11th-13th May 1968

11th (Saturday) ‘Protest after three are rusticated: 250 in university march’, The Times, p. 3 (sub dated 10th May)

  • Identifies the three rusticated students, and recalls the recent Enoch Powell incident as triggering a clear warning;
  • The students remain on campus barricaded in towers, although chief bailiff promised no action over the weekend;
  • Claims 100 students barricaded the Deputy Registrar’s office, petitions refusing to sit exams are circulating, and 50 members of staff are threatening resignation.

11th (Saturday) A Press Release is issued by Rick Coates, appointed student Press Officer at one of Friday’s meetings. The statement makes the moral case for protest and against victimisation, and announces a mass meeting organised for Monday morning; the Vice Chancellor, staff and administrators are all invited. Students take to Colchester town centre to distribute their anti-Chemical and Biological Warfare leaflets, including ‘What is Germ Warfare?’

A Memo for Monday’s meeting is drafted by Joan Busfield, Herbie Butterfield, and Dorothy Smith. The memo warns of what it sees as the real possibility of the University’s self destruction and makes the case that there’s an urgent need for dialogue. The authors further propose a moratorium on University activities for 2 days from May 14th ‘devoted to generating dialogue, in a variety of forms, in which all members of the University participate.’

Locations: Box 14/Internal Documents/Ref 11 (student press release), Ref 14 & Ref 16b (call for moratorium and dialogue);

Box 17/May 1968 also contains copies of both documents.

12th (Sunday) A morning meeting of staff results in two key documents, the first of which is the rebuttal of the Registrar’s account of the events of 7th May (‘Incidents at Wivenhoe House’, see 10th May above) signed by Wexler, Mitchell, Busfield, and Mullins. The second is a letter to the Vice Chancellor co-signed by Brotherston, Busfield, Butterfield, Clark, Cox, June and Michael Freeman, Mitchell, Pearson, O’Toole, Smith, Thompson, and Wexler, circulated and ‘fairly freely available’ around campus. The letter suggests that Sloman’s actions had precipitated ‘both a constitutional and a moral crisis’: the Vice Chancellor must act according to the law of the land, but had not applied the principle of natural justice, and so had intensified conflict; ‘freedom of speech’, the authors claim, needs interpreting and formalising in University rules and procedures.

The document further proposes a Committee of Inquiry to investigate conflicting accounts, apportion responsibility, and interpret freedom of speech in this instance; the make-up of the committee should be properly representative, and the three students should be reinstated while the enquiry is ongoing, so that they can take their exams. These suggestions, proposed by Paul Thompson, soon became core demands through their adoption by both the Department of Sociology and by the university-wide General Meetings the following day.

Locations: Box 14/Internal Documents/Ref 15 (letter to VC), Ref 16c (rebuttal of Registrar’s account);

Box 17/May 1968 also contains both documents.

12th (Sunday) A evening meeting of about 50 convenes to strategise for Monday’s General Meeting and, in advance of it, to arrange for leafleting at entry points to campus and for the picketing of lectures. They hear a report from the morning meeting of staff, formulate contingency plans for the eventuality that Sloman doesn’t shift his position, and work out preparations for a teach-in on Chemical and Biological Warfare. The need to avoid any hint of violence is repeatedly emphasised.

13th (Monday) ‘Rusticated students fight on’, The Times, p. 2 (sub dated May 12th)

  • Report on the calling of mass meeting/boycott of lectures;
  • Repeats Dr Inch was ‘pushed and jostled’ last week;
  • Now only 40 staff signatories threatening resignation, apparently.

13th (Monday) As members of the University arrive on campus they are met at all entry points by protestors and presented with an invitation to the General Meeting scheduled for 11.30am, produced by a meeting of students the day before. In the Internal Documents collection the leaflet is the first of a bundle of four, along with the call for a moratorium on regular university business, the rebuttal of the Registrar’s account written over the weekend, and a 1-page update on developments, ‘You May Think Nothing Has Been Happening Over The Weekend – You’re Wrong’.

These developments include some success with anti-CBW leafleting in Colchester, the arrival of support from Leicester University, and meetings to discuss strategy (including some liaison with staff members); readers are urged to support the picket of lectures and to attend the General Meeting called for 11.30am; the teach-in on CBW is announced for Tuesday afternoon and evening. A further small leaflet reproducing an extract from Brecht’s Life of Galileo is also circulating around this time, with the heading ‘to all scientists – chemists as well as physicists’.

9.35am A Sociology Department Meeting postpones all business to discuss the troubles and proposals for the Vice Chancellor drafted by Paul Thompson and others. Their resolution is presented to Vice Chancellor and published the same morning. The minutes also noted that outside telephone lines were at that point only available through the University exchange. The meeting closes at 11.15am, in time for the General Meeting in the Lecture Theatre Block at 11.30am.

11.30am and 6.30pm GENERAL MEETINGS in LTB6 and 7, the first as announced in ‘The Porton Down Affair: Phase II’, Saturday’s student Press Release, and ‘You May Think…’ above. Most sources agree that both meetings were attended by around 1,000 (or more) staff and students, which was at the time a significant majority of the University community.

