Universities are an important part of modern society. The Education Act of 1989 defines them as being the “critic and conscience of society”. In practice the record has been patchy at best. Students (and staff) have historically joined in repressive actions against striking wharfies in 1913, deputised and moblised to put down peaceful marches by unemployed workers during the depression.
In the documentary 1951 author Kevin Ireland recalls calling a Student Representative Council meeting to make a stand against the draconian laws passed to smash the locked out watersiders in 1951 and finding his progressive motions drowned out 10-1 by conservative students, bent on supporting the authoritarian actions of the state. Future Prime Minister and editor of the Victoria University student newspaper Salient described the (relative) progressive freedoms in place for women at the university in the mid-60’s as corrupting, stating that “If she does this [get involved in politics] she will never become a lady” as well as becoming losing their apparent “femininity”. Michael Laws first came to prominence at Otago University as a leading supporter of the Springbok Tour, with surveys at both Otago and Victoria Universities indicating a rough 50/50 split in opinion for and against the tour. Even during the ‘golden years’ (roughly the 1960’s-80’s) the role of the university was to pump out industry friendly graduates. Every freedom gained, was gained through struggle. Some of the early protests in the 60’s at Victoria University were over the right for students to have the ability to live in mixed gendered flats. Read the rest of this entry »