Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 36, No 11 May 30th, 1973
Uni. Council Dithers Over Black and White Issue
Uni. Council Dithers Over Black and White Issue
The University Council still intends to send a delegation to the Association of Commonwealth Universities' Congress in August, despite a request from NZUSA and the British National Union of Students that the delegation will be withdrawn as a protest against the participation of four South African universities (as observers) and the University of Rhodesia.
The request first came before the April meeting of Council, and was deferred for lack of information However by the time of the May meeting all the extra information Vice -Chancellor Taylor could provide was a news cutting from "The Times" and a letter from the University of Rhodesia, outlining their admission statistics.
Taylor added his own "random Observations": (1) The five universities concerned were "centers of resistance to apartheid (2) the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Rhodesia was reputed to be a good joker, even though Taylor had never met him, (3) all A.C.U. members opposed apartheid; and (4) while the South African and Rhodesian regimes might draw comfort from the invitation to the five universities these universities should not be ostracised. Not surprisingly therefore Taylor recommended that Victoria should not withdraw its delegation from the Congress.
The University council is mainly composed of academics and professional people. Several of its members are leading figures in the world of Commerce and the legal profession. Pretty well every member holds an impressive collection of degrees and distinctions.
The debate on NZUSA's representations about the ACU Congress was as embarrasing reflection on the low level of intellectual training provided by our education system. Council members meandered round like a flock of blind sheep, despite the efforts of a few to bring the debate back to the question of principle involved, i.e. whether the Council supported contact with apartheid states through the ACU. The few students present left bewildered as to how the University keeps operating with a band of largely silver-haired or balding old dodderers guiding its affairs.
Like the proverbial bull in the china shop Chancellor Simpson charged into the debate with a long motion rejecting NZUSA's representations. The rest of the meeting was spent in a confusion of amendments and motions.
On the subject of Rhodesia, Council members made their minds up fairly easily. The Admission Statistics of the University showed, according to Danny Taylor, "that the number of African students has increased both absolutely and proportionately in recent years", and for most Council members that was good enough to approve Rhodesian participation at the Congress. The reasoning behind tins attitude seemed to be that because the University of Rhodesia was admitting more blacks each year it was a resolute opponent of segregation, and should therefore be supported. Supporters of this attitude didn't bother to compare the proportion of black students to whites (about 4:5) to the proportion of blacks to whites throughout the country (about 20:1).
But even the statistics didn't support the pro-Rhodesian argument. Council finally removed all mention of them from its reply to NZUSA after student representative Graeme Collins had pointed out that the number of Africans admitted to all first year courses at the university had actually declined between 1971 and 1972.
The final version of the reply was that Council couldn't see why the University of Rhodesia should be kicked out of the ACU Congress, but was seeking further information on the subject.
Fortunately there was more substantial information available on South Africa. At the start of the debate Simpson gaily informed Council that as far as he knew the four English speaking Universities admitted blacks as well as whites. A few members were a little uncertain about this and Gordon Hewitt rushed off to check up with staff members who had recently returned from South Africa. He reported that the tour universities were in fact segregated and restricted to whiles. Chancellor Simpson hastily apologised for claiming the opposite and withdrew the section of his original motion referring to South Africa.
But Council members were still uncertain. "I know I'm probably wrong but is the information correct?" asked Treasurer Malcolm McCaw.
Finally Graeme Collins stepped in and quoted a United Nations report outlining the relevant South African laws. Attendance at a white university is a punishable offence for blacks although they may be admitted with ministerial approval. Only 3 blacks were admitted to white universities last year.
Having finally got their facts reasonably straight Council moved on to a resolution from Mr Orr urging that a strong protest be made to ACU about the attendance of the South Africans at the Congress. In one of the rare occasions during the debate when a mailer of principle was discussed Orr said that he believed that the existence of segregated universities was "inconsistent with the true notion of a university".
Kevin O'Brien then stepped in to try and stop rampant liberalism from blinding Council about the realities of the world. Although he supported Orr's motion "from an intellectual point of view" he was disturbed that the meeting might be selling a precedent. Would the principle behind Orr's motion be applied to all other Commonwealth universities, he asked. To support his argument O'Brien quickly invented the case of the "University of Timbuktu" refusing admission to non-Bihari Moslems He was unable to find any real case.
Waller Scott amended the motion to urge ACU to withdraw its invitation to the four South African universities, and Council then adopted Orr's motion with the sole dissent of Graeme Collins, who believed it didn't go far enough.
Collins had pointed out earlier that Council had not laced up to the question at slake; whether the university should withdraw its delegates to the ACU Congress as a protest at South African and Rhodesian participation.
Procedurally this presented a problem. The decision to send delegates to the Congress had been made at an earlier Council meeting and so standing orders had to be suspended before it could be recommitted. Everyone seemed keen to debate the question but the vole on suspending Standing Orders had to be supported unanimously, and the sole dissent of Mr. Mills, the representative of the Secondary School Boards defeated it. Before he thundered "No". Mr. Mills had not made a single contribution to the preceding debate and seemed pissed off by the whole thing.
So the June meeting of the Council will now have to decide whether the university will attend the ACU Congress. Concerned students should be assured that the problem at hand is not that Council members support racism (as Danny Taylor said, "I'm as opposed to apartheid as the next man here") but that they are pig ignorant about the subject.
The Council failed to recognise that universities in South Africa and Rhodesia are a very important part of the apartheid structure. While while students are trained to become the future ruling elite Mack students are condemned to studying in interior institutions.
In view of the Council's convenient naievity the Students' Association must ensure that Victoria University plays no part in whitewashing apartheid.