28 January 2019

Regent's Revolution?

Autumn 1968

By Development and Alumni Relations Team

Written by Bruce Watson (former Bedford College staff)

Whistling my going-to-work tune (the Sarabande of J.S.Bach’s unaccompanied Suite for Violoncello Nr.6, since you ask), as I cross the water into College, I rejoice, as I did every day I entered Bedford, that I had been fortunate enough to secure employment on this lovely campus.

Today there was a pronounced buzz in College. ‘There’s a sit-in in the Registry’, ‘the students are revolting’. This latter double entendre gained currency in the following weeks. Personally I have always found it a privilege to work with the intelligent young.

Being both curious and an empiricist I decided to go up to the Registry and see for myself. The offices were largely empty, the staff having fled to other accommodation. The students sitting in were pleasant and were not doing damage; they were simply THERE. When coffee time beckoned they all started to troop out until a voice rang out: ‘someone stay behind to maintain the occupation’. Ah, pure metaphysics, I thought.

The College clearly did not know what to do. A meeting of the Senior Common Room was called which was besieged by the students. A heated discussion ensued; eventually a group of militants was allowed in.

A lively but inconclusive discussion followed. In the end it was decided to refer the matter to the Joint Faculties, that excellent forum composed of the entire academic staff, which elected a small group, including myself, to negotiate with the students. A series of meetings between staff and students followed culminating in a number of general assemblies of all staff and students (which the wits inevitably labelled as GASS). What the revolutionary students wanted was to be heard, to make life a little more open and responsive in their departments. The General Assemblies eventually hit the Christmas vacation and by January the ‘revolution’ had petered out.

The final balance sheet of the Bedford events? Very little damage was done and there were no injuries. On the positive side, it was not long before departmental boards and rotating headships of departments were introduced and staff/student committees were set up in every department. Nationally this movement for change found a voice in the campaign for Academic Freedom and Democracy. Our student militants were in some respects ahead to their times and the times, they were a-changing as Bob Dylan knew.

Note: I have compiled this memoir entirely from memory and took neither notes nor photographs in 1968. If I have mis-remembered anything or offended anyone I hope I will be forgiven.

If any Bedford alumni have any photos or written notes from this time, please get in touch with the Alumni Relations Team.