The University of Stirling is facing a national backlash over its decision to suspend students who occupied the Cottrell Building management offices last semester in support of striking lecturers.
Officials from the National Union of Students (NUS) as well as the University and College Union (UCU) have come out in support of the group.
Former Labour MP, Paul Sweeney, has also voiced concerns, calling for the Scottish Government’s Higher Education Minister to intervene.
The furor arose after 13 students received the result of their disciplinary investigation this week informing them that they would be excluded from university for eight weeks, and would have a reprimand in their file for a year.
Some of the occupation group could face being expelled from the university due to previous disciplinaries.
The group have received messages of support from NUS Scotland President, Liam McCabe, who described the university’s action as ‘disgraceful, unfair, and disproportionate.’
He also stated that NUS Scotland would not let this go unchallenged.
The group have also received support from students and activists all over the country, including similar activist groups at Edinburgh and Strathclyde University.
Strathclyde Student Union President, Matt Crilly, also voiced support for the protesters, alongside members of the University and College Union (UCU), whom the occupation was supporting.
A major concern centres around the suspended students who live in university accommodation and who will have no other place to stay if they are evicted and have been left fearing homelessness.
VP Communities, Josh Muirhead, has criticised the decision in a Facebook post, stating:
“These punishments are incredibly severe and will only do harm to those student’s mental health and affect them financially.”
He said that the union will work to support those who were suspended and that his door is always open.
Stirling North councillor, Danny Gibson, has also met with the group to discuss their situation and has offered his support.
The letter sent to the students who were being investigated read:
“The investigation has confirmed that you are in breach of the Ordinance for all items in the above list.
Your conduct directly represents a breach of the Code of Student Discipline in respect of the Level one offences of ‘anti-social or offensive behaviour which causes or could cause distress, concern or disruption to others and/or to University activity’.
‘Failure to comply with University ordinances, regulations, codes of practice or policies’ and the Level two offences of ‘Serious infringement of University Health and Safety rules’, and ‘Multiple or repeated Level one offences’.”
The University noted the reasoning behind the penalty in the letter, stating that the group obstructed the University’s main entrance and put up barriers and blockages at doors and fire exits and refused to remove barriers.
They also refused staff access to the management offices to collect items such as laptops and medication and obstructed the daily running of the university.
A University spokesperson said:
“We do not comment on specific cases. The University respects the rights of students to make their voices heard; however, this must be done safely and in accordance with fire – and health and safety – legislation, as well as University regulations.”
However, a member of the occupation group and NUS Delegate, Daniel Deery, has condemned the decision and highlighted the difference in the university’s reaction from the last occupation protest.
“When Logie was occupied two years ago that disrupted the lives of students there was no disciplinary action, but when we occupy the management building we get suspended.”
A petition has been created by Stirling students to support the group which has so far gathered over 900 signatures.