Lacking in participation

15 October 1968

Today’s Guild Gazette has this opinion piece written by Gerry Cordon:

Last session’s burst of student revolt sent the national press into an orgiastic frenzy of splash headlines and horrified the myopic millions.

There were revolutionary goings-on everywhere.  It was all happening – all over England.

Except Liverpool.

A lot has been said about the apathy of Liverpool students, about the fact – even mentioned in Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain – that Liverpool is a 9-5 university.

To a great extent this is true.  An amazing number of the students here are not interested in the affairs of their own Guild – let alone in what is going on in their external environment.

Yet there are other universities where the percentage of students prepared to participate in Guild affairs – even at the lowest level – is no larger.  Apathy cannot be the sole reason for the lack of student fervour at Liverpool.

The Vice-Chancellor [Winson Barnes] probably hit the nail on the head when he spoke at July’s degree ceremony.  Communication, he felt, is the key to stability at Liverpool.  If a student grievance arises there are quick and easy channels through which it can be communicated to the University governors.

To take an actual example.  The largest student grievance last year concerned the administrative chaos in the July exams.  It soon became apparent that many students had genuine cases of hardship and concern.

To the credit of the University authorities, a committee of inquiry was immediately set up to look into the affair.  It will report soon, and hopefully it will report frankly; to hide or whitewash would be to destroy the valuable element of communication.

Communication is essential, for in university politics – as in all politics – there will be conflict and conciliation.  The satisfactory settlement of the one by the other depends on good communications between governors and governed. Increasingly, it must be recognised that communication is bettered by the actual participation of the ‘governed’ in the process of governing.

Liverpool doesn’t lack opportunities for student participation.  Guild politicians are often spoken of with distaste – but these denigrated ‘politicians’ are really part of the advantage of having a self-governing Union.

This year sees a new opportunity for participation – a student-staff committee set up to consider educational problems in the University – curricula, the exam system, the teaching system.

When the process of communication breaks down, when the authorities fail to respond to conflict, then the ‘student revolt’ begins.  In some universities, and particularly the art colleges, the governing authorities, by their intransigence, bring vengeance on themselves.

In such situations the conflict will take the form it took so often last year – open revolt.  Then, by their reasonableness, protests, sit-ins and demonstrations are justified. But they represent a failure – a failure in communications between students and authorities.

At Liverpool the channels of communication must stay open.

This piece provoked a fierce response from Oliver Swingler in the next issue.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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