Box 13

Somerlad collection

Materials deposited by Michael Somerlad, Librarian, relating to the work of two groups established by Senate in the wake of the May 1968 campus events, although in each case the issues for consideration were well known around the University some time before the Inch protest on May 7th.

Firstly, the Senate Group on Student Representation (SGSR) was established early in October 1968, and charged with investigating ways in which students might take on a more active role in the decision-making structures of the University. An extraordinary General Assembly discussed the major issues on October 24th, and there was a threatened student boycott the following month; nonetheless, the Group’s proposals were finally circulated for discussion in May the following year.

The more complex pre-history of the Working Party on a Code of Conduct dates from at least a Senate meeting in July 1968, and the establishment of the ‘paragraph 8 committee’. The paragraph referred to is from the Senate’s delayed report to the University concerning its meeting of May16th; the Committee was instructed to make recommendations ‘concerning the freedom of speech and demonstration in the University’, and ‘to investigate the University’s order and disciplinary procedure’. At the July meeting of Senate the Dean of Students was further tasked with investigating ‘the state of law and order in the residential towers’, and changes to disciplinary structures were already being proposed and implemented by the start of the Autumn term.

The threatened student boycott from November 1968 (above) extended to the University Administration’s work on disciplinary structures, however, and when the WPCC was formally approved in December 1968 and appointed in February 1969, its terms of reference had been amended to chime very closely with the students’ demands. An incomplete set of responses to the Working Party’s enquiries in the Spring of 1969 is located in Box 12, along with a copy of the group’s progress report from May that year.

Over the course of work on the topic, the major steps taken by the University involved removing responsibility for disciplining students away from the Vice Chancellor and the Office of the Dean of Students. In their place a whole series of measures and approaches were proposed, ranging from a ‘Minor Courts’ system to the empowerment of Proctors and, eventually, the highly controversial ‘Membership Committee’. Later attempts to use the formal criminal justice system as a way of dealing with continued losses and damage to University premises only raised further complications and controversy.

Students were not without their own diverse suggestions, of course, and contested the University’s position on any number of issues, policies, and proposals relating to improvements in its disciplinary system. In particular, the residential Towers became something of a battleground for hashing out the extent and limitations of the University’s jurisdiction over the lives and affairs of its students. Meanwhile on the University side, with the handing over of disciplinary matters to the office of Proctor there was an increasing focus on the question of who does and does not belong and who, therefore, might even be considered a student.

Throughout, in fact, the University’s final sanction for infractions remained exclusion, and a number of the larger protests of the era, as with the May 1968 events, arose precisely in response to threats and instances of exclusion from the University’s premises and instruction. It is in some ways a sad irony that, even as the University was trying to figure out ways to increase (within limits) student participation in academic decision making structures, the work of those charged with discipline became increasingly reliant on a volatile strategy of banishment and exile.

Also digitised from Somerlad’s collection are four student publications on campus activism generally, and two issues of the University Newsletter on issues of ‘membership’.

Senate Group on Student Representation (SGSR, October 1968)

  • ‘Explanatory note on the proposed Ordinance relating to the reform of the structure of government of the University’ (undated, marked ‘A/S’ i.e. Albert Sloman). Draft proposals for the incluson of students on two main academic bodies, the Boards of Schools and Senate; General Committee to be established for the latter as only way to coopt more than five new members. Two ‘reserved areas’ at this stage are ‘staff appointments and promotions and the assessment of individual students.’ The whole agreement dissolves if the Senate refuses to ratify the Committee’s recommendations.
  • ‘The University’s Decision-Making Processes’ (21.10.68). Memo/working paper proposing reforms to University’s Committee structure in context of calling of General Meeting (‘on Thursday’, i.e. 24.10.68) and establishment of Senate Group. Current practices are described as almost guaranteed to arouse maximum suspicion and distrust in the context of a perceived lack of transparency, openness, and inclusivity. Uses recent Senate decision on disciplinary structures as an example and outlines key questions for meeting; signed Max Atkinson, Ernest Rudd, Adrian Sinfield, John Thomas, Keith Trace.
  • Newsletter #103a (22.10.68): ‘Special Issue’ inviting contributions to discussions of the Senate Group in the form of oral or written evidence from staff and students, as soon as possible.
  • Letter from Michael Lane (Department of Sociology) to Albert Sloman (23.10.68), arguing that membership of the General Assembly should include auxiliary/temporary staff; Lane distressed at missing meeting, but his proposal is eventually included in the final proposed reforms, below in this folder.
  • In Brief #9 (12.11.68) newsletter from Students’ Council reports on threatened boycott of Senate Group unless specific provisions, voted on by the Council, are implemented in its terms of reference and procedures; also reports rejection of recent revisions to disciplinary procedures. The proposed amendments do appear to have been more or less accepted in full by the time Senate approved the membership and terms of reference for the group in December 1968.
  • Final proposed reforms circulated by the group for discussion at open meeting Thursday 29.05.69. These involve, primarily: constitution of General Committees of School Boards and Senate to include student representation, although Senate can over-rule; further amendments to composition of statutory bodies (including Michael Lane’s request, above in this folder); establishment of a Community Board for campus services and amenities as a Senate Sub-Committee with power to pass bye-laws regulating use of facilities.

