Thomas Woollard, a student at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, was referred to counseling after he criticized striking lecturers on Twitter.
The 3rd year history student at the University of Sheffield was annoyed at the strikes that occurred in November of 2019, when lecturers at 60 different universities walked out on their teaching duties in a dispute over pay and working conditions.
Woollard fired off some tweets directed at Sheffield’s University and College Union Twitter account. Some of the tweets involved comparing the strikes to a “coffee morning,” and telling striking lecturers to “get back in the classroom and start teaching us.”
He then approached the UCU office directly to complain about some of the strikers’s behaviour, after witnessing some staff confronting a student who had crossed the picket line.
In an email obtained by The Tab, Sheffield’s UCU office then contacted the head of student support, and said Woollard’s dissent online and in person was a “welfare concern”:
We wanted to write to express concerns about a student who has come to see us in the UCU office this morning. He was very agitated, anxious and angry and complained about our picket on the Diamond, which he said was intimidating. We ascertained that no one had raised their voice or used hostile and abusive language and he indicated his complaint was to do with the conversations on the picket… We became aware that the same student was on Monday tweeting at the UCU branch account very negatively… He seems to be angry about the strike in a way that we are not accustomed to hearing from students, the vast majority of whom appear either supportive or resigned, and his demeanour was such that we have concerns for his welfare.
The day after, Woollard received an email from the Central Welfare and Guidance team, to see if he was okay after “being flagged as distressed,” and recommended he book an appointment with them to “have a chat.” He attended the meeting, and received “psychological support,” but he told The Tab that the situation left him absolutely furious:
This is a violation of free speech. I went with a legitimate concern and they have delegitimised my opinion and me as a person. The UCU of all people should be able to cope with disagreement over a strike that saw my degree affected – they’re a union representing academia, which is supposed to facilitate discussion. If they can’t tolerate this and instead refer students for mental health support, doesn’t that show their true colours?
“Student welfare is a top priority at the University of Sheffield,” a spokesman for the university said in a statement. “When concerns are raised about someone, our Student Support Services team will always get in touch with them to find out whether they need any support.”
Woollard’s complaint follows another student hitting back against the lecturer strikes at the University of Sheffield. Joseph Ford, a third year philosophy student, is suing the university for almost £2,000 as compensation for lost teaching time during the strikes.
In January, the University of Sheffield hit the headlines for launching their “Race Equality Champions” scheme, where they would pay 20 students to tackle “microaggressions” on campus. Koen Lamberts, Sheffield’s vice chancellor, said it was “important to be open and honest about racism.” Ironically, last December, Sheffield’s SU banned white students from attending meetings on “how to create an anti-racist SU.”