According to today’s Guardian, Jack Straw, NUS President, is shocked at the severity of the sentences imposed by the Board of Discipline:
The National Union of Students will take up the case of the ten students punished by Liverpool University authorities, if asked to do so, Mr Jack Straw; the NUS president, said last night. […]
Mr Straw said that, on the face of it, the punishments appeared to be harsh. The demonstrators had not been supported by majority of students, but the apparent severity of the sentences could lead to a mobilisation of precisely that majority that opposed the original sit-in.
A statement frown the authorities announcing the penalties said that the offending students had excluded from the Senate House “virtually all of the university staff who normally work there”. Ten students had been charged with “conduct detrimental to the duties of the university”. All 10 had been found guilty. The expelled student was said to have forcibly prevented a senior administrative officer from reaching his office.
The Chairman of the Board of Discipline, Professor W D Williams, a pro Vice-Chancellor, said the students ” had made the cardinal error of deciding that, because they felt keenly on certain matters, they were entitled to take forcible action and place themselves above the statutes, ordinances, and regulations.”
He added: “The board has not attempted to act as an arbiter on any social or political views held by those students. The Board of Discipline does not accept submissions that responsibility for the action of individual students rested necessarily on the occupying group as a whole. The board is of the opinion that each individual student is a free agent and must accept responsibility for his own actions.”
The students said they had been called before the board individually and privately. Their spokesman said, “It was the most shameful kangaroo court we have ever seen. If they think they will decrease militancy by this action they are mistaken.”
The students said 180 of the 250 involved in the sit-in had signed a petition saying they accepted equal responsibility for the sit-in and had asked to be disciplined. The students also claimed to have asked MPs to raise the matter in the Commons.
At the time of the occupation the students called on the senate, council and court to proclaim opposition to all forms of discrimination on racial grounds, and consequently to dissociate themselves from the views of Lord Salisbury (the Chancellor) and call for his immediate resignation.
They called also for a detailed schedule of all university investments to be published in the staff newsletter and students’ union newspaper; an independent inquiry into methods of keeping information on staff and students; satisfactory answers on the question of political files and research into chemical and biological warfare. They also demanded no victimisation of any students taking part in the occupation.
A member of the university teaching staff said last night: “It was widely felt in the university that the sentences would be light – fines rather than suspensions. It seems to me that the sentences are going to generate a fair bit of opposition among staff.”
He said that a petition signed by about 80 members of staff before Easter had asked for the hearings to be deferred to give the students an opportunity to prepare a defence and arrange representation.