20 Jul 2011

Dr Jon Snow returns from Liverpool University

Sometimes things happen when you’re young that some time later in life you find yourself revisiting.

I am just returned from Liverpool University, where I was a student in the late 1960s but where, in 1970, I came to grief.

I had gone there fresh from volunteering in Africa, full of a desire for racial equality and human rights. We all got caught up in what were, in the fullest sense of the world, revolting times.

Our cause was that of persuading the university to disinvest from companies trading in apartheid South Africa. As a sidebar, we determined to get rid of the then chancellor, Lord Salisbury, who was an outspoken supporter of Rhodesia’s illegal declaration of independence.

It all ended in tears. A determination by both sides not to negotiate led to a six-week-long sit-in by many hundreds of students. The outcome was that 10 of us who had elected positions on the student body were sent down.

To this day, I have not had a degree. I was studying law. Academe had not been an easy path for me, but my studies were going well. Whilst in some ways eviction served me well in that I didn’t become a fifth-rate lawyer, in other ways it left me questioning whether I would ever have got the degree.

And, of course, I have lived and worked in an environment in which everyone else in the workplace has a degree.

But today Liverpool University and I buried the hatchet. There I was, on the degree stage with the vice-chancellor, the chief constable, the lord lieutenant, and the wonderful new chancellor, Professor Sir David King. How lucky! For he himself, born a South African, was expelled from the country in the midst of his PhD in 1963.

I had the honour of hearing the pro vice-chancellor read out a eulogy about me – or rather, about a man I didn’t really seem to recognise, some character who reported for Channel 4.

There was a fantastic batch of students who’d got real degrees and toiled for them and got into debt for them. It was a great atmosphere. And a strange thing, to be amongst the office-holders who had got rid of me, but who now, populated by different humans, embraced me.

From henceforth, no more “Mr” Snow. I am Dr Snow, honorary Doctor of Laws (Liverpool University). Coming back on the train, I had relished the experience. But Somalia beckoned, the Murdoch mayhem beckoned. Another day, another dollar.

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