In 1969, Churchill College made the national press as the first Cambridge men-only college to admit women. While this was indeed a news-worthy decision, it wasn’t the only interesting decision made that year: student representatives were admitted to the College Council and subordinate committees.
However, unlike the admission of women, this time the junior members of Churchill College didn’t lead the way amongst Cambridge colleges. In 1968, the question of student representation was already under discussion at the university-wide Colleges’ Committee. A survey for the committee reveals that both Kings and Clare Hall colleges had student representatives on their college councils, Girton College was trialling it and Darwin College considering it.
The 1968-69 JCR President, Julian Filochowski and Secretary, Edward Libbey, were elected on a manifesto to foster a greater sense of community in the College, with a key objective of ensuring student representation on major college committees. At Churchill College, junior members already had representation on a number of committees, but not on College Council.
The question of junior representation at Churchill College was first raised at College Council on 22nd October 1968. The following week, a JCR motion, which urged “the College to grant undergraduates representation on College Council and other relevant committees” was passed unanimously, 105-0. On 7th November, a formal paper was presented to Council by the MCR Chair and JCR President, requesting for undergraduate and graduate students to be admitted as members of College Council, subject to certain conditions.
The College Council began to investigate and consider the options. A letter from King’s College, presented to Council reveals that their trial had “worked extremely well”. Matters coming before Council had to be explained in greater detail than may otherwise have been the case, the student representatives said relatively little but when they did contribute, it was worth hearing. On 18th November, a paper detailing three options was presented to Council by Major-General J R C Hamilton (the bursar), Dr D E Luscombe and Dr F H McClintock:
- a) junior members could be admitted as members of College Council
- b) College Council could hold some joint meetings with the Central Committee, which already had student representation
- c) junior members could attend College Council regularly by invitation, depending on the business to be discussed.
A sub-committee was formed to discuss these suggestions and in early 1969, it laid its recommendations before Council. Its recommendations fell short of the JCR and MCR request for full student representation as members of Council, instead suggesting:
- a) committees with existing student representation should continue unchanged
- b) certain committees without student representation should gain representation
- c) where a discussion at Council involves a committee that reports to it, the committee’s chair could bring a senior and junior representative with them to Council. Junior representatives could, however, only attend for certain types of business.
The next Council meeting rejected these as too complex and suggested instead that a standing invitation to junior members to participate in Council discussions be extended. The invitation had a number of conditions, of which the main two were that:
- a) the business to be discussed would be divided into reserved and unreserved before the agenda was circulated
- b) junior representatives could only be present for unreserved business.
On 29th January 1969, just four months after the initial request, the Council agreed to a one-year trial of the proposed scheme, which was subsequently continued.
According to the account of the then JCR President, Julian Filochowski, the matter was opposed by the vice-master, Dr Kenneth McQuillen, supported by the senior tutor, Mr Richard (Dick) Tizard and led to tensions within college. While the papers of Dr McQuillen, Mr Tizard and Sir William Hawthorne are preserved in the college archive, no correspondence between them on this subject survives, just committee minutes and papers. Indeed, the only evidence in the Churchill College archive of this state of affairs is a single exchange of letters from November 1968 between the JCR President and the newly-admitted master, Sir William Hawthorne. The JCR President expresses his frustration at the speed and nature of negotiations on the matter, quoting a government minister who had recently urged universities to include students in their governance structures. In response, the Master commends the JCR President’s zeal and expresses his confidence that there is goodwill all round and that a solution for the long-term benefit of the college will be found.
— Hannah James, Records Manager and College Archivist
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