Dear Mr Thomas

Today’s Guild Gazette leads with the story, Thomas ‘Attacks Militant Group‘.  Alongside is this response from editor Ian Rathbone:

So, you have told it how it is. No wonder you at first refused and then prevaricated over an interview with Gazette. At last we now know what you have been hiding all along – what you thought when you spoke to three thousand students last year, but did not put into words.

You are wrong to say what you have said; wrong to say it at this time, when the assailants of both sides having finished licking their wounds have forgotten, though not forgiven.

As for publicising those “unhappy events” further – you knew just what you were doing, Mr Thomas. Any anti-student vice-chancellor will always get plenty of lineage in the national papers – especially considering the general clamp-down on students in every university. You are just conforming to a general pattern.

“Minority militant group to overthrow the lawful constitution of the Guild.” You, of course, Mr. Thomas are in the majority, since the majority here, ie 7,000 students, elected you to look after the affairs of our university, didn’t they?

You’re the minority but refuse to recognise this, hence the reason why the structure commission will never work because the last thing you evidently want is the views of the majority represented ANYWHERE in the university – or else why have we got no less than three committees negotiating with you and your cronies.

You also vary the size of this minority from “a small group” to “very few” – a convenient distortion intended, it might appear, to further belittle the claims made last year.

Why were the five principles of no secret files, no chemical and biological warfare research, no racialist investments, the removal of Lord Salisbury as chancellor, and no victimisation, not mentioned? After all, 1,500 signed a petition agreeing to them!

Since you seem to be unaware of the facts, Mr Thomas, may I repeat them yet again. The Guild Executive last year were incompetent, inefficient and, through their lack of unity, collapsed and resigned. THERE WAS (THEN) NO CLAUSE IN THE CONSTITUTION WHICH COVERED THIS EVENT AND SO NO CONSTITUTION WAS THERE TO BE OVERTURNED. Mass meetings were instituted at the time as the only means of decision-making, since Guild Council no longer existed. Even Professor Hair, in a letter to “The Times” last year, stated that the Guild had “constitutionally ceased to exist.”

Will you also please state explicitly instead of offering vague banalities about last year’s events in terms of the general history of politics – what abuse was made of the procedural rules. YOU, surely, abused the rules by forcing us through the power of the purse-strings to cow-tow to your rules.

Using your own words, you abused the rules for your own ends. That is keep things quiet because your job might be endangered and any future positions you might apply for. To be seen weak, is to be seen wanting.

Now, I suppose, you hope, once again, to keep us quiet by first laying down the rules and stamping them in with the jackboot of authority and then by using the fact you might pay off our deficit as an effective silencer to any opposition. Well, if you want to work by threats and backstabbing, what more can you expect if your nice, respectable students try to defend their position as best they know how. This letter may be inflammatory to you, but how much more so your speech in your annual report?

We don’t need you to tell us that a sit-in is a use of force. Of course it is – the last resort in the attempt to be listened to, to at least have our complaints discussed. There is no discussion when there is a deliberate “deafness” on the part of one side. There is also no “academic community” here either. Come down off “cloud nine” and realise the truth. You are just not communicating with your students, have their sympathy or even understanding. If you had spoken to us more often and more explicitly then perhaps these “unhappy events” would not arise.

You say that force in support of an argument or cause must be outlawed – your argument was “shut up, kiddies, I run this place” and the force was to suspend nine students and expel a tenth. Presumably that irresponsible action might also be construed as regrettable should it be attributed to the university as a whole.

What do you know, Mr. Thomas, about the majority in this University? You never speak to them or emerge from your ivory tower on the second floor in Senate House to see any students. In any case, you must be congratulated on your effective attempts to quell any questioning of the system. You must surely be living in a dream to believe in a willingness to “discuss, compromise and work for a solution that will be lasting.” How about you coming over to the place where the majority live and discussing, compromising and working for a solution?” You have not shown much evidence yet of any of these, and I can’t see Senate compromising itself for students! You were quick with your disciplinary methods – how about some speed over finding a solution which is satisfactory to us as well as Senate?

Would any of us be surprised to see further trouble – similar to last year – when the vice-chancellor deliberately antagonises the students and, like a bull in a china shop who hasn’t finished smashing the goods, comes back to complete the job?


From Kemsoc Newsletter: May 1970

In the current issue of Kemsoc Newsletter (Vol 3, No 2, May 1970) there is this letter on the CBW research issue from HW Douglas:

Dear Editor,

One of the recent demands made in connection with the recent “sit-in” and other student action relates to Chemical and Biological Warfare and, in the Chemistry Department, I am the obvious scapegoat,

I write now, not to clear my own reputation, which, with a clear conscience, I am happy to leave in the hands of my equals or betters, but to declare that this Department and the University are without blame in the matter.

It is a fact that for some 15 years, ending in October last, I received financial support from governmental sources and that I collaborated with scientists in the Microbiological Research Establishment, Porton.

