As the majority of students at the University of Birmingham have heard, Edward Bauer, Vice President of Education, has been arrested and withheld from release. During the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham on Friday, he put up a banner reading ‘Traitors Not Welcome – Hate Clegg Love NCAFC ‘(National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts) on the bridge connecting the International Convention Centre and the Hyatt Hotel on Broad Street. It is alleged that this caused debris to fall into the road below, posing a danger to cars and pedestrians directly underneath.
This story has caused a fair amount of uproar amongst the student body, with many supporting Bauer and his regular campaigns against student fees. As the Vice President of Education, it is certainly within his job description to care about the effects these are having on students and no one could accuse him of neglecting this duty.
But his greatest duty is surely to the Guild of Students and the electorate that gave him this role in the first place. Working for the university means that he no longer solely represents himself, but also the institution and the vast student body here. To have such a representative face arrest for the second time in six months – for whatever reason – cannot be a positive thing for anyone involved. Bauer’s passion is admirable, but he is intelligent enough to know that getting into such serious trouble when you are the ambassador of a university is ill advised and damages the confidence some initially had in his ability to take the role of Vice President of Education.
This is certainly not a case of the punishment fitting the crime, as ten days in prison for putting up a banner does seem, by most accounts, utterly ludicrous. But the real reason for this harsh reprimand is Bauer’s custodial history. Three of them were arrested on Friday for their actions, but the other two men, aged 19 and 21, were released upon the condition that they do not enter the city centre until their trial. Bauer is still on trial for aggravated trespass during the Fortnum & Mason sit-in during student protests in London in March, and it is this that has to some extent sealed his fate with regard to his newest alleged crime. On Monday, it will be decided whether or not he will be granted bail, but he is certain to get some kind of slap on the wrists, if not worse, for his actions and bringing negative publicity to the university.
Bauer is by no means a criminal, but his history of political activism has caused problems at a lower level too, with many people doubting his ability to act as a neutral and objective representative of the university. It has already been noted that he used his official Guild VPE Facebook account to express leanings of a political nature, which hints that he perhaps struggles to distinguish between what is in the student body’s interests and what are his own personal views. Guild President Mark Harrop is meeting Vice Chancellor David Eastwood on Tuesday to discuss the best course of action, and my personal view is that the students at the University of Birmingham should vote on whether or not they would like to keep Bauer in power. I am sure that the result would be positive and that he would almost certainly be voted to stay in his current role, but I do believe that students should have the choice in light of recent events. As a huge supporter of democracy, I don’t see how Bauer can disagree.