170 may have to face charges

The Guardian reports today that Liverpool University may institute disciplinary charges against the 170 students involved in the occupation who signed the letter of common responsibility – ‘the biggest mass-disciplining in any British university’:

Liverpool University is considering presenting disciplinary charges against 170 students who claim to have joined  the occupation of the senate house, its main administrative block, in March.

After the university announced charges against 10 students as a first step, the 170 wrote to the vice-chancellor, Mr Trevor Thomas, to say that they, too, had occupied the building. The students have accused the university of the “most open form of victimisation ” in selecting 10.

The Registrar, Mr HH Burchnall, has sent letters to the 170 and put a charge to them. The action seems like a move to call what may have been the students’ bluff.

The full text of the registrar’s letter is as follows :

“The Vice-Chancellor has passed to me your letter of  March 19 in which you refer to your responsibility for the recent forcible occupation of the senate house. I set out below a copy of the charge of which ten students have recently been found guilty by the Board of Discipline. ‘ That you are guilty of conduct which was detrimental to the discharge of the duties of the university in that, on March 9 1970, and succeeding days, you occupied the senate house and excluded the staff of the university with the intention of hampering the discharge of those duties.’

” The purpose of this letter is to inquire whether, by your letter of March 19, you mean to intimate that you are guilty of the charge set out above. The reason for this enquiry is that  I am currently considering the presentation of the same charge against you in disciplinary proceedings.”

He adds that copies of the letter have gone to their homes and local addresses.

Of the ten students, one was expelled, seven were suspended for two years and two for one year.  Appeals have been lodged.  The new term begins on Tuesday.

If the students reply, saying they took part in the occupation, and the university charges them, it will probably be the biggest mass-disciplining in any British university.  Similar letters from students at other universities have usually been ignored by the authorities.  If the 170 are charged, they will be given legal assistance by a solicitor retained by the Guild of Undergraduates, the Guild president, Mr Alexander Macmillan, said yesterday.  The Guild’s executive and council will meet next Thursday to consider the situation.

Mr Jack Straw, president of the National Union of Students, said last night: “The original sentences were savage.  They have amounted to hanging people for sheep-stealing.  The procedure which the university appears to have adopted, in asking students by letter if they are guilty of an offence, is not usual and possibly not proper.”

Mr Straw went on: “I think the university authorities are behaving quite stupidly.  They must recognise that political situations require a political solution.  The previous trouble had at its roots a breakdown in confidence and if they continue in this harsh way they are going to cause precisely that kind of trouble which they say they wish to avoid.

“They should take heed of the 109 MPs who signed a Commons motion on the matter.  It would be completely unheard of for a university to discipline as many as 170 students and we would fight it tooth and nail.”

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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