Who holds the power? Senate and big business

This article, by Mike Smith, appears in the issue of Guild Gazette published today, the first day of the Senate House occupation:

The students of Liverpool University and the University authorities are at the moment in a state of conflict. First there was the issue of Lord Salisbury and connected with this the University investments. Then when Guild government collapsed it was the University that everyone was talking about: either as something we are independent from, or as somewhere we ought to go for advice.

Last week’s actions saw the culmination of this conflict between students and the University. ln this situation it would seem useful then to consider who exactly is the University. Not in the terms of the Charter under which everyone from the students to the Chancellor are theoretically part of the institution called the University of Liverpool, but in terms of who actually has the power, who in fact does make the decisions which affect us as part of the University.

The idea of a University as an academic community, as something apart from industry is shown up for the fantasy it is by an examination of who runs the University.

The Chancellor, the Marquess of Salisbury, already known as one of the most right wing members of the Conservative party, and his policies and investments in Southern Africa were discussed at considerable length in these pages in the last edition.

Below Lord Salisbury in the University hierarchy comes the Pro Chancellor Mr B Nelson CBE, JP.  Mr Nelson is a partner in Lithgow Nelson and Co, a firm of Chartered Accountants. He is sixty five years old and has been an official in the Chamber of Commerce both in Liverpool and nationally. He was on the BBC North Regional Council for five separate years between 1949 and 1957 and has been on the Board of Trade Consultative Committee on Companies since 1954. He is a part time member of MANWEB (the Merseyside and North West Electricity Board ) as in fact are several of the members of the higher University bodies. He was on the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board from 1951 to 1965 and has been a director of the Playhouse Theatre and of British Eagle until it went out of business a year or so ago. He is in fact a very prominent member of the Merseyside business community with interests in many diverse fields.

Of all the bodies and committees in this University theoretically the most important is the University Court. It has the power to alter the statutes and tell Council and Senate what to do. In fact if all the members of Court ever turned up to a meeting it would be bigger than any mass meeting of Guild ever held. A random selection of members would include Harold Wilson, in his capacity as member of Parliament for Huyton, both the Anglican Bishop and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, the Chancellor of every University in the country and every MP, a representative of every council and every education authority between here and Manchester. The Liverpool Trades Council, the Iron and Steel Institution both have representatives there and even (would you believe?) the President and Deputy President of Guild are members of Court.

The quorum for this thousand strong body is a mere 25 and under normal circumstances it only meets once a year so that if its theoretical power is absolute its practical power must be minimal.

Below Court come the University Council, and it is now that we are getting down to the people who make decisions on where the university is to put its investments, and, as last week, who will take over when a loophole has been found in the Guild Constitution.

Council consists of 41 people, it has a quorum of 10 and there are no students on it. Half the members are academics, usually professors, and the other half come through Court or County Councils and so forth.

The President is Mr Caroe, CBE, a 67 year old businessman and the Consul in Liverpool for both Denmark and Iceland. He is Chairman of the Trustee Savings Bank and on the International Savings Bank Institution. He is a director of Minton Ltd (a Stoke based Pottery firm), Maritime Insurance, and Richard Campbell Tiles. He belongs to the British Pottery Manufacturers Club.

Other notable businessmen on this body include Lord Leverhulme, whose trust owns a vast quantity of shares in the multi-million pound Unilever company, Mr Davies of ICI, and Mr D Dodds the Chairman of MANWEB.

R W Johnson, a director of Cammell Lairds, who is also on the Board of the English Steel Corporation, North Western Line Ltd, MANWEB, and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is on Council. Another member of the Cammell Lairds Board,  Brigadier Toosey, is there too.  His other interests  include being Chairman of Liner Holdings, a director of Martins Bank (where the Guild account is kept), and of the Ocean Steam Ship Company.

These are the outsiders who make up half of Council and who have a very large part to play in the decision making process of this University. It would seem hardly surprising then that they are not prepared to dispense with University investments if they are in companies with interests in South Africa. For not only are they themselves businessmen but also the companies they belong to have in many cases themselves got subsidiaries or at least very strong business connections with South Africa. Cammell Lairds, for instance, have just won a contract to build a warship for the South African navy.

The body below the University Council and the one with which students are most familiar is Senate. This consists of all the professors of the University, the Deans of the faculties, the Vice Chancellor and the Pro Vice Chancellors, the librarian and co-opted people like Miss Tilston the warden of University Hall.

Typical of these academics is Pro Vice Chancellor Farmer, the father of the former Deputy President. He was educated at Liverpool and Cambridge and belongs to a multitude of Committees, most of them involved with his subject, in this case dentistry. But he also belongs to such peripheral organisations as the Board of Governors of the United Liverpool Hospitals and is the Dental secretary to the UGC.

Senate’s power is mainly to do with the academic work of the University and such issues as investments and getting rid of a Chancellor are outside its jurisdiction. Indeed, the only body competent to elect a Chancellor is Court and even they do not have the power to remove one once he has been appointed. The only way to get rid of him is to persuade him to resign and how you do this is what much of the present debate on Salisbury is about.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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