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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 8. June 13, 1957

Victoria Story—4 — She Sold Naughty Books

page 5

Victoria Story—4

She Sold Naughty Books

"Come Back Children—You'll all be Drowned!"

"Come Back Children—You'll all be Drowned!"

(This contemporary cartoon showing Hon. Mr. Parr as a clucky hen, appeared in a Wellington journal at the height of the Weitzel affair.

Some current students assume that V.U.C's reputation for being a "hotbed of Communism" was acquired in the post-war years when the views of certain students on Indonesia, Mr. Gottwald, Sir Howard Kippenberger, and the Dean of Canterbury, made Leadlines in the daily press.

In fact, as previous instalments of this serial tale may have [unclear: Aig] gested, the suburban respectability of Wellington has always suspected that V.U.C. was a hotbed of something shady. But it was after the First World War, when the word "Communism" first really gained its Present opprobrious connotation, that the newspapers put a name to the thing we were a hotbed of.

And the incident which was mainly responsible for the College being thus christened, was the Heddi Weitzel affair.

Miss Heddi Weitzel passed through the College rather unostentatiously, studying hard (mainly part-time), and graduated with some distinction in 1920.

She led a full life—was active in the downtown Socialist Society (later amalgamated with the Communist Party) but had never joined any clubs at the College except the most harmless sort of sports clubs.

In 1921, however, as a student at the Teachers Training College, Miss Weitzel was so ill-advised as to be caught by a policeman in the act of distributing "literature encouraging violence and lawlesness"—to wit, a copy of a Sydney periodical called "The Communist."

The same year, Messrs. Whitcombe and Tombs were caught selling another prohibited publication—the book "Red Europe" by Australian Labour M.P. Frank Anstey. But however heavy the fine they were ordered to pay, it would have been easier for them to meet than it was fot Miss Weitzel to meet the £10 fine imposed on her by the Magistrate. But a number of students who had come along to hear the case, took up a collection on the spot and raised the whole amount.

And that was the real cause of the whole rumpus.

The Massey Government's Minister of Education, Hon. C. J. Parr, was thrown into a panic at the news. "When I was informed on the most reliable authority," he said, "that there were 15 or 20 students of the University College in the Court, and that they by their attitude indicated sympathy with Miss Weitzel, I was concerned . . . I ordered an Inquiry at the University to ascertain how far this think had gone."

As well as ordering an Inquiry, the Minister made a press statement which, as the Chairman of the College Council complained, was "very detrimental to the reputation of the College." It was announced all over the country, before the College had been directly approached, that the antecedents of Miss Weitzel, the teaching at the College, and College clubs (especially the Free Discussions, Heretics—defunct then seven years—and Debating Clubs) allegedly "permeated with undesirable influences." were all to be "investigated.

This McCarthyite technique of "verdict first, trial afterwards" was objected to by the Council. Prof. Hunter especially raised his voice in protest—which prompted a question in the House. "I do not wish to discuss Professor Hunter at this stage," answered Mr. Parr. "The Inquiry will do good. It will show the young teachers of New Zealand—whether they are pupil-teachers or professors—that, at least so long as this Administration remains in office, we shall not permit any teacher to draw public money and be a propagandist for revolutionary socialism."

In self-defence, the College Council' ordered its Chairman to submit a report on the matters the Minister wanted "investigated." His report, which asserted the right of students to run their own clubs "as long as they kept within the law," and made no apology for the fact that students read "banned literature," achieved almost as much publicity as the Minister's original statement. It clinched the argument neatly by a reference to the College's war record as proof of the basic loyalty of its members.

But the smear stuck. And the independent attitudes of students (the real basis of the smear) stuck too—the Debating Society went on to defend Socialism against a visiting Oxford team, and to give a platform to striking railway men when the press had denounced them as (guess what?) "wreckers and saboteurs.'