Page 9: Some Independent Observations by the Rev McGoldrick

Fr McGoldrick, Catholic Chaplain to the University, sent a copy of this statement to the Vice-Chancellor and copies of it were circulated in various quarters during the vacation.

STUDENT UNREST AT LIVERPOOl UNIVERSITY: SOME INDEPENDENT OBSERVATIONS

By the Rev. TA McGoldrick, MA. (Cantab.)

It is imperative that thought be given to certain factors underlying the recent disturbances amongst students culminating in the occupation of the Senate House. I respectfully submit the following remarks, based upon my own observation of the contemporary student situation at Liverpool.  I write as an individual.

…For the past three or four years there has been a heightened awareness of the relevance of student concern over social and political questions…It would be wrong to assume that such social and political interest is typical of the majority of students. Very many take the attitude that they come to University to prepare themselves for careers in industry or the professions. …Enlightened – or sometimes not so enlightened self interest’ would not unfairly sum up their attitude. By and large they are not interested in political issues.

Yet the minority of students who find themslves drawn to a wider commitment to society in its political aspects have, in any University, their own particular importance. The manifestation of their commitment may not always take forms acceptable to the majority. It is largely critical of the ”Establishment” in its various forms and often, but not always, this criticism is unbalanced, unfair, and extreme and is linked with various doctrinaire positions. Yet, for all its faults, it is important that it should exist and that the assumptions of their elders in the seats of power should not be accepted – or rejected for that matter – uncritically.  The future progress of our society depends 0n a constant re-appraisaI of its presuppositions and values…

It would be utterly facile to assume that all that is really wrong is that a minority of militants took advantage of the situation to further the ends of particular political parties. Most of those involved in the disturbances this last term, in their passion for justice as they conceived it, showed an almost frightening lack of concern for their 0wn particular future.  Most of them are deeply committed idealists who found that they had in common an increasing feeling of dissatisfaction with the University as it is and of frustration in that, rightly or wrongly they felt that existing structures were irreformable by such constitutional means as exist. In my own conversations with many of them they showed a deep concern for the University as a community.  Parodoxically they felt that during their occupation of Senate House, they had begun to achieve and to experience an actual sense of community such as they had never had before.

To some extent this crystalliesed into the ‘5 Points.  Their publication had the effect of rallying support among quite a number of students, hitherto only marginally committed to direct action.  In this situation the willingness of the Vice-Chancellor in agreeing to address a meeting open to the whole University was a wise move, welcomed by the vast majority of those who took part in Mass Meetings during the first week of March…  In my opinion, based on actual talks with many students, two major mistakes were made at the actual meeting on March 9th.  To a great extent these mistakes nulllfied the potential good effects of the meeting.  They were:

(a) The meeting was terminated by the Chairman abruptly, when there were still matters to be discussed which came within the terms of the agenda. Had the meeting gone on for another hour, there would have been no sit-in in the Sernate House.

(b) The statement by the University Treasurer, Mr Chrimes, to the effect that moral considerations could not be taken into account when investing money on behalf of the university really shocked the bulk of those present and more than any one event made it possible to rally sufficient numbers to make a sit-in possible. I have not yet met a singlemember of the University, staff or student who was prepared to accept Mr Chrimes’ position.

Although a maximum of about 300 students took part in the occupation of Senate House, there were many more sympathisers, especially with the Five Points.  While it is of course true that a small committee, elected by the  occupiers undertook the detailed planning from day to day, the whole body of the occupants acted as a disciplined community.  Such meetings as I attended in the role of potential peacemaker – and others too were in this position – were properly conducted according to the normal rules of procedure. Every person wishing to speak was given the floor. Even the Conservative local councillor, who had been urging strong measures against the occupants was given a hearing, although in discussion his views were vigorously controverted…

In my opinion, and I have not the right to express anything but an opinion, anything other than joint disciplinary action against the entire body of occupants or at most against those who have written to the Vice-Chancellor admitting joint liability for the occupation, would be interpreted by most students as against the principles of natural justice and might easily revive the troubles of March in an even more acute form.

I would ask also that consideration be given to another matter. I understand that the charges against individuals are to be presented by counsel.  I am told that for financial reasons it has proved impossible for the students against whom charges have been preferred to brief counsel. You might consider whether or not this would give,rise to the feeling among the student body that the scales of justice have been unfairly weighted against them, especially as the hearings take place out of term and they will already have to pay the expenses of their witnesses.

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