Working Party on a Code of Conduct

  • Alan Gibson memo from Senate Group (January 1969) on occupation of Computing and Printing Centres, naming Halberstadt and Swingler as non-members of the University now required to sign a legal undertaking of good behaviour.
  • Progress Report on the Working Party on a University Code of Conduct (May 1969) – also in Box 12.
  • University of Essex Disciplinary Procedures, December 1967, rev. September 1969.
  • ‘Regulations relating to residence in the residential and study-room towers, as revised and approved on 20th December, 1969’ (marked ‘Received 13/1/70’). Proposes formation of Management Committees for each of the towers, but is mostly focused on the clarification of disciplinary matters; these include the option to remove students in breach of the regulations from University accommodation altogether.
  • A note with two ‘Additional General Regulations’ (December 1969) concerning withdrawal, and especially not inviting blacklisted individuals onto campus.
  • Memo from Albert Sloman (08.01.70, enclosing the two documents above) about the revised regulations for living in residential tower apartments, the use of study rooms, and non-members of the University. Approves new powers for Dean of Students and asks for suggestions to improve life in the towers for consideration at SAC January 14th.
  • Copy of letter from Dean of Students (R. H. Atkin, 08.01.70) promising discussion of new procedures; Atkin suggests that the Towers Committees are overwhelmed by the scale of anti-social behaviour, and in particular the number of non-members of the University breaking in or visiting and committing petty theft.

See also written submissions and Progress Report in Box 12; selection of materials relating to life in the Towers in Box 15/Revolutions.

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  • ‘New Left: Old Anarchy’ by Greg Lomax from Square Four #2 (23.01.69), edited by Ian Brodie. Article on left activism at Essex over the previous twelve months. Scathing about the tactics if not the aims of the relatively few revolutionaries: claims they lost authority and consensus the moment they tried to occupy the Hexagon the previous May, and that they produce more noise than action, driving other students to the right in the process.
  • ‘Anatomy of Student Revolt’ by John Searle, The Spectator (07.03.69), outlining and commenting on characteristic three-stage process, involving especially generation/inflammation of disgust with/mistrust of authority by provoking reprisals that seem either disproportionate or contradictory to one or another sacred text.
  • Square Four #4 (13.03.69) full scan. Major articles on food prices in the Hexagon, homelessness in Colchester, student organising at St. Osyth’s College in nearby Clacton; also an update on the Biafra war.
  • ‘Essex University Internal Students’ Enquiry; Conference Reader, November 1969’. Collection of articles precirculated in advance of ‘Internal Enquiry’, seemingly in response to Parliamentary Enquiry/fallout from visit of Parliamentary Subcommittee in April. Materials include: preamble on Essex and functions/structure of a university; piece on contradictions of Essex University liberalism; transcripts from Select Committee on Education and Science relating to Essex; information on power structures of the University (especially Council); admissions and bias/selectivity throughout the system; University finance and discipline, gender imbalance, and assessment; closes with ‘Whose Students’ Council?’ and a proposed timetable of discussions.
  • Newsletter #159 ‘Special Issue’ (04.03.70) detailing a case of exclusion of three students in February while being charged through the court system; careful wording, reminiscent of rustications of May 1968.
  • Newsletter #186 ‘Special Issue: Membership of the University’ (23.11.70) outlines general principles of acceptable conduct, just two days before the publication of Barry O’Brien’s hostile Daily Telegraph article. The following day the BBC’s Look East broadcasts a report of around 600 students supporting a strike in protest against the Membership Committee (See Box 21).