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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 9. 1966.

Student protest at Hon LL.D brings criticism

Student protest at Hon LL.D brings criticism

About 20 Students conducted a passive demonstration outside the Victoria University library on the day it was "opened", Tuesday, July 5th—(after 16 months' use).

The Purpose of the demonstration was to protest the award of an honorary Doctorate of Law to the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. K. J. Holyoake. It followed the passing of a motion objecting to the award, by 57 votes to 10, at the Victoria students' association AGM last month.

Keith Holyoake

Student protest

At the same ceremony an honorary Doctorate of Literature was awarded to Mr. Harold Miller, former Victoria librarian. As Mr. Miller entered the building the demonstrating students rose to congratulate him.

However, they resumed their sitting positions on the concrete parapet when Mr. Holyoake followed, and all but one ignored his greeting of "Good morning, boys." The demonstrators stared down fixedly at the books they were holding. The Prime Minister turned away and entered the building muttering about the unpleasantness of the weather.

Fire alarm

This was not the only expression of student dissatisfaction. During the ceremony itself, to which only one student was invited (association president John McGrath), the building fire alarm began to ring. Minutes later the sound of two fire engines racing up the hill from the city could be heard.

In spite of an assurance that the alarm was a false one, firemen searched each floor of the building. A student who claimed to have released the alarm later expressed regret through the Evening Post that it had rung during the presentation of Mr. Miller's degree. The ceremony had continued without interruption.

The students responsible for the protest issued a statement to the press setting out their reasons for their action.

They objected to the award because of its political implications and inappropriate timing, because the grounds on which the award was made did not merit academic distinction, and because of the university's apparent unwillingness to publicise the decision to grant it.

Not intended

The demonstrators also listed the grounds on which their protest was not made. It was not intended as a personal insult to Mr. Holyoake or his qualifications, it was not intended as a discourtesy to Mr. Miller, it was not a display of political partisanship, nor was it a failure to express their gratitude for the library facilities.

They categorically stated that they did not wish to discredit the university by their conduct.

However, discredit did fall, in large measure. Both Wellington dailies issued damning editorials and wrote up the incidents as an attempt to humiliate the Prime Minister.

Private statement

A private statement alleging that Mr. Holyoake is a war criminal in terms of the Nuremburg decisions was printed alongside the protesters' "official" statement.

Alarmed by the outburst, the misconstructions and the "dear-sir-I-am-appalled" letters to the editor which followed, student association president John McGrath apologised for the bell-ringing and dissociated the association from the "war criminal" statement. McGrath said the association did not condone the third demonstration, but considered that the students involved had a right to make it.

Two of the demonstrators also wrote to the local dailies and apologised, "in so far as their protest was taken to be insulting." They reiterated the grounds on which the demonstration was not made, contained in their original statement but not printed by the papers.

Letters—see page 10 for student views.