STAFF and students from Cambridge and Oxford have thrown their support behind Australian Trenton Oldfield, who faces deportation from the United Kingdom after he disrupted the 2012 boat race between the two universities.
Mr Oldfield will front an immigration tribunal in London on Monday after his request for a spousal visa was refused by the government on the grounds his presence in Britain was “not conducive to the public good”.
The 37-year-old activist has lived in the UK for more than a decade and earlier this year had his first daughter with his British wife.
To protest elitism and inequality he swam into the path of the Cambridge and Oxford rowing crews as they raced down the Thames in April 2012.
He was subsequently jailed for seven weeks.
Now staff and students are backing Mr Oldfield’s appeal against the Home Office’s decision to kick him out of the country.
More than 250 people from both institutions have signed a letter in the past few days that calls on Home Secretary Theresa May to stop the proceedings against Mr Oldfield.
“The boat race is a game – its disruption should not result in any individual’s deportation,” the letter states.
“Certainly its disruption should not be cause to separate an individual from his family which includes a recently-born child.”
Priyamvada Gopal, a senior English lecturer at Cambridge, says staff and students only realised a few weeks ago that the deportation threat was real because it had seemed absurd.
“It was absolutely out of the question that such an extreme measure was going to be done in the name of our universities,” Dr Gopal told AAP.
“We had to make clear that it was not being done with our consent or support.”
Dr Gopal is a member of the Cambridge Academic Campaign for Higher Education – a group of lecturers and professors that wants to democratise public higher education.
She doesn’t think it’s ironic that staff and students are backing Mr Oldfield.
“Trenton was protesting a social and political structure rather than everyone who actually attends or teaches at Cambridge,” she said.
“We are a very large institution with an undoubted history of shoring up British elitism, but again, there are several people here, dons and students, who are deeply committed to democratising the institution and widening access to higher education.”
Activist group Defend the Right to Protest is organising a rally outside Monday’s immigration tribunal hearing.
Spokeswoman Hannah Dee hopes the show of public support will influence the tribunal, which will also hear from several witnesses who’ll argue Mr Oldfield is an asset to the UK.
“There is a widespread opposition to government austerity measures and cuts, so, in that sense, the (boat race) protest and the things Trenton stands for are for the public good at a time when many people feel the government doesn’t have a popular mandate,” Ms Dee told AAP.
By Julian Drape (AAP)