Published: 18th February, 2018
At the end of this week, the University of Leicester released a, at best, bizarre press release exalting the visit of Lord David Willetts to the University of Leicester on Thursday. There is a small reference to the protest held by UCU and students, but we’d like to point out to the University that there were probably more people outside protesting than in the ‘prestigious’ lecture he gave.
The Peter Williams lecture theatre was less than a quarter full to witness David Willetts’s first contribution to the University since the announcement of his appointment to Chancellor. Perhaps attendees were put off by the University’s email warning that only peaceful protest would be tolerated, perhaps they were dissuaded by the University security presence at the doors to the Fielding Johnson building, or, more likely, they wouldn’t want to be associated with a man who introduced extortionate University fees and has distasteful views about feminism and social mobility.
Once deep in the basement lecture theatre the protests from outside could not be heard, and the event started with introductions and an initial presentation by Willetts about his book. At this point a large number of student began their peaceful protest by holding up banners against the flawed appointment of Willetts. Questions began to flow to Willetts on topics such as feminism, his voting record on gay issues whilst in government (“I don’t actually recall what that vote was” was the astonishing response), austerity, and other relevant topics.
Paul Boyle, clearly both annoyed and embarrassed by his own students, responded “I don’t want you to leave the room, but I’m afraid I will if you carry on”. Outside the protest was making a lot of noise, and generally entertaining the security staff who were responsible for standing in the cold to ensure we remained peaceful. To clarify to the University of Leicester, we would only ever hold a peaceful protest, but if you want security staff for every protest we hold you might need to arrange some overtime over the next few weeks.
Perhaps the best and most pertinent question for Paul Boyle was left for the end:
“Was it your friendship with him (Willetts) that helped him get the position?”
So what did we learn? That more people are willing to stand in the bitter cold and protest Willetts rather than sit in the warmth and listen to him speak. That Willetts believes £50k student debt is the price worth paying for increased student numbers and that Willetts’s book is available from the University at the discounted price of just £20. However, we’ll stay out in the cold protesting this disgraceful appointment and wait for the massive numbers of books soon to be donated to the local charity shops before we rush out to buy a copy.