Disciplinary action brought by UEA against two students over their role in an “anti-tax avoidance” protest outside a Grant Thornton stall in October 2012 was dropped last month. Two students who were accused of “aggressive and intimidating behaviour” had their cases turned away from a hearing by the Senate Student Disciplinary Committee, and the case was then dropped altogether by the Student Disciplinary officer.
According to one of the student protesters involved, they had planned to hand out leaflets to students attending a Grant Thornton drop-in session at the Careers Centre on campus, but changed their protest location when they learned that the company had been moved to Union House and given a stall for the recruitment of students. The group of six students situated themselves near to the Grant Thornton stall and made several speeches through a megaphone whilst distributing leaflets highlighting the company’s alleged involvement in assisting major business clients with tax avoidance schemes.
Following the students’ protest, the UEA Careers Centre lodged a complaint using a witness statement from a Grant Thornton employee at the careers event. During the subsequent investigation, the university allegedly tracked down the identities of at least one of the protesters using their Twitter and Facebook activity, including tweets relating to their attendance at the protest.
One of the participants said that three months later both students received a “vague” letter informing them that their case was being referred to the Senate Student Disciplinary Committee. They were accused of violating university regulations on general conduct, including articles 1 and 2 of section 10 regarding disrupting visitors’ lawful business and causing nuisance, and section 12 regarding the safety of visitors and students.
After two weeks, the students were informed that the Committee would not be hearing the case and they were referred back to the Disciplinary Officer for a meeting where, according to one of the protesters, the students were not deemed to have violated any regulations.
Elliot Folan – one of the students involved in the disciplinary action – said to Concrete that the university’s process for deciding whether cases will be heard was inefficient, and initial resistance from the university to provide the accused students with further evidence and information about their case subjected him to unnecessary anxiety, “which the university management did nothing to alleviate”.
He says this was exacerbated by the fact that he suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome – something that he claimed had been mentioned to the university several times in email conversations.
Folan commented: “I feel that the university refused to take account of my disability and tried to suppress my democratic right to peaceful protest.” He added that the university’s Careers Centre openly admitted to lodging the complaint because of concerns about damaging the relationship between UEA and Grant Thornton, which he finds “worrying”.
The university responded: “The university does not comment on individual disciplinary cases as they are, and must remain, strictly confidential. Policies and procedures on student discipline are published in the UEA Academic Calendar and available for all students to consult.”