February-April 1968: Pre-History/ Powell


23rd (Friday) Visit by Enoch Powell, MP, disrupted and local Conservative MP Antony Buck’s car is damaged on campus. Powell’s talk is interrupted by a figure dressed as Guy Fawkes carrying a ‘bomb’ towards the front of the room (see image at Julian Harber and Chris Ratcliffe’s Essex May ’68 photos page).

27th (Tuesday) Enquiries into the Powell incident begin: Senior Assistant Registrar Roy Butler interviews 21 students and 4 members of staff over the course of the following week. According to interviews with participants, a number of students write to the enquiry confessing to crimes that they didn’t commit, or that simply never took place.

MARCH 1968

4th (Monday) Roy Butler reports on the Powell protest to the Dean of Students, who decides that a prima facie case exists against seven students accused of breaching the University’s disciplinary procedures. Letters outlining the charges and including requests to attend an interview with the Dean the following day are sent to six of them; the seventh (Peter Archard) is informed of his interview by Mr Butler in person, although the specific charges against him are not divulged in advance.

4th (Monday) Dean of Students Alasdair MacIntyre circulates brief memorandum on the seriousness of attempts to limit freedom of expression in university meetings, although rights of heckling and protest are acknowledged; the memo was subsequently invoked as more or less fair warning re the rustications that followed in May.

Locations: Box 16/1968;

Box 17/May 1968 (copy recirculated May 21st, along with Disciplinary Procedures as revised March 1968).

5th (Tuesday) The proposed interviews between Dean MacIntyre and the seven students accused of breaches of university discipline are prevented when MacIntyre’s office is occupied by around 50 students protesting both the methods and the very existence of the enquiry. The occupations and blockading continue to prevent the disciplinary mechanism from proceeding for over a week.

6th (Wednesday) Six of the seven accused students see the Vice Chancellor, with a list of grievances concerning procedural irregularities to do with the enquiry; the document ultimately blames outside pressure (from Antony Buck, MP) for the continuing pursuit of the students on what are seen as petty charges. A copy was later included among the submissions to the Working Party on a Code of Conduct (WPCC, established by the University in the 1968-69 academic year) along with a second anonymous student leaflet circulated at this point, ‘The main issue behind student demonstrations here in the last week’. This latter develops a more abstract argument against the University having any jurisdiction over non-academic student affairs, not least as this works to distort and mask the political nature of breaches of discipline (or indeed the law) that are directed towards the wider society, and not the University itself.

Location: Box 12/WPCC Submissions/WPCC #58 (‘Irregularities…’), WPCC #59 (‘The main issue…’).

6th (Wednesday) Senate meeting agrees that any student obstructing the disciplinary enquiries will be expelled without any right of appeal.

7th (Thursday) An open meeting is called to respond to the previous day’s announcement from Senate threatening expulsions for any obstruction to the Powell enquiries. According to a memo addressed to staff members by students shortly afterwards, 150 students proceeded to obstruct the disciplinary action following the meeting. Around this time, Dean MacIntyre decides to pass the handling of the enquiry to the University’s Discipline Committee, and communicates this to the students.

7th (Thursday) A General Meeting passes by a large majority a motion of no confidence in the University’s disciplinary procedures. The Powell enquiry is, for the students, without foundation: the university does not have the authority to enquire into what should be a matter for civil law, and the flaws in the procedures highlighted by the enquiry need addressing urgently. The motion includes demands for the enquiry to cease immediately, and for Senate to negotiate changes in the disciplinary procedures with a group of student representatives; changes to be ratified by the first Union General Meeting of the Autumn term, 1968.

Location: Box 12/WPCC Submissions/WPCC#60 (GM motions annotated with voting figures etc.).

8th (Friday) The following day a copy is attached to a note to all members of staff, requesting their consideration and support, and emphasising the need to avoid damage to the reputation of the university.

Location: Box 16/Campus Events (clean copy of GM motions attached to letter to University staff).

13th (Wednesday) Dean of Students Alasdair MacIntyre sends out a 4-page memorandum (‘An Account of Recent Events’) about student conduct, on the heels of investigations into the Powell incident of 23rd February. The memo defends the existence of disciplinary structures at the University as a need recognised and accepted by the elected student bodies and the wider university community (except for a ‘small minority’ seeking ‘to impose their views by force’), even if the structures and regulations may be (and are continuously) updated and improved. MacIntyre finishes by urging all moderate students to make their views known at a General Meeting scheduled for the following evening.

The memo is included in the papers of the Spring 1969 Working Party on a Code of Conduct, along with the two oppositional responses to the enquiries referred to above: the list of ‘procedural irregularities’, and ‘The main issue behind student demonstrations here in the last week’.

Locations: Box 12/WPCC Submissions/WPCC#58 (‘Irregularities…’), WPCC#59 (‘The main issue…’), WPCC#63 (‘An Account of Recent Events’);

Box 15/Revolutions/May1968 Events (‘An Account of Recent Events’);

Box 17/May 1968 (‘An Account of Recent Events’).

17th (Sunday) A contingent of Essex students joins the national protest against US military action in Vietnam in London’s Trafalgar Square. Clashes with the police ensue after the demonstration moves to the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

Student authored publication, produced and circulated January 1968 (with thanks to Rick Coates)

APRIL 1968

Much of April is taken up with vacation. 

24th (Wednesday) – 30th (Tuesday) At the start of the summer term the student-produced Essex Arts Festival presents an impressive roster of theatre, music, poetry, and cinema from around the world; there are also talks and discussions, including one by the Dean of Students Alasdair MacIntyre, entitled ‘Against Existentialism’, as well as a Beauty Teach-In with the fashion editors at Honey magazine featuring ‘the famous wig designer Ramon’.

Location: Box 18/Ginger/Ginger#3.

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