New archive reveals v-cs' colourful past

August 27, 1999

The once obscure world of British higher education is revealed with the opening of a new archive of detailing the machinations of yesteryear's vice chancellors, writes Alan Thomson.

The Modern Records Centre (MRC) at Warwick University has just received the archive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals containing papers dating from the CVCP's founding in 1917 up to 1988.

The MRC already holds an unparalleled collection of higher education documents, including the archives of the Association of University Teachers, lecturers' union Natfhe, the National Union of Students, the Committee of Polytechnic Directors and Council for National Academic Awards.

Choice documents from the CVCP archive reveal both how much has changed and how many issues and concerns remain constant over time.

One CVCP document, eerily reminiscent of today's pay dispute, was submitted to the National Incomes Commission in 1963. It talked of the need to pay academics more in order to "attract and retain an adequate number of the ablest men". At least nowadays the pursuit of better pay is also aimed at recruiting able women.

Another document reports on a fracas at the University of London's Senate House in October 1969. The world of vice-chancellor Brian Windeyer was rocked when a group of undergraduates protested at London University's links with the University College of Rhodesia. Rhodesia at the time practised apartheid.

Professor Windeyer treated readers to a blow-by-blow account: "When the demonstrators, who insisted that they had a right to enter the building, were refused admission, several of those at the front launched an attack on the clerk of the senate.

"I cannot emphasise too much the gravity of the situation that had developed, with a wildly fighting group of men endeavouring to force their way through the plate-glass door which was being held by the staff and by the attempts of the demonstrators to smash open the revolving glass doors."

Those were the days.

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