Nathan Guerin, BA History
One can only imagine the regret Valerie Amos must feel at taking her current position. An inherently distrustful student body already regards her with contempt; she’s finally been featured in The Guardian as something other than a selfless, humanitarian, wonder woman; and a rotating ensemble of students, as well as many people with what seems to be little or no connection to this institution at all, are occupying the Brunei Suite. While Amos has certainly made mistakes, the occupation of the Brunei Suite is counter-productive and reactionary.
Due to its inflated list of demands and chosen methods, the occupation movement will ultimately fizzle out and fail just as each and every occupation or Occupy movement has in the past.
Let’s look first at the goals of the occupation. What started initially as a reaction to ‘course-cut-gate’ or ‘course-cut-ghazi’ if you will, quickly ballooned into a much broader movement. It seems that everyone and their mum has an axe to grind with SOAS and have latched on to and diluted a once promising and attainable goal with their own pet projects.
Had the occupation nonetheless stuck to its initial anti-cuts stand, this is a non-issue as Amos has now stated no courses will be cut.
Now, the occupation seeks amongst other things: ‘an end to exploitative contracts, an apology from the entire executive with no scapegoating of individuals, the cancellation of all planned tender processes, the creation of a SOAS Senate, and the implementation of an Academic boycott of Israel.’ Many of these objectives are admirable in and of themselves, but change comes slowly and incrementally.
Creating a united platform from them ultimately decreases the chance that any of them will ever be implemented. In the end, however, the dilution of the occupation’s platform is irrelevant. The SOAS occupation is ultimately less about its goals than it is about the bruised psyches of its champagne-socialist participants, who rush to radical action instead of using practical techniques.
It is important to look more at the methods the occupation has not chosen, rather than scrutiny those they have used. Occupying spaces can be successful in many scenarios, but not in this one. Writing to MPs about Prevent would probably be a better use of time and resources than demanding the management of a public university to defy the law and refuse implementation.
Instead of throwing trash in front of Amos’s office – that will presumably have to be picked up by exploited and poorly paid cleaners – one could try to work with the Students’ Union to organize a meeting between management or Amos and the student body.
These are not radical, difficult or particularly clever ideas: but, on the other hand, there is nothing radical or clever about comfortably camping out in a fancy ‘chill out / study space.’ There are more effective ways to go about implementing the changes the occupation wants to see accomplished, although they may lack the all important radical notion of an occupation to its self-important members.
In her email message to all students on the 9th of October, Amos noted the ‘extremely high levels of mistrust within the School,’ of which the occupation is only the latest manifestation. Instead of instinctively assuming the worst of management, and trying to force through a veritable potpourri of measures all at once, students in the Occupy movement should give Amos a chance.
Sure: she has stumbled and failed to address the course cut issue in a particularly timely manner, but she is absolutely correct in her critique of SOAS as ‘collectively less than its parts,’ where ‘excellent work is lost in miscommunication, misrepresentation of facts, low morale, and overall negativity.’ Her words about creating a climate of trust and positivity will require changes by both management and students, and the occupation is in a good place to extend an olive branch.
Give Amos a chance. Go home.