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University of Sheffield fail to evict pro-Gaza protesters, as hundreds of their own staff call for change

140 academics have signed an open letter to the vice-chancellor, saying they are “extremely concerned” about the institution’s ties to companies like BAE Systems.

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The encampment has remained in place following last Wednesday's ultimatum.


Dozens of students and staff protesting against the University of Sheffield’s ties to arms manufacturers have defied an order to disperse, after the institution threatened them with legal and disciplinary proceedings last week.

Members of the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine (SCCP) were given until 8pm on Wednesday to disassemble their encampment outside the Students’ Union, and have had their access to electricity and toilet facilities cut off.

But since then they have refused to leave the site, and on Thursday evening held an emergency rally in support of the encampment and their demands for divestment attended by around a hundred people from across the city.

“It is no coincidence that the university has redoubled its attempts to clear the encampment during open day and graduation season: they are worried about their image above all else,” a spokesperson for the SCCP told Now Then.

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Protestors want the university to divest from arms manufacturers.


“We, the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine, will not allow them to launder it. There is no Class of 2024 in Gaza: all twelve universities have been razed to the ground, and the school year ended for Gaza's 625,000 pupils in November 2023.”

Now Then asked the University of Sheffield whether they would now start legal or disciplinary proceedings against staff and students taking part in the encampment as threatened, but they declined to respond.

Calls for change

The university’s failure to evict the demonstrators comes as hundreds of their own staff representing dozens of departments across the institution call for major changes in the way the university handles investments and in its response to the genocide.

In a joint letter to vice-chancellor Koen Lamberts shared exclusively with Now Then, 140 “extremely concerned staff members” raised serious concerns about the university’s response to the encampment, as well as the institution’s research ties to companies like Boeing and BAE Systems. openDemocracy report that the university receive more investment from weapons manufacturers than any other in the UK.

“The encampment has raised rightful questions over the University’s collaboration with defence and arms manufacturers, along with demanding an end to the University’s complicity in the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza and its apartheid and settler colonial regime in Palestine,” reads the letter, which was sent to Lamberts on Friday and has not yet received a response.

“We support the demands of the encampment and support our students' and colleagues' right to protest, including against the complicity of our own institutions.”

The 1,270-word letter also raises concerns about the presence on campus of Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch, who works as a chaplain at multiple universities (including Sheffield) and who recently completed a tour of duty in Gaza with the Israeli military, which has been accused of committing war crimes.

“We are aware that the university has not engaged meaningfully with any questions raised by the encampment and the SUCU [University College Union] regarding the university’s complicity and the presence of an IDF soldier acting as a chaplain,” write staff.

“It is highly disappointing that instead of working to end this complicity in genocide of the Palestinian people, the management has chosen to repeatedly threaten staff and students with “disciplinary action” and sent mass emails (without a ‘reply’ option) whitewashing the extent of the university’s complicity.”

We asked the University of Sheffield for their response to the letter from their own staff, and whether senior management would now meet with members of the encampment to discuss their demands, but they declined to comment.

Right of reply

Now Then has been shown copies of multiple emails sent to all staff at the university (without the ability for staff to reply) from chief operating officer Rob Sykes. Sykes is the same member of senior management who issued an unbranded letter to members of the encampment last Wednesday, asking them to disperse.

Referring to the ongoing genocide in Gaza as “the continuing humanitarian crisis,” “the events in Israel and Gaza,” and “the situation in Gaza,” on 2 May Sykes told staff that “as a University, we encourage and celebrate the open exchange of views and beliefs” – a statement which stands in contrast to the decision he delivered to protesters less than two months later to cut off electricity and toilet facilities to the encampment.

On 20 May, vice-chancellor Koen Lamberts emailed all staff to specifically address allegations around the university’s ties to weapons manufacturers like Rolls-Royce and BAE systems – with the ability to reply once again blocked.

“We recognise that some of our research projects with partners could have a dual use for civilian and military purposes, and we do undertake research related to defence and global security challenges,” wrote Lamberts.

“However, I would like to emphasise that, where relevant, new and ongoing research partnerships undergo stringent due-diligence processes. Individual research projects are subjected to scrutiny and oversight which assesses legal status, credit checks, links to sanctioned countries, corporate governance, legislative requirements and checks on key individuals.”

The UK, which has long aided and abetted Israel’s multiple breaches of international and humanitarian law over the past half-century, does not list Israel as a sanctioned country. Lamberts’ list of “scrutiny and oversight” procedures also does not appear to include consideration of whether a company acts ethically or not, or whether the research will make the world a better or a worse place.

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Members of the encampment say they "continue to stand strong."


“Basic moral principles”

Yesterday, Now Then published an opinion piece by two academic staff at the university who wrote that “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,” wrote Professor Umberto Albarella and Dr Valerie Hobbs.

As of 2 July, the university’s website still claims they are providing protesters with “access to facilities in the Students’ Union”, but members of the encampment say this was cut off, along with the electricity supply, last Wednesday.

Despite this, representatives of the encampment say they will ignore the order to leave, and called on citizens of Sheffield, in whose name the university was supposedly set up, to support the camp and to back the 140 staff calling for change.

“Despite the university's continued tactics of intimidation, the Sheffield student encampment for Palestine continues to stand strong,” a spokesperson told Now Then.

“We act in defiance of their orders to leave by 20:00 last Wednesday in accordance with basic moral principle – we refuse to be silent while the institution within which we study, and to which we pay thousands of pounds a year in tuition, is complicit in the most brutal acts of genocide.”

The university declined to provide further comment for this piece.

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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