11.30am A statement against the Vice Chancellor is read out, resolutions from Sociology deploring Sloman’s actions and absence, and accepting his invitation to host a delegation of six students that afternoon (to report back to the evening meeting) are passed overwhelmingly; Peter Archard reads the text of a letter (drafted to the Vice Chancellor in advance of the Inch protest and sent afterwards) accounting for his position on CBW research, and asking a central and recurring question at the time of the events, ‘knowledge for what?’

The ‘Thompson proposals’ for a representative committee of enquiry and the interim reinstatement of the three suspended students are put to the meeting and carried overwhelmingly; similarly carried is the proposal to seek formal advice on the legality of the suspensions, subject to the outcome of any meeting with the Vice Chancellor that afternoon.

A fringe meeting of 20-30 staff votes for the suspension of teaching and research for two days of an ‘Open University’ (draft programme appended); a letter from Stanley Mitchell appeals for wider staff support. The Sociology Department Meeting resolutions for the Vice Chancellor are also circulated, including the proposals put by Paul Thompson to the General Meeting.

The students have arranged a meeting to plan next steps, to take place half an hour after the end of the morning meeting. Peter Archard and David Triesman release unapologetic statements for the press reaffirming the centrality of CBW to the events, and arguing that both the issue and the form of the demonstration were justified. Both are interviewed for television news, and Archard will later ask for the media to be excluded from the evening meeting because of the television crew’s subsequent treatment of the interview footage.

Archard’s press statement is in the Internal Documents collection, and this copy of Triesman’s comes from Rick Coates’ collection, which he was generous enough to share with the project.


6.30pm At the evening meeting Peter Archard makes a further statement deploring the actions of the television news team which (he was informed) had re-recorded the questions put to him and a fellow student during an interview following the morning meeting. Archard claims that the focus was thereby drawn away from Inch and CBW and onto the issue of student violence; on this basis, he suggests, the media should be excluded from the meeting.

There is also an attempt to exclude members of staff, according to a note subsequently drafted by Anthony Barker (Government Department lecturer), about the meeting of staff the following day; Barker’s motion to keep the evening meeting open to all members of the university community (and not to exclude any non-students) was, he states, ‘accepted by acclamation’.

The meeting hears a report from the delegation of six to the Vice Chancellor’s house – the matter of the rustications and disciplinary action is now in the hands of Senate, although the calling of a special meeting of Senate for Wednesday 15th will, it is noted, shorten the period of exclusion.

The evening meeting votes unanimously or overwhelmingly:

  • to investigate the legality of the Vice Chancellor’s actions and press for a meeting of staff the next day, in time to prepare a brief for Wednesday’s Senate meeting;
  • for Paul Thompson’s proposals for immediate reinstatement, a representative Committee of Enquiry, and a ‘Free University’;
  • to demand steps for adequate representation of student views at the next meeting of Senate;
  • for Mike Gonzales’s 3 functions of the ‘Free University’ – to protest CBW and the rustications, and to discuss the implications of present troubles, all with a commitment to non-violence.

A group of about 100 students leave the evening meeting to barricade themselves into the Hexagon restaurant but return soon after, having sensed a lowering of support and morale, according to a further statement from Peter Archard.

Following the meetings, acting Chairman of the Finance Committee Alistair Blunt takes Chair’s action and instructs Students’ Council to ratify two resolutions, one from each of the day’s meetings, calling for legal advice and, if appropriate, counsel to secure reinstatement of the suspended students through recourse to the law.

13th (Monday) Eventually, the Registrar circulates a short statement from the Vice Chancellor announcing a special meeting of Senate on the afternoon of Wednesday 15th May to hear his report on the suspensions, and noting that any further action in respect of the students will be determined by Senate. The Registrar further gives notice of the calling of an extraordinary General Assembly for 5pm on 20th May to hear a report from Sloman on the rustication, and to debate any implications for the establishing of a working party to formulate a code of conduct in light of recent troubles.

Locations: Box 14/Internal Documents/Refs 16a, 16b, 16c, 16d (the bundle of documents in circulation at the University on Monday morning), Ref 17 (resolution from the Sociology Department), Ref 18 (motions from morning meeting), Ref 19 (Archard’s letter to the VC), Ref 20 (transcript of a recording of Archard’s statement to the evening meeting following the Hexagon occupation), Ref 21 (the report from the delegation of six), Ref 22 (motions from evening meeting), Ref 23 (Blunt’s note on legal counsel), Ref 24 (Archard’s statement to the press), Ref 25 (the statement against the Vice Chancellor),  Ref 26 (the VC’s statement);

Box 15/Disturbances/May events subfolder (extraordinary General Assembly call);

Box 16/1968 (handwritten note from morning meeting outlining Sociology resolutions);

Box 17/May 1968 includes minutes of Sociology Department Meeting, motions from morning and evening General Meetings, the call for a moratorium, the call for an extraordinary General Assembly, the statement against the VC, Mitchell’s letter to staff, and the leaflet citing Brecht’s Galileo on science and ethics;

Box 21 includes a transcript of Archard’s comments about his experiences with television news, which seems to have been recorded and transcribed by the University’s Information Officer, Walter Evans.

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