Students split as militants begin sit-in

The Guardian this morning leads its Home News page with an extensive, but none-too sympathetic report on the beginning of the occupation by Ernest Dewhurst.  It is accompanied by a photo (above) of the mass meeting in the Students Union being addressed by Jon Snow.  The caption reads, ‘Militant students at Liverpool trying to rally support for a sit-in at the Senate House’.

Students demonstrated against students at Liverpool University yesterday after 300 militants, including members of the Socialist Society, occupied the Senate House, the main administrative building, in its working hours, a counter group of about the same number, dissociating themselves from the action, marched to the building, shouting “Out! Out!”.

The occupying students raised a red flag on the roof, barred the doors against any possible invasion, spread into corridors, and set up an office. Last night they hoped to put five demands before the university authorities:

  1. The Senate, Council and Court of the University should proclaim their opposition to all forms of discrimination on racial grounds, and consequently dissociate themselves from the views of Lord Salisbury (the Chancellor) and call for his immediate resignation.
  2. The Council and Court should order a detailed schedule of all university investments to be published in the staff newsletter and students’ union paper.
  3. An independent public inquiry should be held into methods used at all university levels for keeping data and information on staff and students.
  4. The Vice-Chancellor should give satisfactory answers on the question of political files and research being done into chemical and biological warfare.
  5. There should be no victimisation of any students taking part in the occupation.

Other students, claiming to represent larger numbers, were organising a petition of dissociation from the sit-in.

The demonstrating began after a meeting called by the university authorities for the Vice-Chancellor, Mr Trevor Thomas, to speak on various issues. More than 1,500 of the university’s 6,300 students, attended the meeting and after the Vice-Chancellor and other officers left, militants tried to rally support for a sit-in. A quick hand vote was taken and they drifted to the Senate House and occupied parts of it.

Two hours later, other students circled the building chanting “Out! Out! ” and ” Out, Soc Soc.” Their leader, Michael Dodgson, who is candidate for the presidency of the Guild of Students at the forthcoming elections, addressed them, and said:  “We, in the students’ union, strongly and unconditionally disassociate ourselves from any militant action. We are emphatic in condemning this action of  a minority group which is totally unrepresentative of the guild. We demand that the militants remove themselves immediately from the administrative building.”

Last night, when the sit-in in the Senate House still continued, a spokesman for the occupiers said it would be peaceful and continue until the demands had been met. Later the students said they had handed the five demands to the Vice-Chancellor’s secretary.

At the university meeting earlier many of the Vice-Chancellor’s observations were well-received, though there were some sharp interchanges in the questions. Mr Thomas said he had seen some files: there were some he had not seen, but he understood those in the appointments board kept only details of students’ academic records. He accepted that political opinions and affiliations of students and staff were no business of a university, and that a university should not keep files on such matters.

Pressed later, he said that if there  had been a suggestion from his enquiries that political files were being held he hoped he would have had the courage to  start an inquiry.  “I have no evidence of this whatsoever.  I do not believe there are any. There ought not to be, ” he said. The matter would be discussed by the Senate in 10 days.

Referring to the criticism of the Chancellor, Mr Thomas said : ” If as students and staff we   accept that the political opinions of students and staff are no business of a university then, with respect, I believe that this is a principle   which ought to apply from Chancellor downwards.”

On the complaint about contracts with the Ministry of Defence, he said there were only four, and all were in the departments of engineering. There was nothing to hide. The university had never had a policy on chemical  and    biological warfare, and he hoped it never would have.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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