The idea had been born in the mind of Hazy Joe. So called not just because his name was Jonathan Haze, but also because each time he was seen he was engulfed by a cloud of marijuana smoke.
The only thing that the university cared about more than money was reputation. Though the two were inexorably linked.
The snow from the Winter of Discontent had begun to thaw, and though the battle had been lost, many still refused to believe that the war was over.
Politically the student movement had quickly learned that it had no power. The opposition to the university tuition fee rise was passionate, but ultimately futile. Abandoned by their political representatives, the students could only look to one another.
The tuition fee increase had been confirmed, but it remained an optional price open to universities if they wished to take it. The Northwood University was one such institution wanting to charge the maximum fee. It was joined by 95% of the country’s other higher education facilities.
Northwood had a long history of political activism on the campus, and throughout the previous winter it had faced, and survived, a number of demonstrations and occupations relating to the proposed changes to tuition fees.
The management, and their sponsors, believed they were over the worst of it and were looking forward to the increased income that was coming their way in the future.
Northwood University had consistently been ranked in the top 10 for the country. It enjoyed substantial interest from students both in the UK and abroad.
Money and reputation; Northwood had them both.
Hazy Joe had floated his idea with a select few of his fellow classmates. They immediately fell in love with it. Word began to spread and soon the idea had developed into a plan.
A statement was drafted and within days it had surpassed 200 signatories.
Everyone knew that this was the final throw of the dice. It represented the last counter attack that the students could hurl against the university and its management.
The plan was to hold the university to ransom. How do you do that? By seizing control of its life support.
A university such as Northwood maintains its reputation by consistently placing highly in the university rankings. Among other things, this ranking is based on the pass marks for the university’s degree courses.
This was where the cross-hairs of the students were now firmly fixed.
Weeks passed. Then on the day before the first exams of the year, a poster appeared around the university campus. Quite simply, it read: “Nine thousand reasons to stand up”.
The morning of the first exams arrived. In the mass of gathered students there was the usual air of uncertainty and worry, but it was laced with a feeling of determination.
Some were sat alone doing some last minute note reading, others were in small groups chatting nervously, but many were just stood resolutely, focus and thought etched on their faces.
The doors opened. The invigilators welcomed the students in and showed each one where they were to sit. Once everyone was seated, the instructions were read out and at 09:08 it was announced that the exam had started.
Papers rustled. Scribbling soon commenced.
The minutes passed and the collective consciousness of the students began to worry. Nobody wanted to be the first. What if no-one followed?
09:14. Still nothing.
09:15, 09:16, 09:17…
Until, finally, as the invigilators turned their backs to sort paperwork the screech of a chair was heard as it was pushed from underneath a desk.
Standing defiantly at the back of the hall was Nicola. Her arms were crossed against her chest and her exam lay unopened on the desk below.
An invigilator strode towards Nicola carrying a mask of confusion across his face.
“What’s wrong?” he whispered as he approached Nicola.
“What’s wrong?!” he repeated after Nicola refused to answer.
Another invigilator began walking to the back of the hall. Her step quickened as she passed the halfway mark.
The heads of the students began to turn. After a few seconds Nicola’s stand had become a spectacle. Already being badgered by two invigilators, a third began to make their way to the scene. As she set off, the student in front of Nicola stood up.
The invigilator stopped dead in her tracks. As she did so a third student stood up. Soon followed by a fourth and a fifth. And like a Mexican wave, students across the hall suddenly all started rising to their feet.
One of the invigilators rushed out of the hall. Before long he was back with the Head of Department, David Ruddock, alongside him.
By that point, all pretence of an ongoing exam had been abandoned. Not a single word was being written.
“Who was first?” David asked from the doorway.
The invigilators pointed to Nicola. David strode up to her.
“What are you playing at?” he whispered.
Nicola turned, but said nothing.
“This is your future” he said, attempting to make her reconsider her actions.
She looked him in the eye, holding his gaze for a few seconds, before leaning in and replying: “exactly”.
With that, she turned to face the front of the hall and cross her arms once more.
Unbeknownst to the other individuals in the hall, the smallest of smiles had escaped David’s lips and began to creep across his face. His eyes burned with an intense pride.
He nodded, stepped away from Nicola, and began to walk towards the door.
“Postpone this exam. Get them all out. And someone ring the Chairman, he’s going to have to come down here”.
In David’s office a heated debate was underway.
“Why couldn’t you just evict the trouble makers?!” repeated the Chairman furiously.
“John, listen, they were all on their feet. Every one of them.”
“Well, what about the ringleaders?!” the Chairman countered, “Couldn’t you just…”
Before he had a chance to finish his sentence the office door inched open behind him.
“I’m sorry to interrupt” said the timid lady poking her face around the corner, “but it’s happened again. Maths exam in Hall C.”
For two complete days, every exam across the campus was interrupted in the same manner. Students in Art, Music, French, Science, and Business all refused to sit their exams.
In an unprecedented move, the university abruptly postponed all scheduled exams. A statement was released within which was the phrase the students recognised as the joyous call of victory: “the Northwood University wishes to negotiate with students, and seek to overcome any grievances, so that examinations can continue without further interruption.”
They had won.
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