Over the years, roughly a dozen papers have been published in appropriate journals of the highest repute, and these contributed significantly to the D Sc degree which I was honoured to receive from this University some years ago.

The work has been entirely academic and bore no relation to pathogenic organisms.  I can see no reason to have to justify adding to pure knowledge.  What does concern me, however, is that a small minority of misinformed and academically ignorant individuals, regrettably including a few would-be chemists, appear determined to continue dragging this emotional red-herring across the paths of the sensible majority of students to further their studies in their chosen subjects.

I trust this letter will be published in full and that, should there be any further correspondence on this subject, the writers will have the courage to stand behind his or her real name.


Here’s an example of the research that HW Douglas was engaged in at the time.  I wouldn’t claim to be able to determine whether this was anything sinister or had military potential: Micro-electrophoresis of Pox Viruses in Molar Sucrose

Old Chancellors Cast Long Shadows

Old Chancellors Cast Long Shadows went on sale today in the Students Union and elsewhere. The 20-page booklet, priced at 1s 6d, has been financed and published by the Guild of Undergraduates and documents the results of research which examined Lord Salisbury’s political views and his business connections in Africa.

The document has grown out of the occupation of Senate House between 9th and 20th March. It attempts to analyse, in some greater depth, the facts behind the first two demands of the occupying students, namely:

  1. That the University disassociate itself from the racialist views of Lord Salisbury and that Council call for his immediate resignation as Chancellor.
  2. That the University reveal where its investments lie.

Read the full text  here.

Now is the reckoning

This is the editorial, written by Ian Rathbone, in the issue of Guild Gazette which appeared today, the second day of the Senate House occupation, though it had been written several days earlier (the last paragraph, though, looks like a stop-press addition):

The collapse of’ Guild Government and the extnction of the system which has been ailing for some years has apparently been resolved by the university authorities stepping in. Not only stepping however, but stamping as well, on the wishes of students and their attempts to deal with a situation which concerns mem, and them alone.

The facts are quite disconcerting – a Committee of Six responsible people, elected by a general meeting of 1,500 students and then ratified by a second meeting of 900 students, has been totally ignored by the university who have simply said “well, you nave been naughty boys, you’ve had your fun, now get back to what you were doing before”. We are being forced to elect an Executive to continue to prop up a structure which has shown itself incapable of functioning efficiently as a means of students running their own affairs or even representing their opinion. Even those in prominent positions last year recognised this and tried to institute an alternative, viable structure but Guild Council obstinately refused to see reason.

There are other issues which have been obscured by the resignation of the previous Executive, which not only precipitated their downfall but have also been ignored by the University. The invitation of Lord Salisbury to Guild Ball by that Executive caused not only that Executive’s resignation but a sit-in in protest, a petition of 1,000 signatories and a picket of Senate House, yet the University has failed to make any public comment on the position of Lord Salisbury until more direct action has been threatened.

In connection with the issue of racialism, we are still left in the dark as to what investments this University and Union hold in South Africa and Rhodesia, thus maintaining these apartheid regimes. The University has ridden rough shod over student demands to be informed of the situation, and it is hoped that the Vice Chancellor will give satisfactory answers to these issues and prevent direct action on the part of students which which only further serve to show the chasm between the students and the administration (this is written before Monday).

There are genuine worries amongst students over the question of secret files being kept by Universities on students’ political and religious activities.  There is the moral aspect of whether there should be files, bringing the ‘Big Brother’ of Orwell’s 1984 considerably closer, but also the nastier aspect of whether this information is being given to ‘Big Business’. Connected with this is the whole question of the extent of the influence of Big Business in the University, the evidence of which seems considerable.

Of course, the national politicians have been making much ‘fodder’ of these issues recently, particularly the last two, and cashing in on the general dislike of students to create for themselves an audience. Vice Chancellors have been accused of ‘cringing before student anarchy’ and law and order, an old meaningless vote catcher, invoked to beat both students and University authorities. Yet the authorities have far from allowed students to get their own way and the last thing any of us want is anarchy.

A plain and simple answer to the issues outlined is required and it is to be hoped that this is what will be given. This is democracy, not dictatorship.  We have a right to know what is happening in this University and in the end, a right to play an essential role in its government as a participant.

The Vice Chancellor has failed to satisfy student demands on all counts and must now accept the occupation as a failure to communicate with his students. For the first time in years students at this University have shaken out of their apathy and stood up for what they believe is right.

City students accept V-C’s terms for meeting

This morning the Liverpool Daily Post carries a detailed report of yesterday’s tense meetings and negotiations, which came close to an occupation of Senate House. The Post reporter concludes with a quote from a speaker at yesterday’s mass meeting which crisply draws together the various strands of protest that have merged to produce the current highly charged political atmosphere:

Students at Liverpool University who demanded a showdown meeting with Mr Trevor Thomas, the new Vice-Chancellor, were outvoted at a mass meeting at the Students Union yesterday.

By a majority of 114, it was decided Mr Thomas should attend a meeting on his own terms on Monday to answer questions on what some students have called ‘a policy of secrecy’ by university authorities.

