The Chair of the Board of Directors of the Student Loans Company (SLC), Chris Brodie, was selected to preside over the first four University of Sussex graduation ceremonies on 8-11 July, as popular comedian and University Chancellor Sanjeev Bhaskar was unavailable due to filming commitments. The selection, made by Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing, was an insult to graduating Sussex students, who would have had their degrees conferred on them by the man they will be in debt to for years to come. After pressure from the student union and a stream of complaints from students, the decision was made to have academic staff confer degrees, a decision we support.

Farthing has gained nationwide notoriety among students for cuts to campus services and academic departments and a heavy-handed approach to student protest, with the suspension of the ‘Sussex Five’ at the end of last year. He said that he could ‘think of no one better’ than Brodie to preside over the graduation ceremonies. The past two years at Sussex have taught him nothing if he did not realise that having this former investment banker, who will dictate the terms of impoverishment of many of the students in question in the future, confer degrees would be insulting to the politicised Sussex student population. This demonstrates how far out of touch Farthing is with the student body at Sussex, a fact that has led to his use of a bodyguard on campus over the last year.

The decision generated a stream of complaints from students. This led the University to offer refunds to students and guests who wanted to boycott the ceremony, and the student union issued a statement opposing Brodie’s selection. The statement also calls attention to the problem of Brodie’s position as chair of the University Council. The suggestion that the ceremonies be presided over by faculty and teaching staff was one that we endorsed along with the student union. This was picked up by the student body, who laid on the pressure. In a victory for Sussex students over management this suggestion has been adopted, and students will now be ‘graduating alongside an inspirational and important figure from their time of studying’, a faculty member from their school of study. We believe that this victory is important in showing Sussex students what they can do through the student union, and hopefully is a sign that the new full time union officers will keep up with the increasing pace of radicalisation among students and society as the class struggle intensifies.

It is not the particular personalities of Chris Brodie or Michael Farthing that we opposed in this decision. If Sussex had a different Vice-Chancellor, or the SLC Board of Directors had a different Chair, then this decision would still have been an insult to Sussex students. These people are the representatives of the ruling bourgeoisie, the capitalists, in the field of higher education, enforcing the cuts and fee rises made necessary by the crisis of capitalism. The tuition fee cap has tripled to £9,000 a year since the crash of 2008, along with increases in living costs and accommodation prices, not to mention the bleak employment prospects of today’s students, as they along with the rest of the working class are forced to pay for the crisis that they did not cause.

It is for this reason that we opposed the decision to have Michael Farthing and Chris Brodie preside over the graduation ceremonies at Sussex this year, instead of Sanjeev Bhaskar or even teaching staff. These two men are the face of a system that can no longer develop society positively or even provide decent living standards for the vast majority, and instead must take them away to maintain the profits of a tiny minority. It is a credit to the politicised student body at Sussex that this decision was reversed, not to any ‘good nature’ of Michael Farthing.

The Sussex Marxist Society is for a fully funded, locally and democratically controlled education system in the hands of students and teachers, with no tuition fees or student loans, and for free education for all under a socialist plan of production.

Sussex Marxist Society
July 2014

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