Following Professor Griffith’s defence of the Liverpool students in the 8 May issue of the New Statesmen, there were several responses. These appeared in the issue of the journal on 29 May: the first is from Rex Makin, the Liverpool solicitor who represented some of the ten, while Professor Griffith rounds off the debate:
Professor Griffith’s article following the recent disciplinary proceedings at Liverpool University, did not deal with several unsatisfactory features. These do the university no credit whatsoever, whatever may be the position with regard to the behaviour of the individual students concerned. Firstly, one member of the Discipline Board signed a document condemning the sit-in before the proceedings were heard. When challenged by one student, who was unrepresented despite the fact that the university was represented by both counsel and solicitor, his challenge was over-ruled, and the member continued to adjudicate.
Secondly, from the summary of evidence the proceedings were carried out in what might be described as a kangaroo court atmosphere. One student was refused permission for an adjournment to obtain legal representation and call witnesses; his cross-examination was curtailed. The summary makes one wonder why the university took the trouble to bother with a hearing at all.
Thirdly, nearly every request which was made by the students was denied; in my view some unreasonably. During the hearing of the appeal a request that the Registrar should attend to give evidence on various matters was refused.
Fourthly, one member of the Appeal Board, representing the Council of the University, was a city councillor who sits for the Conservatives, but no corresponding Labour Party representation was included, despite the fact that the basis of the trouble was primarily political.
All in all, whatever the behaviour of the students, the way in which the Discipline and Appeal Boards dealt with the matter, and the harsh sentences, leave one with a feeling of grave concern. It is a very disquieting state of affairs so far a university administration is concerned, subsidised as it is out of public funds.
E Rex Makin, Dale Street, Liverpool
Mr Kent thinks I am indulgent to students. Let me put it this way, as a series of propositions.
- We live in a highly authoritarian bureaucratic society (where authoritarian means we are told what to do and there are punishments if we disobey; and bureaucratic means it is run like an office with an in-tray for problems and an out-tray for solutions).
- Universities are large-scale organisations run by administrators (some of whom are or were academics) on authoritarian, bureaucratic lines because that is the way large-scale organisations are run.
- When students complain, they (like all consumers of the products of large-scale organisations) first receive a brush-off answer and, if that doesn’t quieten them, they are offered an interview or a mee~ting. On this occasion they are given a slightly more elaborate brush-off answer, sometimes coupled with a promise to integrate them more closely into the large scale organisation.
- The students are then expected to go away because they must surely realise that the large-scale organisation has all the power (expulsion or suspension, barring from examinations, withholding of grants etc.) while they have none.
- But some ‘students decide not to go away, thus breaking the rules, acting in an undisciplined manner, spoiling things for others, and (of course) doing their cause more harm than good.
- At this point the large-scale organisation recognises a threat to its authoritarianism and to its bureaucracy, that is to say to its very nature, and invokes judicial procedures which are wholly fair, which it totally controls, and which result in punishment.
That is one reason, Mr Kent why some of us ide with the students. And that is one reason why Father McGoldrick’s sad resort to exhortation (calling on Liverpool students to help the Vice·Chancellor to establish a fruitful dialogue) is, alas, irrelevant. Talking won’t do it, only radical change in the structures of the large-scale organisation. Like not having a Vice-Chancellor.
JAG Griffith, Marlow, Bucks