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A Magazine for Sheffield

Our employer, the University of Sheffield, are silencing protests about their ties with the arms industry – but we stand with our students

Two academics write for Now Then about why staff and students are right to raise concerns about potential complicity with the genocide in Gaza.

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A member of the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine chalks a message onto the floor ahead of the last open day.


Over the last few weeks, life on the University of Sheffield campus has grown more colourful and more interesting, showing just how vibrant and stimulating our academic community can be for the whole city.

Following in the footsteps of similar initiatives around the world, students have set up an encampment on the concourse in front of the Students’ Union. The purpose of the camp is to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people, currently subject to an unspeakable act of aggression by the Israeli military. This amounts to what many international observers regard as a genocide, and the International Court of Justice has branded an infringement of international law.

Although the camp is largely crewed by students, it’s an initiative of the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine (SCCP), a collaboration of students, staff and alumni from both universities. The camp is also strongly supported by the Sheffield branch of the University College Union (UCU).

In addition to providing solidarity for the suffering of the Palestinians, the camp has three specific demands for university management:

  • divest from weapons manufacturing

  • boycott and sever all ties to Israeli universities

  • accept accountability by formally meeting with students and staff

Of these, the academic boycott is arguably the most controversial (even pro-Palestinian organisations are divided on that front). But any ethical university should be concerned with the way their support for the arms industry is being used, especially when a genocide is taking place.

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The encampment outside the Students' Union building.


The SCCP have produced a report that outlines the complicity of the university in the current illegal and ethically abhorrent military actions in Palestine. We encourage everybody to read the report (PDF, 85 pages) and draw their own conclusions about university management’s clumsy attempt to distance themselves from any responsibility in the Palestinian genocide.

While it’s unquestionably important for the university to be managed in a financially sound way, no financial prudence can ever justify cruelty towards others. We leave it to those with appropriate expertise to investigate the University of Sheffield's finances and propose ways of bringing in investment which don't involve the slaughter of Palestinian children.

In the meantime, what has been most appalling about management’s response to the students’ demands is their unwillingness to establish any form of dialogue with the protesters. They appear to regard their own brave and compassionate students as a mere nuisance to be treated with contempt. Repeated requests by the camp to meet with vice-chancellor Koen Lamberts have been ignored. Morally, we find such a refusal to engage to be repugnant behaviour, but even if we were not concerned by any ethical issue, it is managerially irresponsible.

But management’s absurd response has gone much further than their refusal to participate in a dialogue. They seem to have decided that the best way to interact with the camp should be through harassment and intimidation. Students and staff across the institution have repeatedly been warned – in absurdly vague and what even appears to be deliberately manipulative language – about the possibility of disciplinary as well as legal action, despite the impeccable and peaceful way the students have conducted themselves (a lesson from which management has much to learn).

An especially petty action has been the stealing of a beautiful banner, which the students had carefully and lovingly made working through the night. The banner said ‘UoS Stop Funding Genocide’ – a challenge that management prefers to brush under the carpet. The banner was taken by security staff clearly instructed by senior management. When we tried to get it back on behalf of the students, we were met several times by security with the most ridiculous and inconsistent set of excuses, such as that they were not sure who the banner belonged to and that they were treating it as “lost property”.

Another pathetic action occurred during the most recent open day, when security staff were instructed to rub off with water any message that we wrote with chalk on the pavement and walls around the camp (causing no irreversible damage to any buildings whatsoever). This became something resembling performance art, Andy Goldsworthy style, as the writing and the erasure went on for hours and attracted much attention from parents and potential students passing by. If management had wanted our message to get some prominence, they could have not devised a better plan. Nonetheless, their actions were petty.

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In general, university management’s response towards the students, the camp and the important and pressing issues that have been raised has been pathetic. However those of us who have, with horror, observed the actions of management over the last few years will not be surprised. The unwillingness to engage with difficult and controversial issues has been a trademark of this management team, making them entirely unfit to manage the university. Twice already, Sheffield UCU have passed motions of no confidence in university management. And since then, all evidence points to their credibility having sunk even lower.

All this raises important questions that we, as academics and university members, have a responsibility to raise. What has happened to our university? Where has the place of learning, that should positively contribute to a peaceful and prosperous society, gone? Where is that collaborative community that we all aspire to, and which should enthuse students to make their voices heard and their actions appreciated? By antagonising students and staff, the current management are damaging the reputation of our university and, in turn, of our city, which relies so much on the success of its higher education.

This happening while the university is potentially contributing to the slaughter of a whole population in Palestine is something that cannot be forgiven. As responsible and compassionate citizens, academics and loyal members of our beloved university, our choice is, and has always been, loud and clear: we stand with our courageous students asking for accountability in the face of a potential charge of contributing to genocide. We will not abandon our students, and will forever continue to demand the priority of morality, justice and fairness over profit.

Are you a specialist in either university or public finances? Now Then is looking to speak to somebody with expertise in how the university could divest from weapons manufacturers and switch to other forms of investment. Get in touch.

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