University of Glasgow students occupy Hetherington House protesting proposed education cuts (Free Hetherington Campaign), 2011

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Although University of Glasgow Principal Anton Muscatelli officially announced the proposed education cuts on 9 February 2011, the University of Glasgow community was aware of the proposed education cuts prior to the official announcement. For this reason, the occupation of Hetherington House and the formation of the Free Hetherington campaign began on 1 February 2011.
1 February
2011
to
31 August
2011
Location and Goals
Country: 
Scotland
Location City/State/Province: 
Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
Location Description: 
University of Glasgow
Goals: 
To maintain freedom of access to Hetherington House, on the terms of the occupants

To return the Hetherington House to democratic control by students and staff

To offer all those who lost their jobs as a result of the severance program and cuts their jobs back

To have Anton Muscatelli condemn the cuts and either take the average wage of university staff or resign

No job cuts, no course cuts, no cuts to student services, and no cuts to teaching budgets

To end the voluntary severance program

To have Glasgow University become a free site of lifelong learning for all residents of Glasgow

To invest in higher education and wider public services

 

In January of 2011, reports began to circulate at the University of Glasgow that massive cuts were coming to academic programs, staff employment rates and student services. Student activists targeted the abandoned Hetherington Research club, a former post-graduate club that had been shut down in January of 2010 due to a previous round of budget cuts, as a potential place of occupation from which protesters could issue demands against austerity. The university was beginning renovations on the building that appeared geared towards the university selling it as private office space.

On 1 February 2011, 50 students entered the building through a fire door from a neighboring structure to begin their occupation. Their initial demands included indefinite freedom of access to Hetherington House, no police presence, acceptance of student ownership, no cuts to student services or unions, and no more mandatory job losses, with departmental cuts limited to optional departures.

From the beginning the occupation also intended to serve as a learning and student life space open to all students and staff. They had already booked a spot for Scottish writer and comedian A.L. Kennedy to launch her campaign to become Rector at Glasgow University. Former staff members at the Hetherington club voiced their support for the occupation, saying it might restore some of the job losses cutting programs like the club entail, and prevent more in the future. Tommy Gore, President of the Student's Representative Council came out in opposition to the occupation, warning it could distract from the upcoming cost reduction plan announcement that would actually detail the austerity cuts the university planned on enacting.

The initial response from the university was relatively calm, with a spokesperson stating: “Campus security are in close contact with the protesters. As things stand, as long as the protest remains peaceful and does not disrupt the normal business of the University and other students, campus security will not intervene.”

On 9 February 2011, the full extent of cuts were published in the University Herald, confirming the suspicions of many of the protesters when they initially occupied the Hetherington. Nursing, social work, several modern languages including Russian, Czech and Polish, and the entire Anthropology department were all set to be discontinued, along with the department of Adult and Continuing Education which at the time had over 5000 adult learners enrolled. These cuts entailed massive job losses and a decrease in student life funding at the University. The cuts totaled a 20 million pound spending decrease over the next three years.

The Free Hetherington occupiers organized an open meeting on 11 February to discuss the proposed cuts and plan a rally and protest for the 16 February, starting outside the occupied Hetherington. The rally had a festive atmosphere with over 2000 protesters and lecturers in attendance, comprised mostly of students and staff members of the university. SNP party Scottish Parliament Member Sandra White and Green Party Scottish Parliament member Patrick Harvie spoke at the rally in support of the protesters and put forward a motion in the Scottish parliament voicing concerns over the cuts. Many expressed anger at the plans and, in particular, at the lack of transparency around the decision making process. The Student's Representative Council co-sponsored and backed the rally along with the Free Hetherington.

