Senate sit-in: Thomas fails to answer

There’s detailed coverage of yesterday’s mass meeting in the issue of Guild Gazette out today – and space on the front page has also been given to a statement of the conditions under which there will be a withdrawal from Senate House. The lead story includes an account of the action by the Association of Moderate Students yesterday and, remarkably, details of developments as late as this morning.

Senate sit-in: Thomas fails to answer

As he promised, the Vice-Chancellor, Mr Trevor Thomas, came to a Mass meeting of students in the Mountford Hall yesterday to defend himself and the University administration on several issues about which there has been a good deal of friction in recent times.

Mr Thomas’ speech was considered inadequate by many students, and when the Vice-Chancellor and Mr Chrimes, the University Treasurer, declined an invitation to remain at the meeting at 2 pm calls were made to occupy Senate House.

The Mass Meeting began at 12:30 and the 3000 students attending the meeting elected John Aspinall independent chairman.  When the Vice-Chancellor arrived, however, accompanied by Mr Chrimes the University Treasurer, Mr Aspinall lost his position as Chairman and Mr Nelson took his place.

There had been no vote on this from the meeting.  Mr Nelson justified his position, saying he was a life member of Guild.  This was greeted with derision from the students.  He then proposed that the Vice-Chancellor should speak outlining his and Senate’s views on four issues – and then take questions.  He imposed a one-hour time limit on the meeting.

The Vice-Chancellor then began his speech saying that he had four points to make.  He went on to discuss the constitutional position of Guild.  After a brief resume of the constitutional events of this term, he attempted to outline the position of the University on this issue.

He said that the University had not infringed the autonomy of the Guild, but had simply attempted to keep the Guild running by paying the wages of the staff, etc.

He emphasised the unconstitutional nature of the present caretaker government and said that he wished to see the Guild back on a firm footing.  He made no suggestion as to how this should be done.

On the question of political files he said that this was on the agenda for the next Senate meeting to be held in 10 days time.

He further emphasised the negotiations at present being held between the President of the NUS and the Committee of Vice Chancellors to the effect that no political files should be kept.

Turning to the CBW research controversy, he said that there had been a lot of heated argument on this, and he finished his speech saying that on the question of Lord Salisbury’s position as Chancellor, individuals should be allowed political freedom.

Mr Chrimes then spoke, saying that it was impossible for the University to reveal its investments.  He said that he considered it fundamentally wrong to bring personal opinions into where investments should lie.

He had said earlier that the University investments, amounting to some £6 million, yielded a yearly interest of £300,000.

The Vice-Chancellor then answered written questions which he had received earlier, and these dealt mainly with the problem of communication.

He called for goodwill and trust between students and staff, and suggested as a channel of communication a staff-student newspaper.

Questions were directed at Mr Chrimes on the University investments, and his replies seemed quite inadequate to most students.

He said, however, that he was prepared to allow the investments to be published, but said that personal views and emotions should not enter into investments.  He was referring to investments in companies which have connections with South Africa and Rhodesia.

The Vice-Chancellor and Mr Chrimes were asked several questions, many of which they did not answer, or simply commented on. When told by Mr Chris Graham that a professor at Liverpool was on the Porton Down CBW Committee, Mr Thomas said that he was unaware of this, but would get further information if he could.

Mr Jon Snow then called for immediate action in the form of an independent inquiry to look into the question of secret files, but Mr Thomas replied that this problem should be sorted out on a national scale, not a local one.

The last question to the Vice-Chancellor and Mr Chrimes dealt with the indifference shown by the University to racialism.  The question, in the form of a short speech, earned long applause and it was not answered, the chairman standing up and saying, “Well, that concludes the meeting.”

Mr Thomas and Mr Chrimes then left the meeting, having declined an invitation from Mr Aspinall to remain as our guests, at our meeting – and the meeting was plunged into disorder.

Mr Richard Davies stood up and, calling for immediate Senate occupation, he criticised the secrecy and indifference of the University.

“We’ll get over there and open the books and rid ourselves of this stinking hypocrisy, he said.

A body of some 200 students then moved over to Senate House where the sit-in began.

Two motions were then proposed which favoured a return to the Mountford Hall to discuss the situation.  The second proposal said that if the Vice-Chancellor was prepared to accompany the students, then they should return to the Union.  Both of these motions were defeated.

Mr Gusak then proposed that a steering committee be set up and this was agreed upon by the students. The meeting then moved on to discuss the tactics of the sit-in and the issues that were at stake.

However, shortly after 4 pm the sit-in was faced with a counter-demonstration from the so-called Association of Moderate Students.  They held a meeting in the Mountford Hall and Mr M Dodgson appointed himself chairman of this meeting.

The Association went round the faculties gathering support and Mr Dodgson asked “would anyone like to propose violent action?”

There were three propositions made; the first called for a violent overthrow of the protestors in Senate House, the second called for a protest march around the Senate House, and the third wanted a petition to be set up.

The first proposition was defeated by 104 votes to 103, with seven abstentions.

The meeting decided that a protest march would be the best tactical thing to do, and some 300 students were led by Messrs Dodgson, Owen and Brown.

They marched up Oxford Street and around the Senate House, jeering at the people inside and shouting “jump, jump” at those on the roof.

They gathered outside Senate House and were addressed by Mr Dodgson.

After a fight developed between occupiers and those outside, during which one occupier had hair torn out, clothes ripped to shreds and was bleeding badly, while others had clothes torn.

Later on, things quieted down and the 300 students spent the night sleeping on the floors and luxurious carpets of Senate House.

A Committee of Ten was elected to coordinate activities and discussions.

At 8:15 this morning all those occupying Senate House gathered for a general meeting and breakfast. Afterward some left to distribute leaflets around campus while discussion groups continued.

No staff are being allowed back into the building, only 5 security police being present inside.  The occupiers say that they can stay indefinitely, since they have a plentiful supply of food and blankets, and will not leave until their demands are met.

The University authorities declined to comment on the situation and Senate cannot meet whilst their building is being occupied.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

1 thought on “Senate sit-in: Thomas fails to answer”

  1. A pretty accurate account as I recall things. One fresh piece of information (to me at least) stands out – that the Dodgson gang were formally canvassing acts of violence, as we saw. At no point in any of our debates or actions did we ever promote or countenance violence.

    It is wholly in keeping with their hypocrisy that the University authorities of the day, having declined to renounce racism, should also decline to condemn the right-wing thugs who used violence against us. No kangaroo court for Dodgson and his fellow gangsters.

    It would be interesting to know just how closely linked Dodgson & the University authorities were.

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