israel and Palestine because of its status as an 'educational charity'. We did not think this was a sufficient excuse, particularly as under the Charities Act of 2005, charities can align themselves politically. We demanded in addition that the statement acknowledge an internationally recognised body, such as the UN, which supports an investigation into Israel's action on Gaza with respect to international law. They accepted this.
2: Newcastle University will facilitate us bringing the issue of arms investments to the finance council - demand not met, but action will be taken to facilitate a process:
Our demand was that Newcastle University adopt the same ethical policy towards arms as it does towards tobacco companies. It's policy towards tobacco is for "that part of the portfolio which is managed on a direct basis investment in tobacco companies is not permitted". We additionally demanded this apply to indirect investments and therefore a complete disinvestment from the arms trade (£527,000 is invested in various arms companies including BAE systems as of January 2009).
This was a very long discussion. The basics of it being: a) there are many bureaucratic bodies which deal with such decisions, but ultimately it is the Finance Council who have the authority to change investment policy,b) the immediate demand can not be met because the council cannot practically be called into emergency meeting to review investment policy and change it (many people on the board are not employed by the university and therefore are not necessarily here) c) efforts like this have been made before and failed, d) our case is strong in reference to the implications of having an ethical policy on tobacco and not on arms, however Paul Younger predicts views from the Finance Council and others that cigarettes are more dangerous than weapons because weapons can be used in defence (!) We don't accept this argument with regard to investing indiscriminately in major arms companies.
However, Paul Younger did seem to be on our side on this matter as did Dr. Trottier. Paul Younger even said that before our action, he was not aware of the details of Newcastle University's arms investments and neither was the Vice Chancellor. In addition to this, they have received emails from members of staff who were also not aware and are against it. This is very positive, and we are going to contact the UCU and academics to join the campaign for dis-investment.
Action: We were offered a chance to present our case to the Executive Board (which includes the VC, Pro-VC for Engagement, Registrar, Executive Director of Finance - also on the Finance Council) as the next step. Newcastle University Gaza Solidarity Campaign will produce a dossier of our view on the matter, including research and persuasive reasons why Newcastle University should dis-invest from the arms trade. Paul Younger has offered to personally help with the document, should we request this. The executive board meets weekly, and we are assured that we can be put on the agenda if we give notice of this by the end of the week before. John Hogan and Paul Younger (both on the exec' board) will ask if we can send delegates from our group to present our dossier. If this is refused, Paul Younger has said he will present it on our behalf. After this, we will take steps to take it to the Finance Council.
3. Newcastle University will 'actively support' our campaign and its projects - demand met:
a) a collection of computers, books etc for the Islamic University of Gaza (ICU)
Basic agreement with this, providing we link up with other universities in the area who are doing the same to perhaps share the costs of transport etc. The University Representatives admitted that we have a lot of surplus equipment that can be put to good use elsewhere, and also stated that the University already have mechanisms in place for sending academic materials to developing countries.
b) the visit of a student delegation to the ICU to establish their requirements/how we can best help them:
Basic agreement with this, and even some suggestions to build on this in a number of ways, including in the trip institutions in Gaza, the West Bank and also Israel. Dr. Trottier and Paul Younger both have colleagues in these places and are happy to liaise with them. John Hogan expressed his view that this trip would have to be from an 'educational' perspective, rather than a 'political' one, when of course we acknowledge that it will be both educational and political. The purpose of our campaign is to help people in Palestine, but we would be interested in visiting institutions in Israel too and making links with Israelis that support the Palestinian cause.Paul Younger suggested this trip could happen this summer, and at least be partly funded by Newcastle University. He also mentioned his interest in coming with us.
c) the university will actively support the campaign in following up on those needs.
NB. Our initial demand for scholarships remains in essence - we demand that those in Gaza have the same right to an education as we do. Our negotiations of the demands before leaving the occupation convinced us that scholarships are not necessarily the only or best way to help. We discussed how it would be better to find ways to help Gazan students remain in Gaza and study freely. Either way, we felt that we should establish what the needs are before we assume how we best can offer support.
d) the University supports us in campaigning for an ethical trade policy with regard to Israel
But this one remains 'our project'... Paul Younger explained how Newcastle was a 'fair trade' University, but we remain un-convinced that this makes much difference with regard to trading with Israel. However, we did discuss before leaving the occupation that there were many problems with demanding a blanket boycott of Israeli goods - largely practical. We perhaps need to assess this demand again, and work out what we really want from the University.
Paul Younger is going to 'start from scratch' on a Policy for Cooperate Responsibility this year, and has said that we can be involved in the making of it...
e) Newcastle University will publicise the DEC appeal for aid on notice boards around campus
4. Newcastle University supports new and ongoing collaborations with IUG, including distance education tools to link Newcastle students and IUG students - demand met:
Paul Younger and Dr. Trottier's contacts will be vital in this, and they are willing and supportive of the initiative.
5. Newcastle University will conduct a public review of the rules and regulations which currently restrict political activism on campus. Furthermore, the Newcastle University Gaza Solidarity Campaign will no longer face restrictions on leafleting about our events, meetings etc on campus - demand met:
John Hogan has assured us that should we face problems again when we are campaigning on campus in a peaceful manner, we should call him. This is good news for our campaign, but we made it clear that this was not enough - there are specific restrictions on 'political' flyer's, leaflets etc which do not apply in the same way to other kinds of information dissemination. John Hogan agreed that it was problematic that political events were scrutinised this way and also agreed that 'offence' or the receiving of a complaint was not a legitimate excuse to stop the action. He will conduct a public review and we will be involved/kept up to date on this.
Phew! Well, that's the basic jist. When we receive the University's versions of the agreements, they will be blogged here. We feel that our campaign is now in a stronger position to carry on putting pressure on the University and that our progress today simply wouldn't have happened had we not taken direct action. We are not satisfied with what we've got, but we see it as definite progress and are therefore optimistic.
For the last week of term, we'll be doing lots of research into arms investments, building our network and support with staff and students and continuing a campaign of awareness raising on campus. Keep checking back!
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