Is this true of our society?

10 December 1968

The current issue of  Guild Gazette carries a major feature – Shocking conditions in University housing – exposing the University’s involvement in slum housing, plus a front-page statement from the University.

This is the paper’s editorial on the issue, written by editor Tony Charlwood, which makes the connection between these appalling housing conditions and the development of the University’s new administrative building on Abercrombey Square, Senate House:

While the conditions of the people who live in the University-owned property in Melville Place are by any standard appalling the same University authorities have spent many thousands of pounds on the new Senate and Administrative buildings. The Victoria building stands now almost empty – while people are crowded six to a room in the houses of Melville Place.

The contrasts between the conditions under which students and the University administrators spend their working day and those under which these people, on University-owned property, spend the whoIe of their lives is a startling indictment of this society’s allocation of its values.

University authorities can claim that they did not know of the state of the houses in Melville PIace and that if they had known then action would soon have been taken. This is doubtless true. It would be a most callous individual who knowingly allowed families to remain in property which was literally falling down if he had the ability to improve it.

Yet, it should not be left to the zeal of organisations, like the Abercromby Tenants Association or other individuals, to point out to the University the conditions of the property which they own.

Ignorance of the conditions under which these tenants live is no excuse for the University. Ignorance is, indeed, as grave a crime as deliberate exploitations of these tenants.

The University is also invoIved, at this time, with the porters, who have been refused a wage increase by the University authorities, despite the fact that a wage agreement was reached at national level.

Students cannot stand aloof from either of these events. It is not as if they concern some outside body. They concern the University – and as students –  we are all part of the University. We must, threefore, make our position clear.

At the moment it can only appear that we identify ourselves with the University establishment. Yet the struggles of students in other Universities, such as Birmingham, have shown that this cannot be so. Students are not on the side of the University, but like the porters, and the residents of Melville Place, suffer under the University Administration.

The Administration’s complete and utter failure in the organisation of last year’s exams is only one instance of the ways in which this can occur. Students were messed around at the most crucial time of the academic year because of chaos in timetabling. Though the inquiry into this incompetance has now reported to Senate, the students – the ones who were really involved – have still not been told why they were subjected to such treatment.

At other Universities they are protesting against this rule by bureaucracy in which the students have little or no say. Their complaints are, in many ways, justified. However, here, the ways in which these people outside the student body are suffering under the University Administration is of far greater importance.

Students should make it clear that they stand with the tenants of Melville Place and the porters in opposition to the University authorities.

Students should help these people in every way they can.  Yet they must remember that these are the causes of other individuals; their role is to support the porters and tenants – not to take independent action.


Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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