Earlier yesterday, students threw out a proposal to stage a protest sit-in at the Senate House over alleged secret files being kept on them by the University authorities.  A delegation of three members of the Guild of Undergraduates committee went to Senate House, where a meeting was arranged with Mr Thomas and other officials.

They asked for an open meeting with the Vice-Chancellor within the next two days to discuss the question of secrecy.  Otherwise, they said, they would go ahead with their proposed sit-in.

But Mr Thomas refused a meeting before Monday, and later the matter was put to the vote.

At first, 204 students voted for an extension of time and 209 against. A second vote was demanded and it resulted in 226 for and 221 against –  a reversal of the majority of 5.

Then a third vote revealed 334 in favour and 220 against Mr Thomas’ terms for a meeting on Monday.

One of the speakers from the floor at the meeting claimed that the administration had:

“Ignored a plea to disclose what Chemical and Biological Warfare contracts are undertaken at the university; refused to reconsider the position of Lord Salisbury as our Chancellor, despite petitions, pickets and representations from mass meetings; refused even to dissociate itself – either as a body or as individuals – from Salisbury’s views; refused last week, with no reasons given, to reveal where the university’s investments lie, thus leading to a sneaking suspicion that they are investing in firms which bolster up Apartheid; and has seriously infringed the autonomy of the Guild in its reaction to last month’s officer resignations”.

The speaker said that he wanted the University to disclose the contents of all files such as those on investments, the Senate, the Council, Court minutes and research grants.

Last night MR Thomas could not be contacted for comment.

Thomas given a chance to speak

This is Guild Gazette reporting on today’s mass meeting, at which a proposal to occupy Senate House over the issues of secret files, CBW research and Salisbury was rejected in favour of inviting him to speak in the Union next week:

A general meeting in the Lounge Hall rejected the idea of a Senate sit-in planned for the afternoon, and voted instead to give the Vice-Chancellor, Mr Trevor Thomas, an opportunity to present his views at a Mass Meeting the following Monday.  Mr Andy Black was the chairman of the meeting, which was attended by some 500 students.

Mr P Cresswell spoke first, outlining his criticisms of the University, saying that students have been ignored over many issues, including secret files, CBW research and the constitutional crisis.

He went on to say that students should question the role of the University and not just “accept it like goldfish”.

During his speech there was a great deal of heckling from the large crowd of people at the back of the hall.

Pleas for moderation were then made, and Mr Jon Snow said that he thought students should make a very firm demand for freedom, but occupation of Senate was not the correct thing to do.  He urged that students demand the Vice-Chancellor come to the Union to address a Mass Meeting, and if his address was unsatisfactory then “we should take any action we want”.

Mr Dave Robertson then spoke saying that the Vice Chancellor had been given enough chances to come and talk to students, and that the meeting should move to a vote on the occupation of Senate House.

Throughout his speech there was constant shouting and jeering to which Mr Robertson retorted that the people at the back were “stupid, barbaric Philistines who I’m not prepared to listen to.”

“Once again”, he added, “the eternal voice of Liverpool University screams and grovels at the back.”

A deputation of the Committee of Six was sent by the meeting to demand the Vice Chancellor’s presence in the Union within two days.

Some time later Mr John Aspinall and Peter Cresswell, members of the delegation, returned to the meeting to inform students that the Vice Chancellor had said it would be impossible for him to attend a meeting before Monday, due to the fact that he had extensive information to collate.

There followed several speeches criticising and condoning the Vice Chancellor and a vote was called for on whether to accept his proposal that he should come on Monday.

The motion was defeated by a majority of 5 votes out of 400.  After much confusion a recount was taken and this time the motion was passed by a similar majority.

Mr Aspinall and Mr Cresswell then returned to Senate House and the meeting was again adjourned for half an hour.

At 4:20 pm the meeting was reconvened when the whole delegation returned.  Mr Gavin Graham reported the negotiations with Mr Thomas to the meeting, saying that they had achieved a “nebulous agreement” but must accept it and prepare ourselves for next Monday.

Mr Richard Davies, with a fiery speech in support of a motion proposed by Mr Cresswell condemning the Vice Chancellor for not coming within two days, criticised the lack of communication in universities and asked where the Vice Chancellor’s allegiance lies 0 to students or to big business?

The meeting then moved to vote on the motion, and after much confusion the motion was defeated by 334 to 220.

Revelation over chemical warfare

A great deal of interest has been provoked as a result of the meeting in the Catholic Chaplaincy two weeks ago at which it was revealed that research in chemical and biological warfare is going on at Liverpool University.  This report is from Guild Gazette today:

At a meeting called by the Womens International League for Peace and Freedom, held at the Catholic Chaplaincy on Friday 13 February, Dr G Waites said that research into Chemical and Biological Warfare is going on in American Universities on a large scale.

Though he was reticent about similar research in British universities, it is known that Professor Andrew Wilson of the department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at this university was, until about 18 months ago. under contract to Porton Down C&BW research establishment. […]

See also