• Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

Protest demanding Peter Mathieson’s resignation held

Several banners criticising University of Edinburgh principal and vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson in front of a brick, old students' union building

On Saturday, February 18, a group of protestors gathered outside McEwan Hall to demand Peter Mathieson’s resignation.

Mathieson, the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, has come under scrutiny for a variety of issues during his five-year tenure.

It was timed to coincide with the university’s biannual General Council meeting, where Mathieson delivered the university’s Annual Report.

The General Council is a body of alumni at the university which serves a representative and advisory role to the university’s leadership.

The protest was called by student advocacy groups Staff Student Solidarity Network (SSSN) and Youth in Resistance, and was attended by around 20 people.

Protesters began to arrive at Bristo Square from 9:15, with the crowd reaching its fullest size by 9:45.

They unfurled several banners, with one reading “Peter Mathieson Resign”, and another reading “People & Money + Peter Mathieson = Pain & Misery.”

Mathieson entered McEwan Hall at 9:55, seemingly without drawing the notice of the protesters outside.

There did not appear to be a natural audience for the protesters, however bystanders would occasionally stop to listen to the speakers.

Several organisers remarked that Saturday morning’s rainy weather may have impacted turnout, while expressing hope that more people would arrive through the day.

After the start of the General Council meeting, one protester wearing a Peter Mathieson mask read out a fake resignation speech for the Principal.

This speech outlined the protesters’ grievances with Mathieson, including his inaction on student issues and the continued industrial action by staff.

A banner mentioned the controversial finance and HR computer system ‘People and Money’, which has delayed wage payments and expense requests for many university staff.

The University and College Union (UCU) Edinburgh branch have included a collective grievance with this scheme in their current dispute with the university.

UCU strike action over pay and conditions and pension disputes have continued without resolution throughout Mathieson’s tenure.

Protestors also discussed the university’s mishandling of cases of sexual assault.

On February 10, a protest was held on campus criticising failures and insensitivity within the university’s sexual assault redressal system. 

Also mentioned was Mathieson’s defence of the screening of a transphobic film ‘Adult Human Female’ which is alleged to spread misinformation about transgender people.

Due to be shown in a university building in December 2022, the film was interrupted by protestors organised by the Feminist Society and LGBTQ+ societies.

Speeches also raised the controversies of Mathieson’s previous tenure as Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

During his time there, 78 per cent of staff polled said he had not “effectively protected academic freedom.”

Amid the current cost of living crisis and housing crisis, which has impacted Edinburgh students, the university’s £17,000 per year bills on Mathieson’s townhouse residence have drawn criticism.

Students have described the Principal’s receipt of a Knighthood as ‘stupid’, ‘corrupt’, and ‘tone deaf’.

One of the first speakers at the General Council meeting, Business Committee chair Sir Philip Mawer addressed the protest.

“There is a small protest underway, demanding that Sir Peter resign as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the university for a variety of alleged failings.

Sir Mawer then directly addressed any protesters who were viewing the livestream.

“First, I want to make clear that the general council is the voice of alumni in the governance of the university.”

“Its role is essentially representative and advisory, not executive in character.

“Contrary to what some of those protesting appear to believe, at least until the matter was corrected this morning, we do not elect the Vice-Chancellor.”

He then clarified that the body is responsible for electing the Chancellor of the university, presently Anne, Princess Royal.

Image via Sarah Challen Flynn