It’s not every day you get to hear yourself on national radio! BBC Radio 4 today broadcast a documentary in the In Living Memory series about the student protests of 1970 – at Keele, Warwick, and the anti-apartheid protest at Liverpool University that I was involved in, along with another 300 or so. I thought the programme was very good, offering a nice balance between the youthful naivety and the seriousness of it all.
It was the start of the spring term in January 1970 that marked the beginning of a period of intense political activity among students at the university, as the issues that eventually became ‘The Five Demands‘ emerged, leading eventually to the occupation of Senate House in March. The principal demand was for the resignation of the Vice-Cancellor, Lord Salisbury, a supporter of the apartheid regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa. There were many sit-ins at British universities in this period, but in Liverpool it led to the severest disciplinary action of the time. Nine students, including Jon Snow, Channel 4 News presenter, were suspended from the university. One student, Peter Cresswell, was permanently expelled. Yet our campaign against racism looks very moderate 40 years on.
Thirty of the occupiers of 1970 recently wrote to the present Vice Chancellor, Sir Howard Newby asking for his views on these events. Professor Newby replied:
“The University of Liverpool is committed deeply to freedom of expression and your voice and actions serve as a legacy to the freedoms we enjoy, preserve and defend within higher education.”
He added in relation to the student who was expelled permanently:
“I can offer you a personal view which is that I feel a deep sense of sadness that your days as a student at the University of Liverpool were terminated in such circumstances.”
Despite that sentiment, some years ago, when the university offered an honorary degree to Jon Snow, he declined unless Pete Cresswell was offered one too. No more was heard from the university.
There’s more unfinished business, too: after the President and Deputy-President of the Students Union attended a recent 40th anniversary reunion, the Union is now campaigning for the renaming of a hall of residence – still amazingly called Salisbury Hall!