Some Independent Observations by 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. Extracts were reproduced in the Socialist Society Newsletter of 21 April.

Fr McGoldrick later qualified some of his remarks in a letter to the New Statesman on 15 May.

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.

(1) For the past three or four years there has been a heightened awareness of the relevance of student concern over social and political questions. Sometimes this has resulted in a desire to work actively for the welfare of the socially under-privileged in the area around the University But it has sometimes taken the form of a concern for people in other areas of this country and in the world at large. Examples of this concern are the Community Service Office in the Students Union, and the support groups for Shelter, Christian Aid, the Simon Community and Oxfam.  Sometimes this same concern has shown itself in the formation of and support for political groups concerned with the radical re-structuring of society in many of its facets, local, national and international. Most of these political groups have drawn their inspiration from left-wing sources, but others, like Amnesty International are more broadly based.  Examples of both types would be the groups seeking to arouse interest in the various Civil Rights movements in North America, Latin America and more recently Rhodesia, South Africa and Northern Ireland.

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. They are here primarily to learn. Apart from their academic work they may lead a more or less full recreational and social life or concern themselves with one or more cultural societies and have little concern for wider issues. 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 themselves 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 on a constant reappraisal of its presuppositions and values. This is best achieved by dialogue between the ‘Establishment’ and the critics and it is important that conditions are maintained, especially in Universities, in which this is possible. Few people will need to be reminded that the critics of today are the Establishment of tomorrow.

(2) It has been particularly unfortunate that the feeling of concern and involvement in these various forms has, at Liverpool, coincided with difficulties within the Guild of Undergraduates.  There has been this session particularly, a growing feeling  that its elected officials were not responsive to, nor truly representative of, the great mass of  students. It must in justice be said that this is entirely the fault of the student body at large for allowing such a situation to develop, and to develop to such an extent that there was a breakdown of constitutional government within the Guild.  That there were some isolated individuals who welcomed the breakdown is no secret: this however cannot excuse the apathy of the great bulk of members who do not even vote at Guild elections.

Yet 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 own 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.  Paradoxically 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.

(3) To some extent this crystallised into the ”FIVE 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.  The votes taken at these meetings were indicative of a desire by most people there not to go to extremes and to give the Vice – Chancellor a fair hearing.  But 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 nullified 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 Senate 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 single member of the University, staff or student who was prepared to accept Mr Chrimes’ position.

(4)  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. The damage done to University property – not in the Senate House itself – on the night of March 16-17 was the work of°several irresponsible individuals and was in my hearing vigorously condemned by the leaders of the occupying body a condemnation endorsed by the entire meeting as being completely against their policy.

(5) 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.

TA McGoldrick,
Catholic Chaplaincy to the University, Cathedral Precinct, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5TQ

In early May, Father McGoldrick circulated the following duplicated typescipt on campus, amending some of his earlier statements:

A statement by the Rev TA McGoldrick

Since a memorandum written by me entitled ‘Student Unrest at Liverpool University: Some independent Observations’, has been given a wider circulation than originally intended and misinterpreted in certain quarters, I beg leave to make the following points clear. They are in no sense a retractation of what I wrote.

  1. I was not and am not in favour of the ‘sit-in’, nor did I encourage or support it in any way. I tried to discover why it happened.
  2. I have no party political affiliations , right or left, inside or outside Liverpool University. I am simply a Christian minister trying to understand the milieu in which he works.
  3. My memorandum was an attempt to evaluate objectively the situation among students and the background thinking and action which led to the sit-in. On at least two occasions , I tried (unsuccessfully) to bring the occupation of Senate House to a close. The facts about these attempts are well-known to the occupying students, to the Registrar and to the Vice-Chancellor, although I acted independently 0f all of them. It seemed to me that the ‘good offices’ of someone well known to both parties might be helpful.
  4. The students concerned asked me as a non-involved independent person to witness some 180 signatures admitting joint responsibility for the sit-in and to convey them to the Vice-Chancellor. This I did, after the sit-in ended.
  5. Subsequently, I was asked by the defence at the Disciplinary Hearing, om Monday April 6th, to testify to certain matters of fact which had come within my observation. This I did, again as an independent witness and summoned by the defence as such.
  6. As an extra-ordinary member of the Guild of Undergraduates, I fully support the use of the Guild machinery for negotiations with the University authorities, and would deplore any attempts to weaken the Guild structure, whether by the use of ”sovereign Mass meetings” or otherwise.
  7. I deplore the attempts which are being made, by an interested, very vocal but very small minority of left-wing students to inflame public opinion against the officers of the University. I consider the attacks being made upon the new Vice-Chancellor are particularly regrettable and totally unjustified, and call upon all students to give Mr Thomas a fair chance.
  8. Attempts are being made, following the recent penalties imposed by the Board of Discipline, to use the present tensions to further the objects of various left-wing parties. A minority appear to have a vested interest in fostering conflict, rather than dialogue, with the various University officials. While fully defending the rights of free political discussion in any university, I would point to  the necessity of resistance to any attempt to make use of student discontent to further the interests of political parties of either right or left.
  9. To those who have criticised adversely my original memorandum, I make the request that they read it again!  It is an honest attempt at an honest assessment of the situation as it actually was at the time I wrote it,at the end of March. It is no longer true (although it was when I originally wrote) that I have met no members of the University who would support the Treasurer’s statement about the morality of investing money. I have since been made aware of the fact that a number of senior members do support it.
  10. I have made no public comment on the disciplinary hearings and any statements attributed to me have not had my authorisation. Privately, I have, in company with others, made my views known to the University authorities.

T.A.McGoldrick, Catholic Chaplaincy, Cathedral Precinct, Liverpool L3 5TQ.

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