Letter from the Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors to the President of the National Union of Students, 2.3.70

This letter was a response to the concern about whether secret files on the political activities of staff and students at British universities were routinely being held.  The issue originated with the discovery of such files during the occupation at Warwick University in February – and spread like wildfire to other campuses, including Liverpool, where it became one of the ‘Five Demands’ of the occupation.  The Liverpool Vice-Chancellor, Trevor Thomas, refers to this letter in his address in the Mountford Hall on March 9, just prior to the occupation.

THE COMMITTEE OF VICE-CHANCELLORS AND PRINCIPALS OF THE UNIVERSITIES OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

Copy of a letter,  dated 2. 3.70,  from the Chairman of the Committee to the President of the National Union of Students

In your letter of 24 February you sought a meeting with members of my Committee on the question of information about students held on university files,  and as a result we had some discussion together last Friday.    We agreed to have a further meeting on matters requiring more detailed consideration than was possible on that preliminary occasion, but since your initial letter was made public it may be best if I record briefly the basis on which my colleagues and I approached the discussion.

We accept that the political opinions and affiliations of students and staff are no business of a university and that no university should keep files on such matters, and that the same applies to their political activities provided that these are within the law.

We are firmly of the opinion that universities are not free to release documents, such as referees’ and headmasters’ reports,  which they have received in confidence from others,  and that the same applies to confidential academic reports and personal references originating within the university.    This relates equally to students and to staff:  we believe that the maintenance of confidentiality in these matter’s is essential to the interests of both.

In relation to the provision already agreed for a student to obtain a print-out of the data about him held on the central record,  your letter urged that this arrangement be extended to additional information held at his university and that areas of confidentiality should be clearly defined so that students could be reassured about the nature of material not available for their inspection.    We agreed to discuss this matter in further detail at another meeting and I shall accordingly take an early opportunity of consulting my colleagues on the main Vice-Chancellors’  Committee.

Sir Derman Christopherson

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