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Staff Memories - Mary Hulton

As an ex-member of the Faculty/Institute of Education, this occasion is probably the right one to recall the long-drawn-out and fairly traumatic events surrounding the merger of the University with the former City of Coventry College of Education. The College had been founded almost twenty years before (around 1947) and experienced many memorable developments of its own along the way, becoming one of the largest and most successful of its class.

Because of this, Warwick University can claim a history stemming back almost to the second world war and a number of other features (not least its land!) which have contributed an element of distinctive character. I had joined the College staff in 1969 and had been there only a few years when we began to be aware that, nationally, the authorities were set on ending the independence of the teacher training institutions. Their motives were not particularly party political but otherwise unclear. However, it was very clear to us that we were facing a very uncertain future. At least, at Coventry, we had the advantage of knowing Warwick as a friendly and supportive neighbour with whom we already enjoyed good working relations. This could help to give us stability again but, as the saying goes, “the devil was going to be in the detail” and any merger was going to involve long and hefty discussions, followed by negotiations. For several years, at that time, I was a part of these and we began to hope that such a merger could be achieved smoothly, after all the hard work. We were only too aware that, elsewhere, our colleagues in teacher training were not benefiting from helpful attitudes from their L.E.A.’s or local universities.

Perhaps the former, in particular, were nervous of losing – what ? – prestige ? – capital assets ? Like the reasoning behind the whole operation, motives were fuzzy and rumour flourished, feeding on our uncertainty. Joan Browne, then the College’s very distinguished principal, was heard to say that the “loss” that Coventry would sustain was a large amount of interest charge payments incurred on recent buildings. (Only war-time huts had existed in its early days. They lingered on as a rather tattered reminder of the war – so long that I wondered if they would transfer directly from being due for demolition to “listed monument” status.) Whatever the true situation, and perhaps we were naïve, we were still utterly unprepared for a sudden volt-face, very late in the day, on the part of the Authority, and this despite the fact that the great majority of the 140 or so teaching staff desperately wanted the Warwick merger. We did not trust the success of a future working split sites under an entirely inexperienced administration.

The final solution came, not long after, and equally unexpectedly, by the death of the Lord Mayor in his year of office – and a consequent change of political control. As a historian, I remember being rung up by the local paper about historical precedents. We were, indeed, deep in the past. However, the original arrangements were reinstated, the atmosphere of crisis subsided, (once I had spent Christmas Eve in emergency session!) My days of politicking were mercifully ended and we have enjoyed twenty seven grateful years, subsequently.

Mary Hulton,
Faculty (Department of Arts Education – History) and Institute of Education, 1978 -1996.