“Your voice and actions serve as a legacy to the freedoms we enjoy, preserve and defend”.
– Howard Newby, Vice-Chancellor, Liverpool University, 2010
On 14 February 2010, this letter – the text of which had been agreed and endorsed by six of the ten disciplined students and 23 of those who took part in the occupation – was sent to the current Vice Chancellor of Liverpool University, Sir Howard Newby,
To: Professor Sir Howard Newby
The University of Liverpool
14 February 2010
Dear Professor Newby
As you may know, in March 1970 students at the University of Liverpool occupied the Senate House in pursuit of five demands – anti-racism, principal among them. Many of those involved in that occupation are getting together next month to celebrate its 40th anniversary. We plan to renew old friendships, reaffirm the values that united us then, and generally have a good time.
Our principal reason for writing now is to see whether you are interested in joining us as our guest during one of our planned celebrations. With the passing of the years, we have of course reflected on the events of that period: they remain important to us. But we are interested in finding out whether the University has reflected too, and whether we might share those reflections together. Then whatever lay between us and the University forty years ago may be closed, and we can move forward with respect and reconciliation.
The demands of the occupation principally concerned objections to the then Chancellor of the University, Lord Salisbury; and the publication of the University’s investments which we correctly suspected included investment in the then apartheid state of South Africa. The university authorities rejected all of the demands without discussion. Furthermore they took disciplinary action against ten of the students, suspending nine and expelling one. Even at the time this action was widely regarded as harsh and was not reflected at other universities where protests took place.
We believe that the demands we students made then have been vindicated by subsequent events. Nobody nowadays would believe that an avowed white supremacist such as Lord Salisbury ever had a place at the head of a great University. Moreover it is universally accepted that the threat to South African investments was a significant factor in the downfall of the apartheid regime.
We do not seek to alter the record. We understand that the present authorities at the University cannot take responsibility for every decision of their predecessors. We for our part accept responsibility for our own actions; and alas, the disciplinary action cannot be undone. But we feel the University can allow that it seriously misjudged matters in retaining Lord Salisbury as its Chancellor; that it was wrong to invest in the apartheid regime of South Africa. These matters were clear to us at the time, clearer still to everyone today.
Therefore we would greatly welcome the opinion of the University of Liverpool today on the matters that concerned us then, and would be delighted if you would join us to share it.
We are meeting in the Leggate Theatre of the Victoria Gallery at 5.00pm on Saturday 20 March. There will be a couple of speeches and an AV show about the occupation. The choice of the Victoria Building is not, of course accidental; it is where the disciplinary ‘trials’ took place. We do hope you choose to join us. You will be very welcome. The event will be good-natured; and you’ll almost certainly enjoy yourself.
Peter Cresswell Susan Bell (formerly Rosinger)
Andy Black Phil Gusack
Jon Snow Ian Williams
(former students who were disciplined in 1970)
Nev Bann David Beeho
Roy Bartley Phil Cohen
Martin Cooper Gerry Cordon
Rita Cordon John Crawley
Christine Davies Jack Gingell
Geoff Hall David Harvey
Margie Jaffe Dr Daphne Keen
John Keever Andrew Lowe
Frank Milner Ian Rathbone
James Rees Professor Dave Robertson
Pamela Rose Mike Smith
Professor Paul Thompson
(former students who took part in the occupation)
All the signatories have agreed by email to sign the letter.
A reply was received from Howard Newby on 24 February. In it he said: “The University of Liverpool is committed deeply to freedom of expression and your voice and actions serve as a legacy to the freedoms we enjoy, preserve and defend within higher education”.
22 February 2010
Dear Mr Cresswell
Thank you for your letter of 14 February 2010. I am pleased that the University of Liverpool is able to provide facilities within the Victoria Gallery and Museum for your reunion and collective celebrations. I am very sorry that I shall not be able to join you on Saturday 20 March 2010 because of another commitment…
I cannot begin to imagine the impact this event and consequences of 40 years ago has had on your own life and the lives of your fellow students, and your desire to move forward with respect and reconciliation is gracious and moving in equal measure.
You ask whether the University has reflected on these events. I am sure that many colleagues and students in the University have over the years thought about this moment in our history. All of the people from the University of Liverpool who made the decisions that affected your life and that of your fellow students have moved on and we are left with the memory and the consequences.
The University of Liverpool is committed deeply to freedom of expression and your voice and actions serve as a legacy to the freedoms we enjoy, preserve and defend within higher education.
I can offer you a personal view which is that I feel a deep sense of sadness that your days as a student at the University of Liverpool were terminated in such circumstances.
With all good wishes,