Who should sit on Senate?

18 February 1969

This is the editorial in Guild Gazette this week, in which editor Mike Smith comments on the issue of student participation in University decision-making and, specifically, the question of representation on Senate:

Moves are at last under way to ensure student participation on Senate. A document which will form the basis of the students side of negotiations with the University is to be prepared, not only through the usual channels of Executive, the presidents, and Council, but also through mass meetings of students.

The need for representation on Senate should be plain. Students are an integral part of this, and indeed all universities. They form in numbers alone the largest part of the university beyond both academic and non-academic staff. To any concept of democracy it seems strange therefore that the ultimate controlling body of the University should consist solely of academics.

The problem which must be decided by these mass meetings therefore is the form of representation on Senate we are to press for. The initial suggestion put forward by President Richard Davies at Guild Council last week was that we should be prepared to accept twelve representatives on Senate.

Yet this suggestion, as was pointed out at Council, is one which concedes so many points before it reaches the stage of negotiations that it is worse than useless. Twelve or even twenty representatives of students on a body of one hundred and twenty is such a small fraction as to be meaningless. The University could so easily satisfy these demands without fundamentally changing its view towards students that it would willingly accept the representatives and leave students in the position of being unable to increase these demands. When they asked for genuine representation the University could so simply answer that all demands had been met and that in changing their minds students were being most inconsistent.

In this situation the student representatives would be in the unenviable position of being on a body whose views they could in no way affect.

The only way that students views can be heard in the proportion which they are entitled to is through representation of one third, with academics forming a further third and people from outside the University, the society with which the University is inevitably connected, the rest.

To begin demands from less than this ideal position is to negotiate from weakness.

Almost as important as what the position from which we as a student body are to negotiate is the way in which this policy is to be reached. Last week in Guild Council the President admitted that his original proposals were misguided. Council, too, was so involved in its own procedure, points of information, points of order, original motions and so forth that it could not debate the substance of what Guild policy is to be.

The initiative now is removed from what has so often been called the ‘Guild bureaucracy’, and is placed in the ordinary student in his or her ‘A’ society mass meetings.

This system is far more democratic than rule purely by Council but unless students are prepared to spend a little of their time discussing this matter which concerns them all, and unless the Guild officials are prepared to give out the factual information which can make these discussions meaningful, then when it comes to negotiations with Senate it will not be the views of all students but those of a small minority which are being presented.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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