This letter, signed by seven of the ten disciplined students, was sent to The Times on April 17 as a response to the letters which the newspaper had published from Professor White and Dr Hair of Liverpool University. Although the letters from White and Hair totalled some 1500 words and this reply only some 750, The Times chose not to print it.
With reference to the letters of Professor White and Dr Hair,concerning the situation at Liverpool University, (Times, 17 April) may we, as seven of the students disciplined, make some comments. There are many factual assertions and value judgements made by your correspondents, which are unsupportable.
Professor White, as Chairman of the Staff-Student Committee investigating university government, regrets that it onl.y met twice, a matter which was directly caused by the unwillingness of the university’ authorities to allow the Guild of Undergraduates to nominate, for its side, the person whom it chose. He implies that our behaviour, and that of the others who occupied Senate House, was adolescent. He, like so many of his colleagues, confuses youthful exuberance with a serious political opposition to the calculated indifference of the authorities , to many social and political issues which are the direct concern of the university.
Dr. Hair, a gentleman not normally noted for his opinions on anything in the university, blames the recent breakdown of constitutional government in the Guild on political activists. In fact, the duly recognised ruling body of the Guild, a representative council of some seventy students, dismissed the officers, in whom they had no further confidence. He goes on to talk of the Vice-Chancellor answering the questions of students, “at some length”, at the meeting of March the 9th. The fact of matter is that the Vice-Chancellor, who at first was unwilling to address a mass meeting of students at all, spoke for less than an hour, having assured his listeners that he would stay as long as was required. This meeting, at which the Vice-Chancellor refused to accept the duly elected student chairman, imposing his own nominee instead, was brought to a premature end by the University officers walking out to a chorus of boos, despite repeated invitations to remain.
It is conveniently ignored by our correspondents that the bulk of the meeting comprised prepared statements from the Vice-Chancellor and the Treasurer, and that they failed to adhere to their undertaking to answer all questions which had been previously submitted in writing. With the meeting ”officially over” a debate ensued resulting in a vote in favour of immediate occupation. The ”rump” which later remained, was of 300 ”moderate” students, who were later responsible for the only violence that took place during the length of the sit-in by attacking the Senate House in an attempt to remove those in occupation.
When Dr Hair asserts that there was a split within the occupation he shows himself at his most ignorant. It is a very great pity that an academic historian, who seems to care about biased information, did not take one of the many opportunities to talk to us during the occupation, and, as testified in conversations subsequent to his letter, relied upon ”conversations with a few individuals . . . and such leaflets as came my way”, on which to base his judgements.
When the occupation ended on March the 20th, over 300 students came out unified, and determined to fight for all our five demands. Dr Hair passionately supports a “centralist position” in politics. Can this be the position that leads Liverpool University to be oblivious of the politics of its Chancellor; to have no policy towards research into chemical and biological warfare and to care nothing about which companies or countries it invests in? The question of political files was but one in the context of all these others.
As one of our number was the President of the Guild last year, we are in a position to put the record straight on the students’ attitude to university discipline. It was made perfectly clear by this person to the former Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Barnes, that whilst he accepted the new discipline structure as a fait accompli, under no circumstances would he be a party to any disciplining for non-academic offences.
Finally Sir, as the facts relating to our trials (such as the University’s employment of a prosecuting barrister and our inability to afford such a luxury) become more widely known, the reaction to the sentences, both on Merseyside and elsewhere, has not been the one of support for the University as Dr Hair imagines. Apart from their friends in the Tory party and the right-wing Press, the University authorities responsible for our trials and sentences have very few supporters anywhere.
Richard Davies (President of Guild 1968/1969)
Daniel P. Fishman