Warwick report says files not kept

The Times reports today on the publication of the report of Lord Radcliffe’s inquiry into the issue of secret files at Warwick University:

None of the information unearthed by students in the confidential files of Mr J. B. Butterworth, Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University, fell outside his legitimate responsibilities to the university, Lord Radcliffe said last night in his official report on the secret files affair.

He said that he had satisfied himself on one crucial matter; no political files were kept or ever had been kept bv Warwick University. There was no system of recording political information about students or staff for the purpose of using it to their prejudice or to their advantage either in their university careers or in employment elsewhere.

“After interviewing a good number of members of the university, I am left in no doubt that such a system would be regarded as improper and contrary to the principles upon which a university ought to be conducted. This is not to say, however, that political information cannot in any circumstances enter the records of the university and be retained there. I address myself to identifying the ways in which that can happen and discussing the procedures that control its use.”

It was the responsibility of the vice-chancellor to keep his eye on the preservation of good order in the university, which today involved the avoidance and prevention of its positive disruption, Lord Radcliffe said. Of the files he said: ” I would think it wrong, therefore, to undertake an analysis of the extent to which, retrospectively, any of them may be judged to have been to a greater or lesser degree required by its particular circumstances. ” There is no rule either of equity or of commonsense that one ought to wait to be blown up by an explosion before trying to detect the likelihood of its occurrence “.

The inquiry by Lord Radcliffe, chancellor of the university, started after students who were occupying the administration block discovered files which contained comments on the political activities of a former member of the academic staff and on a rejected student. He was asked to look at the university’s procedures on the retention of information concerning the political ac ties of staff and students and to cover allegations of ” improper adminstration of the university’s affairs.

His other recommendations were:

  1. It should be accepted as a standing rule that in every case where the balance between the acceptance and rejection of a candidate was in balance because of non-academic factors, a decision to reject him should not be recorded until after an interview. At least two members of staff teaching the course should read the papers and share in the conduct of the interview and a third member should be called in to decide if they did not agree. The report said: ” That, I think, would no more than consolidate a practice that is already the rule in some departments; but, considering the very great importance to every candidate of securing admission to higher education, I think that it would be well for the University of Warwick to avow openly the observance of such procedures.
  2. The special power of the vice-chancellor to veto the admission of any student without giving a reason should be abandoned. The insertion of such a power was a mistake and there were two considerable objections to any use of it, Lord Radcliffe said.  It involved the vice-chancellor in overriding what would be the normal process of decision by the senate. the supreme academic authority of the university, so creating just that tension between academics and administrators which it was most desirable to try to avoid. Secondly, the weighing of considerations that were not strictly academic was a delicate and difficult task which was probably better performed by more than a single mind acting on its own.
  3. The practice of recording convictions in personal files should be discontinued. Although the files must be kept under strict control, there was no good reason why a student should not be allowed to see his file whenever he wishes. Such a liberty should be given immediately, subject to the qualification that a student could not see the confidential statement on his Universities Central Council on Admissions application form, where the university was not free to make its own decisions. Confidential medical assessments should be protected.
  4. Any documents relating to confidential complaints from outside about university members should be strictly kept apart in their own file so that there should be no risk of their contents passing into any of the general administrative records of the university.
  5. There should be a standing rule in the vice-chancellor’s office that this file should be reviewed at stated intervals and that whatever was found to be out of date should be destroyed.
  6. A vice-chancellor properly equipping himself to discharge his duties of maintaining the good order of the university and of bringing before the senate all such matters as were required for the regulation of university discipline should be able to assemble and retain whatever material seemed to him fairly to bear on this.

As a matter of principle, Lord Radcliffe said earlier in the report, he retained doubts whether there might not be teachers so far committed to particular socio-political systems as to disqualify them from the objective analysis of their subject that the university tradition assumed. The report added: ” It is not necessary to point out that unless the vice-chancellor and the senate have a common understanding as to what are both the requirements and the limits of university discipline there will be neither order in its affairs nor efficiency in the advancement of its true academic aims.”

The report was released by the Council of the University last night. A statement said:  ” Council has noted sympathetically Lord Radcliffe’s recommendation for future action to safeguard this situation and has asked that the university should give urgent consideration to the practical implications of their implementation. Council has instructed that copies of Lord Radcliffe’s report should be dispatched forthwith to all members of the university and to the press.”

Liverpool appeals: Appeals from nine of the 10 students sentenced by the disciplinary board of Liverpool University after their takeover of Senate House last month were handed in to the authorities yesterday. The tenth student also intends to appeal.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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