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?

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.

Gazette editorial: 30 June 1970

Ian Rathbone’s valedictory editorial for Guild Gazette today, summing up and assessing the events of the past year:

After one of the most troubled years in the University’s history, the summer term is ending with a whimper.

During this year the Deputy President resigned and left Liverpool with only half her term of office complete. The President had to fight desperately for re-election before Easter, and no Guild Council was complete between November and May.

More importantly, this year Liverpool has set the lead in handing out severe sentences to students who question university policies. One student has been expelled with only a few days to go before he sat his finals, and nine others have been suspended. One hundred and seventy-four students were kept waiting until a week before the exams when they were told that the University had decided not to press disciplinary charges.

When he arrived, in January, the new Vice-Chancellor, Trevor Thomas, was asked why there had been no student unrest at Liverpool. That question no longer is relevant.

Within Guild Sandy Macmillan has shown himself to be a bad President. By Christmas he had used his casting vote in Guild Council to save himself from a vote of no confidence. Later the following term there could be no doubt that Council had no confidence in him or his executive.

Yet, following his re-election, he still ignored a further call from Council to resign, and later Council was forced to pass a measure making votes of “no confidence” in officers of Guild binding.

During the period when there was no President, Sandy Macmillan told a mass meeting that we should conduct our own affairs and not let the University interfere. Yet, a week later, he was meekly accepting that the University had ignored the Committee elected by the students and had selected their own.

During the occupation, it was Sandy Macmillan who sat on the Advisory Board of Discipline which began the proceedings against the ten. He has done nothing to benefit Liverpool students during his year of office, and the most surprising thing is that twelve hundred people were sufficiently naive as to elect him- TWICE!

Relationships with the University, too, have reached an all-time low. It was the Vice Chancellor’s continual ignoring of communications from students which resulted in his being called over to a mass meeting on March 9th, and his pathetic performance their which led to the occupation.

Once they realised that they could not ignore students, the University resorted to the big fist.

The University has shown itself completely unable to understand its students.

A quiet summer term does not mean that there are no longer any problems, and that next year things will return to their old peaceful selves.  Michael Dodgson does not offer any prospects of being a better President than Sandy Macmillan. He is rarely ever seen in the Union. As Vice-President for Financial Affairs he was a disaster. The “B” Societies fund ran out by Christmas and it is perhaps fortunate for Guild that he decided to accept the vote of no confidence, and left Gavin Graham to sort out the mess he had created.

Jackie Munton,  the new Deputy President, offers scarcely better prospects. The main feature of her election manifesto was a promise to redecorate the Liver Bar and to extend the Sphinx – something which has been in hand for the past two years. She may well fulfil her promises – but it will be little thanks to her efforts!

As far as the University is concerned, there seems no prospect of them adapting their attitude to students. The men in Senate House have shown no inclination to reconsider and to establish better rather than worse relationships with the students. The election of a Tory Government, with promises of stiffer penalties on demonstrators, can only have served to harden their attitude.

Next year promises to be even more wrought with troubles than this. Students just cannot accept that that for all their efforts and protests this year little has been achieved. Presidents and the University alike have shown that they have a remarkable capacity to resist all movements for change. Yet this does not mean that students should sit back and accept that  for the most part their efforts will be in vain.

Little headway in negotiations with Senate

News in this week’s issue of Guild Gazette of the slow progress being made in negotiations on the Five Demands of the March occupation:

Following the recent re-occupation of Senate House and motions passed in Guild Council, a negotiating committee consisting of Oliver SWingler, Sandy Macmillan, Dave Keech and Gavin Graham went to see the Vice-Chancellor over the Five Demands of the first occupation of March 9.

The first topic discussed was Chemical and Biological Warfare, but negotiations became bogged down in matters of definition and so far little has resulted from discussions on this issue.

However, there were rumours that a member of a research team engaged in CBW at the University has written a letter admitting that he is involved.  The position of the University is not clear here.

The second topic discussed was the question of secret and political files, and it was agreed to start discussions with the Appointments Board.  These will centre on how much information does in fact go out to firms […]

Mr Dodgson, President-elect, stated at Guild Council yesterday that he intends to wait until next term before recommencing any negotiations. […]

Senate reoccupied after Thomas’ silence

The second lead in this week’s Guild Gazette concerns the recent brief re-occupation of Senate House in protest over the disciplining of the ten, and the University’s refusal to respond to requests for negotiations:

Just before the beginning of examinations, Senate House was reoccupied for three hours by some 150 students, while several hundred waited outside the building. The reoccupying students called for the Vice-Chancellor to address them, but after waiting some time he did not appear and the reoccupation  petered out.

This move, the latest over the disciplining of the 10, began at a mass meeting in the Mountford which was attended by some 400 students. Addressing the meeting, called to discuss further student action against the savage sentences imposed on the 10 students, Richard Davies and Jon Snow called for immediate positive action.

With several impassioned pleas Davies and Snow called for action against the University saying that if the authorities were allowed to get away with the sentences, then there was no knowing what they would do in the future.

“They’ve shown us what they can do when some people try to rock their boat; let’s show them how we will react,” said one speaker. He earned loud applause.

There seemed, however, some indecision as to what action should be taken, and when it was suggested that Mr Thomas, the Vice Chancellor should speak to the meeting. The idea was received favourably.

It was, however, pointed out that Mr Thomas was hardly likely to come to the Union to address a meeting so obviously hostile to himself, but someone replied that he himself had said, “My time is the students’ time.”

After long, protracted arguments as to whether the Vice Chancellor should come to the Union, or the students should go to Senate, a vote was taken and the majority favoured reoccupation by a substantial margin.

Some 400 students then walked across to Senate House, where their vanguard was met by locked front doors. The group then spread out around the building, many of them going into Abercromby Square.

Eventually, a side door was found to be open and some 150 students entered the building, and filed into the huge entrance hall while Senate staff looked on with interest and not a little trepidation.

Meanwhile, the majority of the students waited outside Senate House; after about half an hour it became known that the Academic Secretary, Mr Roy Butler was helping to negotiate with Mr Thomas and Gavin Graham, to try to persuade the Vice Chancellor to speak. Several hours later, during which time the students in Senate had been sitting around talking, reading or eating ice-cream, it became obvious that Mr Thomas was not going to appear, and an orderly retreat from Senate was put into effect.

In the Senate House foyer, Mr Roy Butler standing on left (with glasses) being questioned by Gavin Graham (centre).

I was there!

There’s a letter in this week’s Guild Gazette that highlights the issue of the University’s victimisation of the ten disciplined students:

Sir,

No victimisation?  What crap!  Not only was I identified by most of the University’s witnesses, but Mr Pugh also supplied information of participation by myself before any disciplinary proceedings took place.  At least the University should get its lies straight.

Yours, Richard Morris (BA)

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.