A letter of support

This letter by June Walker appears in today’s Daily Post.  In it she refers to having organised a petition objecting to the severity of the sentences imposed by the Board of Discipline which was signed by 140 postgraduate students. It reads:

Dear Sir,

Now that the Board of Appeal of Liverpool University has completed its hearings of the appeals lodged by nine of the ten students disciplined in connection with their part in the occupation of Senate House last March; and that the only changes in the penalties imposed are that two of the students have had their suspensions reduced from two years to one year, I feel that the public should be made aware of the following facts:

1. At a meeting called by the Vice-Chancellor, Mr T Thomas, MA, LLB, on 9th March, the University Treasurer expressed the view that morality did not enter into the question of where a University had its investments. The meeting was abruptly ended by the chairman before many questions from undergraduates, postgraduates and staff could be answered.

2. The occupation of Senate House, which immediately followed the above meeting, was well-disciplined throughout, and when the students voluntarily left the building on 20th March, it was found to be in a spotless condition.

3. Although 170 people signed a witnessed statement to the effect that they had participated in the sit-in, only ten students have so far been disciplined by the University. One student was expelled, seven were suspended for two years, and two were suspended for one year. (One of the students suspended for one year did not appeal).

4. Between 23rd and 28th April, 140 postgraduate members of Liverpool University, including myself, were signatories to a petition to the Vice-Chancellor. Those who signed had taken their previous degrees or diplomas in universities overseas as well as in the United Kingdom.

The petition stated our belief that the sentences were harsh,  out of all proportion, and appear to be a form of exemplary punishment of which we strongly disapprove.

We also feel that the University has failed to take into sufficient account the very real difficulties students feel in getting their deeply held convictions over to the administration.

We consider that if the penalties were upheld a very serious injustice would have been done to the ten students involved.

Professor Griffith, of the London School of Economics, who defended five of the students at their re-hearing, and Mr E  Rex Makin, LLM, a leading Liverpool Solicitor, who defended three of them, were given copies of the petition and its signatories. The Vice-chancellor passed on the petition and signatures to the Board of Discipline in time for the first re-hearing, which was held on 1st May, 1970.

In the same week a petition signed by 148 members of the University’s teaching staff, including 13 Professors-was given to the Vice-Chancellor. The petition expressed the united concern of those who signed it, over the severity of the penalties. It stated that, “As members of the staff of the University, we are in some sense to blame for inadequacies in communications which, as you have recently pointed out, are not as good as they might be; but also because we feel that these penalties are such as will damage future staff-student relations. Consequently, while in no way condoning the action of the students in occupying Senate House, we feel moved to appeal for a suspension of the sentences, or, alternatively, for a lightening of the penalties imposed. We are aware that this affair has been a severe test of the revised procedures for discipline, and we trust that the opportunity will be taken to review them in the light of this experience.”

Considerable efforts have been made to stifle any expression of student feeling. For example, when the Guild of Undergraduates passed a resolution for a boycott of all lectures on 1st May in sympathy with the ten victimised students, a small number of professors made it clear that checks would be made on the attendance of students at lectures that day.

Yours very sincerely,

June M Walker, Diploma in Social Studies, London University (External); formerly Social Worker, Liverpool Personal Service Society; at present, student Diploma in Applied Social Studies, Liverpool University

Footnote

June Walker’s letter also appeared in the 30 June issue of Guild Gazette, and she conducted a correspondence with the Registrar and members of the Board of Discipline on the issue.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

1 thought on “A letter of support”

  1. It took some moral courage to write this letter in that climate. Well done, June Walker.

    I also hadn’t realised, or perhaps had forgotten, the extent of support within the wider academic community, if not for the occupation itself, then in hostility to the actions of the University authorities. Well done to those academics – professor, lecturers & post-grads – who had the moral strength to put their names on the line. That itself cannot have been easy in the face of a vindictive & spiteful administration.

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