Thomas attacks ‘militant group’

This week, Guild Gazette leads its front page with a report on the Vice-Chancellor’s uncompromising response to the events surrounding the occupation in his annual report.  The article also sees a general pattern of repression and intolerance of students’ rights emerging both abroad and in this country – and particularly at Liverpool University, citing the formation of  the Association for the Future of Liverpool University.

The Vice-Chancellor, Mr TC Thomas, last Friday condemned in his annual report to the Court what he called “the action by a small minority group of militant students” at Liverpool University this year which, he alleged, “besmirched the enviable reputation which the student body had built for itself.”

In what is his first statement on the events of last year, and his first definite line of policy since becoming V-C last January, he said he hesitated to publicise further those “unhappy events” but certain aspects deserved recording for their lessons. He also stated that use of force, such as a sit-in, had to be outlawed.

His remarks have alarmed many students and are likely to cause further trouble. They are also seen, like the new conduct rules laid down at the start of term, as part of an international clamp-down on students.

Trevor Thomas, Vice-Chancellor

“The attempt by a minority militant group to overthrow the lawful constitution of the Guild has a lesson for the student body as a whole”, claimed Mr. Thomas, “The Guild must be vigilant in perceiving and in heading off attempts by such groups to abuse the procedural rules of the Guild Constitution for their own ends.”

He went on to relate this to a wider context than the University. “History will perhaps find it strange to record that it is the interests of majorities and not those of minorities that stood in need of protection”. In claiming that a sit-in was a use of force he argued that “in a University community, force in support of any argument or cause must be outlawed.

“It would be regrettable and unfair however, if the irresponsible action of the very few came to be attributed to the student body as a whole.” Mr Thomas concluded, “I prefer to believe that the majority recognise that the way for more effective participation by the student body in the life and work of the University is through a willingness to discuss, compromise and work for a solution that will be lasting and not merely “relevant to a passing phase.”

At the NUS Conference held last weekend at Margate, copies of a confidential letter drawn up by a group of academics inviting university teachers to sign a manifesto for the ‘preservation of  freedom in the academic community’ were circulated by students from York University. The manifesto, which has attracted 150 signatures of academics from 20 universities states that university authorities should sack persistently rebellious students and attacks sit-ins as unacceptable forms of protest.

It calls for new disciplinary codes which students must agree to before admission. Infringements would be punished and continual breaking of the rules would lead to students being sent down. “Some universities have already established such principles and are putting  them into practice.”

A new code of conduct was established here at Liverpool at the beginning of term and it will be remembered that ten students were disciplined and suspended last year without committing any prior offences.

”University authorities should not negotiate under duress,” states the manifesto and declares that while some consultation with students may be welcomed, “the ultimate decision-making responsibility must rest and be seen to rest entirely on the appointed staff of the university.”

NUS President Jack Straw commented, “I think the most objectionable part is that which relates to student non-involvement in university life. It means they must be seen but not heard. Students have been fighting against this sort of reactionary attitude for some years.”

One of the original drafters of the manifesto, Professor Cox of Manchester University, co-editor of the Black Papers on education (which recommended maintenance of the old public school and Grammar School systems) denies what many delegates at the Margate Conference considered the manifesto to be – proof of the establishment of a new international committee of “reactionary academics”.

A League of Freedom of Science formed last week to “combat student revolt in Western European universities” includes 100 professors from Britain, the USA, France, West Germany, and Italy. It denied an accusation from the West German Students Association that it camouflages Right-wing aims and is financed by West German industry, and called the VDS (as the Association is known) a communist controlled organisation.

The VDS has published a letter from the West German League of  Employers’ Associations urging its members to send money to the new academic group as “the voice of reason in the explosive situation in the universities.”

In America an international ‘trouble-shooting brigade’ called the International Committee on the University Emergency has been set up by 103 leading academics, aiming to help any university that finds itself in trouble from extremists, subversives, interfering politicians of Left or Right or outside pressure groups. It is financed by the Rockefeller Foundation.

According to one member, Mr Charles Frankel, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, it is, “in no way a backlash movement springing from recent  campus disorders. There has been extreme polarisation in our universities and we are trying to fill the vacuum in the middle.”

Students in America are however doubtful of these claims or of the exact nature of the Committee’s support. They also think the members to be misguided to think any university is going to consult an oujtside body like this when dealing with student demands.

The Association for the Future of Liverpool University, set up last term [by Professor Hair of the History Faculty] is also “opposed to violence and disruption” and asks other universities to join in “dissuading others from violence and disruption”.

ln a publicity handout AFLU state they are convinced of the need to give new meaning to the old values of intellectual tolerance and liberalism.

History students point out that to give a new meaning to these permanent values is to lead to two political extremes of Right or Left.

AFLU originated from academics in the history department yet though AFLU wants to encourage discussions between themselves and students the history department staff-student committees are described by the students as a farce which merely satisfy the wooly minded liberalism of the staff. The dissatisfaction of the Joint honours students are also totally ignored.

It seems that a general pattern of repression, intolerance of students’ rights to question what they see as wrong, is emerging both abroad and in this country, and particularly at Liverpool University.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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