A separate rally was organized by the Queen Margaret Union, one of the two student unions at the university, in an attempt to distance themselves from an incident involving members of the Free Hetherington against NUS President Aaron Porter. Free Hetherington members had surrounded or “kettled” Porter, preventing him from moving, while shouting insults at him for expressing disagreement with the Free Hetherington movement. Some students also vented frustration at SRC president Tommy Gore in an op-ed for limiting the protest to university students and excluding the general public, whom they claimed would also be affected by further limiting access to higher education. Around this time, playwright Tom Stoppard and Baroness Onora O'Neill, along with 150 academics, penned an open letter opposing the cuts that they sent to Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell.

In late February 2011, the occupation listed a formal set of demands in response to the proposed cuts. This included the reversal of any departmental cuts, the prevention of any job losses for staff in those departments, the re-opening of the Hetherington club with full funding and a rehiring of all staff who had been deemed 'redundant' by the university. They also called on University principle Anton Muscatelli to cut his own salary from 283,000 pounds a year to that of the average university worker.

Throughout February and March of 2011, occupiers turned the Free Hetherington into an alternative living and learning space and a resource for the larger community. Organizers hosted film screenings, art and cooking classes as well as performances from artists including Billy Bragg and Scotland's poet laureate Liz Lochhead.

On 22 March 2011, police suddenly and forcibly evicted students from the Hetherington without warning. Eighty police, canine units, and a helicopter descended on the building. There were several reports of injuries, including concussions and dislocated shoulders, though there were no reports of activist violence. In fact, occupiers sat and resisted arrest peacefully, preventing the complete expulsion of all in the building for several hours, but eventually the eviction succeeded.

The eviction failed to deter the protestors from action, and they marched to the University Senate building and managerial offices, occupying them in turn. Faced with a renewed occupation, publicity backlash, and anger from faculty and staff due to the forcible eviction, the university negotiated a compromise in response to the senate occupation. The administration allowed the protesters to return to the Hetherington in exchange for leaving their offices. In response to the eviction, President Muscatelli apologized for the excessive force and opened an investigation into the incident.

After many subsequent months of occupation and several preceding weeks of negotiations, occupiers voted 58-9 to end the sit-in at the Hetherington on 15 August 2011. The Free Hetherington garnered significant concessions from the administration, and the occupiers decided that they could no longer be productive. The administration agreed to cancel course cuts beyond the Slavonic Studies Program and the adult learning program, preserving many Linguistics Departments and the Anthropology Department. They also negotiated an end to the firing of staff deemed redundant in most university departments. They also granted amnesty for the occupiers and secured the opening of a new post-graduate club and the conversion of the Hetherington into an academic lecture hall. The Free Hetherington voted to support these concessions, deciding that the occupation would no longer produce further change. Occupiers also worried about their dwindling numbers and the increasing attachment and association the campaign had with the building.

Members of the protest vowed to continue to fight to preserve the Slavonic Studies program and the Adult Learning Program. The University shuttered most of the Slavonic studies program in 2012, though it preserved the linguistics department. As of 2015, the Adult Learning Program remains active though smaller after an additional wave of cuts.

Research Notes
Influences: 

In 2007, Glasgow University planned to close Crichton Campus, as part of proposed cuts. Students enacted an active campaign to save the Crichton Campus. The student protesters in the campaign personalized the campaign around the Principal, Muir Russell. The campaign was ultimately successful, did not give up, and continued to place pressure on the University management, resulting in additional funding provided by the Scottish Government and Crichton Campus remaining open (1).

On 11 May 2011, University of Madison Wisconsin students looked to the Hetherington House occupation when they began their occupation on 2 March 2011 and before being evicted held the longest student occupation in United States history (2).

On 27 June 2011, Strathclyde University students started an occupation campaign protesting against cuts. The Free Hetherington Campaign worked with and supported Strathclyde staff and students (2).

On 16 September 2011, Edinburgh University Students started an occupation campaign protesting increased fees on students from outside Scotland (2).

Sources: 
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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Lewis Fitzgerald-Holland 4/10/2015, Sabrina Merold 27/10/2013