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A reminiscence from Maurice Wilford, former faculty member

It is now nearly 24 years since I departed from the University and I have not devoted much time to thinking about it since then until your recent letter arrived. Instead of "a blast from the past" [1] a better title might have been a "chilly wind".

Initially the University was strongly influenced by Oxbridge traditions. Soon after arriving at the University in 1962 I quickly became involved in student affairs by being contacted by Maurice Hutt (historian) who was Senior Proctor. He was looking for someone to become a Proctor. At that time the age of majority was 21 years and the University took its role (in loco parentis) very seriously. In fact, the age of majority was not reduced to 18 years until 1970. There were many rules and regulations which were enforced by the Proctors and a set of Student Disciplinary Officers. The proctors had powers to fine students (up to £10) for breaches of regulations. For example, students needed to get an 'Exeat Form' signed by their Personal Tutor for permission to be away from their place of residence after 11 pm (or it might have been 12 pm) and first year students were required to wear gowns to attend the examinations (called 'collections') at the end of the first two terms. I remember we fined students who refused to wear gowns to their examinations and during one summer term a number of students were 'rusticated' for having visitors in their rooms overnight (such serious breaches of regulations had to be referred to the Vice-Chancellor).

The 60's were a time of considerable social change and moral attitudes were changing. Many regulations were changed or abandoned. I was involved in such activities until about 1965 at which time I had become Senior Proctor. I think Michael Richards (physics) had become Proctor by that time. Also during my first year Bernard Scott (Professor of Mathematics) had encouraged me to become more involved in mathematics and this had a considerable influence on my interests then and later. 

 I was Sub-Dean for about 15 years. This involved seeing many students with difficulties many of whom were quite disturbed individuals. Dealing with disturbed students proved rather stressful. At the time the doctors at the Health Centre were very much involved with psychotherapy. The doctors (and a nurse) at the Health Centre were taking courses in Group Analytic Psychotherapy at the Institute of Group Analysis in London. My doctor suggested that I should join them in order to build-up better defence mechanisms when dealing with disturbed students. The University provided the funds to enable me to undertake training for one afternoon a week attending courses at the Institute of Group Analysis over a period of three years. At the end of that period I was elected an Associate Member of the Group Analytic Society. Such training involves considerable personal re-evaluation. On reflection I think the changes enabled me to take the opportunity to retire early on favourable terms when this arose and whilst I was at an age when it might be possible to adapt to a different style of life. I had already seen many people who had become identified with their work and quickly deteriorated after retirement. It had also become apparent at that time that physics and maths were in decline and would be facing considerable problems. I think this has been adequately confirmed by subsequent events. I certainly have no regrets about leaving although rather sad about the way university education has changed.

My initial recollections have little to do with physics and I am not sure that anything I might contribute would be of much interest to the history of physics at Sussex. I shall, however, continue to consider the possibility of finding something to write about.

I regularly meet Robin Dyer (retired mathematician who joined the maths department at the beginning of 1963) and am in regular contact with Michael Ford-Smith (retired chemist). I used to see Malcolm Topping (retired chemist) from time to time, but I believe he is now suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Apart from that I have rarely seen any ex-colleagues around in Brighton. I seem to recollect meeting Robert Smith at the David Lloyd Health Club some time ago. During the last year or so I also caught sight of Barton looking like a demented alien rushing along Western Road seeking shelter from modern existence. I can well imagine him appearing regularly at the University like some kind of earth-bound spectre haunting a crumbling previously familiar environment.

I have had little contact with the University since leaving and have made no particular attempts to follow recent progress in physics. A lot of my time is devoted to photography (the introduction of digital cameras has completely changed photography over the last ten years), trying to keep up with developments in technology and playing on my Apple computers (iMac, MacBook, iPhone, iPod, iPad, .....).

  1. Maurice is referring to the subject of the letter he was sent that invited this reminiscence.