Draft response to John Griffith’s New Statesman article

This draft of a response to the article by Professor JG Griffith in the New Statesman is from the archive of the Registrar, HH Burchnall. A covering note indicates that it was written by the Academic Secretary, R Butler, and that he had also sent a copy of the draft to the Vice Chancellor.  It is dated 12 May 1970.  The letter was never published – perhaps it was decided that it should not be sent?


To: The Editor of the New Statesman

Dear Sir,

It was characteristic of the magnificent partiality with which Professor Griffith presented his account of the rights and wrongs of the Liverpool affair last week (‘Student bashing’) that he should have omitted to reveal that, three days after the article appeared, he was due to conduct appeals, on behalf of five of the students disciplined before a Board of Appeal at the University of Liverpool. Had he been due to appear before a court, rather than a domestic tribunal, his article would have been a most scandalous instance of contempt. As it is, Professor Griffith’s action in publishing such an article in such circumstances must be considered, at best as grossly discourteous and, at most, highly improper.

“The Catholic Chaplain to the University of Liverpool” reports Professor Griffiths “said that if the mass meeting at which the Vice-Chancellor addressed his students on 9th March had been allowed to go on for another hour …”  there would have been no sit-in in the Senate House.

Evidence was given at the disciplinary hearings that the University’s Socialist Society had decided six days before the meeting which Professor Griffith refers to that an occupation of the Senate House should take place; that the same decision had also been taken by the Merseyside Socialist Students’ Federation – also before the Vice-Chancellor’s meeting; and that ”advanced scouts” for the occupiers were in the Senate House, spying out the land and ensuring that the doors were not locked on them, well before the Vice-Chancellor’s meeting began.

” At Liverpool the protest was about racial discrimination and the position of the Chancellor, Lord Salisbury; about … political files …”

In other words, part of the justification for the occupation is the argument that, whereas no account should be taken by the University of the opinions of students on political issues, Lord Salisbury, because of his opinions on political issues, should be deprived of his office as Chancellor of the University.

”For many, perhaps all, of those suspended for two years the sentence is equivalent to expulsion”. In fact,none of them are more inconvenienced by their suspension than those of their predecessors who had to do National Service, and those of them who are at present in their final year can return and qualify for their degree, given a modicum of application in the meantime, after only two months further attendance at the University.

“And all this is for what? … It was not suggested that, during the days of the occupation, damage was done or that those charged were guilty of physical violence…”

The amount of damage done in the building during the occupation in fact runs into several hundred pounds; one of the students disciplined was charged with, and found guilty of, forcibly preventing the Registrar from reaching his office.

” The duties of a university – teaching and research – were not affected.” If Professor Griffith believes that action which, for nearly two weeks in the middle of a busy academic year, excludes from their offices – and thus from access to their records and their papers – the whole of the central administration of a University which comprises several hundred academic staff and six and a half thousand students, has no effect on the teaching and research of the University, then he doesn’t know how universities work.

“The universities as they have existed….are disappearing before our eyes…In the long run strong disciplinary action is fatal to the purposes of university life.” The universities in this country have, after many long years of struggle, achieved recognition of their existence as institutions dedicated primarily to the pursuit of rational enquiry. It is the prospect of the universities as they have existed in this sense “disappearing before our eyes” which is bothering a lot of us and it is the attempt by forcible means to convert them into instruments for political change – of which the Liverpool incident is simply one of many examples – which is “in the long run … fatal to the purposes of university life.”


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