Students in Canterbury have urged Rowan Williams to back their freedom to peaceful protest as university authorities seek to break up a nonviolent sit-in. Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has received a letter from students at the University of Kent, who are maintaining a protest over government plans to treble the cap on tuition fees.
Nonviolent occupations took place at universities across Britain in November and December, as Parliament narrowly voted to back the fee hike. The sit-in at the University of Kent's senate building, which began on 8 December, has continued longer than most, with students continuing the occupation over the festive break.
The sit-in began after Kent's Vice-Chancellor, Julia Goodfellow, publicly backed an increase in fees.
The students wrote to Williams after university authorities applied for a possession order from Canterbury County Court to allow them to be forcibly removed. The court hearing is planned for Friday 7 January.
But the five students still occupying the building say they have no plans to leave. If forced to move, they are unlikely to go quietly. They are committed to nonviolence and their physical removal may well prove an embarrassment for Goodfellow and the university authorities.
"Our occupation is completely peaceful and we maintain consistency in our objectives and feel this is imperative until our demands are met,” said the occupiers in a statement.
They explained, "We oppose cuts that will result in university institutions being a privilege accessible solely to the few”.
Other students showed their support for the occupiers by holding a candlelit vigil outside the building yesterday (1 January).
The Student Christian Movement (SCM) has urged Christians to oppose the hike in tuition fees. SCM has also welcomed the recent outbreak of direct action amongst students.
SCM and the Christian thinktank Ekklesia last month co-signed a letter to the press encouraging students to neither give up nor resort to violence, but to recognise the effectiveness of nonviolent direct action.
Rowan Williams is himself a former member of SCM. He has recently been critical of the government's economic plans, but has not yet commented publicly on the students' letter.