University of East London Shuts Down Alternative G20 Summit

Thanks to Lorenz Khazaleh at for alerting me to this news yesterday, “University Cancels Alternative G20 Summit – Academics Occupy University of East London.” (Also see Lorenz’s posts: “Financial crisis: Anthropologists lead mass demonstration against G20 summit,” and ” ‘Intolerant Universities’: Anthropology professor Chris Knight suspended over G20-activism.”)

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The University of East London is back in the news again, in its capacity as a national security organization. Having suspended anthropologist Chris Knight, for public speech in his role as one of the leading G20 protest organizers, UEL has now decided to silence as many people as possible one fell swoop. Unlike other universities, where dissent and free speech are not just tolerated, but encouraged, usually under various headings as “critical thinking,” “creativity,” “community outreach,” and so forth, UEL’s apparent mission is to encourage as much silence as possible, in conformity with the authorities’ wishes for a peaceful meeting among bankrupt elites who should be permitted to make decisions on behalf of the entire planet without the undue molestation of public opinion. The loser in all of this is, ultimately, the University of East London, which now achieves international distinction as disreputable institution, not of “higher learning,” but rather “higher obedience.”

On the way to peeling off its “university” façade, masking the policeman within, the “administration” of the University of East London has decided to shut down the Alternative G20 Summit, that was going to feature a wide range of prominent public figures and intellectuals arranged to speak in a conference format — no firing of RPGs mentioned anywhere. A few more anthropologists were to also speak at the event, including David Graeber, Jerome Lewis, and Catherine Stephens, none of whome are known to have graduated from the ranks of Al Qaida in Iraq. The lesson here is apparently that all those who do not hold state and corporate power, are either the enemy, or to be feared as potential enemies.

Chris Knight (see this video interview with The Guardian), announced that the alternative G20 summit would go ahead nonetheless. A press release from the Alternative Summit, for 31 March 2009, states:

Despite last minute efforts by the management of the University of East London to shut down the Alternative Summit this evening. We are committed to making sure the event goes ahead at the University of East London as planned between 4pm – 9pm.

This afternoon at 4pm we are asking the public to join students, lectures and union members to occupy the campus in order to ensure that prominent political, scientific, academic and activist speakers who have remained committed to the event will be free and able to speak as planned.

Despite New Labour¹s best efforts to establish corporate control over our education system. Like many other universities across the country the University of East London is proud of its diversity of ideas, its intellectual autonomy and freedom of expression. And we need to defend this autonomy against corporate control.

It is vital at this pivotal moment in British and world history that we the people have a public platform to understand and act on alternative ideas and strategies for our political, environmental and economic future. And yet at this crucial time our basic right to the freedom of speech is being aggressively suppressed. Of course the inconvenient truth that the authorities are so anxious to suppress is the simple fact that another world is possible. And we the people need to make it so.

The crucial battle today is now between of language against aggression. And the battle ground is the Docklands Campus of the University of East London (Cyprus DLR). Either we lose control to the corporate state or we defend our sovereignty and therefore defend our traditions of freedom and democracy across England and Beyond. If security and police are permitted to break the sacred circle of academic and scientific autonomy England will be a police state.

You may not have been thinking of coming. Please think again.

Alternative London Summit
We are the people. We are the power.

A mere five minutes before I finished reproducing the statement above, G20Meltdown reported on its Twitter page that, “Alternative G20 summit should be kicking off at UEL any minute now. Go down. Or come here to the city. Climate Camp not kettled,” followed by, “Police horses arriving. And there’s us, fresh out of carrots. We’re going to put the tea things away. Just in case.” They also reported the storming of the Bank of England and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

Almost 3,000 persons, at the time of writing, have signed a petition asking the University of East London to reopen to host the Alternative Summit. As the petition indicates, addressing itself to UEL’s “Corporate Management Team” (CMT):

In the last 15 years, anti-g8/g20/WTO/debt etc. protests have been held across the world; often to coincide with the meetings of the powerful, taking a stand of dignified rage against decisions that have led to increased poverty and inequality, ecological devastation, war, the violation of human rights, and a global economy that is now imploding after huge wealth has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The very vast majority of these protests have been peaceful. In the case of the Genoa demonstrations in 2001, as has been reported by a variety of sources – including leading newspapers in the UK – the police were found to have been responsible for the violence that ensued.

On these occasions, universities around the world have often played a crucial role in hosting fruitful debates between individuals and civil society organisations, in a common effort to develop strategies and visions to put the world on a better course. Alternative summits have often been held in university spaces, as occasions open to a wide public. There is a reason for this. The life-blood of democracy is the meeting and sharing of hearts and minds, and the university is one of the best existing institutions that can facilitate this: in fact, this is the university’s only fundamental purpose. A university like the University of East London (UEL), proud of its open access policy and of its commitment to inclusion, even more than others, must take a stand to defend its public role of facilitating dialogue and promoting social justice. But in order to do so, the university has to be open. It is the responsibility of its management to defend the historic role of the university as a sanctuary for open debate; not to collude with those who are responsible for the present crisis in depriving it of that role.


It is time for the university management to become accountable not only to the government funding bodies, but to the wider public to whom it owes both its livelihood and a duty to fulfill its role as a part of civil society. The past 3 decades have seen public spaces such as universities hollowed out by the state and by corporations, as more and more of our common resources are transformed into sterile commodities, valued only in cash terms. In universities this has led to a policy regime which increasingly sees ‘employability’ in the ‘creative industries’ or in ‘business and finance’ as the only benchmark of success by which a university education can be judged; which sees research separated from teaching; which sees ‘knowledge transfer’ to the commercial sector as the only legitimate destination for the fruits of inquiry.

There is a deep connection between this process and the ones that have led the world to its current state of social and economic injustice and climate chaos. In all such cases, the real collective creativity that generates value of all kinds – from the factory to the seminar room, from the laboratory to the orchestra, from the field to the home – is channeled into the endless, mindless production of commodities. This connection between social creativity and commodification must be weakened, if we want to meet the challenges of our times. But this cannot be done if spaces for debate, questioning and social invention are closed down.

We can all see where such neoliberal dogma has led the global economy. Now is the time to decide whether UEL will carry on following the rules of this discredited programme, becoming a part of the deepening problem; or whether it will start to become part of the solution, as a university should.

For more news, see:

G20: The alternative summit will go ahead — Efforts to cancel it won’t work. Come to the University of East London today to help us defend freedom of speech and ideas,” by Chris Knight, The Guardian, 1 April 2009.

Alternative G20 summit cancelled — University of East London shuts down for duration of G20 talks and cancels alternative summit,” by Anthea Lipsett, The Guardian, 31 March 2009.

University shuts during summit to make sure students are safe,” by Anna Davis, Evening Standard, 31 March 2009.

UEL cancels alternative G20 summit — ‘Duty of care’ cited as university scraps event amid security concerns,” by Melanie Newman, Times Higher Education, 30 March 2009.