POLITICAL SITUATIONS: AFTER RODNEY :- THE POLITICS OF STUDENT PROTEST IN JAMAICA

This might eventually have taken place, but the Vice-Chancellor and the reactionary forces outside the campus were quick to sense the new challenge that the students now posed. By coming to speak to the students in Mary Seocole Hall that very Sunday evening the Vice-Chancellor showed recognition of the political importance of the student body: the tone of his address was in all probability deliberately designed to dampen the students’ fire, More specifically, he banned all meetings on the campus not held by the formal University bodies, and publicly rebuked the activities of the Free University Press. He thus attacked those very activities which had grown up sine Wednesdays demonstration as effective means of continuing the protest. The final stage of the new counterrevolution was being prepared.

Why did Sunday’s reaction come from within, rather than from outside the University? Because, objectively, the University Administration was acting on behalf of the Government and the Gleaner establishment.

It was almost possible to see the shadow of fixed bayonets and tear gas canisters over the shoulder of Sherlock. On Monday morning it became clear that the Gleaner in particular was deeply concerned over the continuing life of the student protest. The newspaper brought back the affair to its front page as the lead story, it skilfully gave the impression that radicals from outside the University were inciting the students not to resume to classes. It was suggested that the chief opposition to resumption of classes came from Eastern Caribbean students, who were, in effect preventing the Jamaican students from getting back to work. It spoke of “revolutionary pamphlets” being circulated by the students and reported that the general trend of the students thinking was for a continuation of demonstrations. Both reports were absolutely incorrect but clearly designed to give the impression that a renewed subversion of Jamaica by non-Jamaicans was about to take place. The Gleaner gave a new charge of tension to the atmosphere by stating that the matter would be discussed at a Cabinet Meeting that morning and that the Prime Minister would yet again broadcast to the nation on the following day. The clear implication was that new action against the University or its members was being planned.

The Vice-Chancellor then acted in what could be best described as a state of panic.

During the morning the staff-student policy committee had reached a rare consensus on the conditions for a resumption of classes. When the Vice-Chancellor addressed the entire University in the afternoon he did so against the back-ground of ferment and dialogue on the question of the timing and conditions of the return of “normalcy”. Certainly, a reasoned and reasonable case could have been made for resuming teaching on Wednesday. The grounds would have been that this would remove any immediate excuse for the Government to further intervene, and make it possible for the University to set about the  important task of informing the public without remaining in a state of what was interpreted as confrontation with the Government. Had the Vice-Chancellor made such a case and allowed the staff and students to discuss it, there is a very good chance that consensus would have been reached, in a manner befitting a University and in spirit of new and valuable accord between staff, students and administration.