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University status

Strictly speaking, universities are private property but their nature as large educational institutions means that they are in practice open to the public. This is consistent with the idea that universities are ”public institutions”. This dual status of public and private is convenient for universities, for whom it provides a more expansive line of attack against activist students. For example, police can charge student protesters with offences under which the university is seen as ”private”, such as trespass, as well as offences that apply to ”public” places, such as offensive behaviour.

Universities may also of their own accord initiate legal action to suppress activism. In the USA, the University of California (Berkeley) has initiated a civil action which aims to restrain a range of protesters from blocking the destruction by development of open public parks. This is an entirely new application of the law, but based on an earlier action against anti-logging protesters. These initiatives have become known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).

See Legal threats silencing activists