OPEN LETTER: A Call to Reopen the Council Room

Dear Friends,
On Feb 7, Open Birkbeck sent a letter (copied below) to the Master of Birkbeck College, calling for the Council Room to be reopened and made available for use.  Two weeks have since passed and we have not received an acknowledgement or response to our letter.
We are now asking for signatures of support from faculty, students, staff and members of the Birkbeck Community. We would like to resend the letter next week with a list of supporting signatures, so if you would like to add your name as a supporter of the letter, please send an email by Friday Feb 25 to:
Open Birkbeck

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
7 February 2011
Dear Professor Latchman,
We are writing to express our concern and dismay about the recent decision to close access to the Council Room at Birkbeck.
According to a recent notice on the room booking website, “The Council Room is no longer available for centrally allocated bookings due to the recent student occupation.” We understand that some groups are still able to book the room, although the process around who gets access, who makes this decision and by what criteria is unclear. We also note that the corridor leading to the Council Room, which was previously open to all, now remains locked.
Given the chronic space shortages at the college, as well as the symbolic importance of the Council Room – particularly as a place where many important decisions about the college are made – we feel this room should remain available to the Birkbeck community. Staff, faculty members, campus groups and students have long been able to use this room and have always done so with the utmost respect.  Indeed, participants in the recent Open Birkbeck action in December made great efforts to ensure no damage was done to the room, and left the room clean, tidy and vacuumed when the event was adjourned.  [Attached is a photo of the room at mid-day on December 9, 2010 when the event concluded].
We find it sadly ironic that when students organise to protect the vision of open access education that Birkbeck College was founded upon, the administration would respond with an act of closure and restriction.
Student occupations have a long and important history as a peaceful means of expressing protest and dissent.  To respond to such an action by further restricting access to Birkbeck College is, in our view, unnecessary, excessive and punitive, and is not in keeping with the ethos of the Birkbeck community.
We therefore request that you immediately reinstate the availability of the Council Room for booking. Otherwise, we request a written explanation as to why you feel it is necessary to continue to block bookings of the Council Room, what criteria will be used to allow access and how you justify these decisions to the students, staff and faculty at Birkbeck.
Finally, we would like to reassure you that your decision to close the Council Room will not deter future student organising or action, particularly in the current climate where the very future of public education is in peril.
We respectfully await your response.
Open Birkbeck is an event in which students, staff and faculty from Birkbeck College create an open space for discussion and deliberation on how we can participate in a society committed to Higher Education for all.
Cc: Keith Harrison, David McGhie, Liz Whitehead, Tom McCartney

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