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Establishing the University - 1960s

Service of Dedication - 1965
Service of Dedication - 1965

The idea of a University

The concept of a university in Coventry was first raised in the middle of the second world war, gaining some further momentum in the late 40s and early 50s. However, it was not until the late 1950s that both the local and the national climate proved favourable to such a project. This was a time of rebuilding and rejuvenation for the city of Coventry, and of growing confidence. At a national level, the government was actively reviewing university provision in the UK and concluding that new universities needed to be created. In 1960, the University Promotion Committee was established in Coventry under the chairmanship of Lord Rootes, Head of the Rootes Group, with members from both Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council. This imaginative partnership of city and county resulted in an active campaign to bring a university to the region, during which the two authorities jointly donated a 400 acre site based around the Gibbet Hill Road. In 1961, the establishment of the University of Warwick received government approval - the name had been suggested by the then Bishop of Coventry, Dr Cuthbert Bardsley.

Jack Butterworth - the first Vice-Chancellor

In 1963, the first Vice-Chancellor was appointed - Jack (later Lord) Butterworth, then Fellow and Bursar of New College Oxford. He immediately set about organising the University's academic and financial foundations. Working closely with Lord Rootes (now the University's Chancellor Designate), he launched Warwick's Foundation Appeal in 1964. By 1968, the Fund stood at £2.857 million - around £30.5 million at 2004 prices, more than the amount raised by any of the other new 1960s' universities. For his academic staff, he handpicked outstanding scholars, such as Christopher Zeeman in Mathematics, and allowed them to create and shape their own departments; from this has developed Warwick's distinctive academic structure, based around strong and independent departments and a proactive administration with a relatively weak faculty structure between the two. Ten Founding Professors were appointed, and in 1964 the University admitted a small number of graduate students - mathematicians and engineers. Meanwhile, building started on the green field site that had very recently been farmland.

The Long Walk
The Long Walk

The first students

In October 1965, the first undergraduates were admitted - an initial intake of 340 plus 96 graduate students. A group of buildings on the Gibbet Hill site was now complete, providing accommodation for the academic departments, two lecture theatres, a restaurant, a common room and the Library which had already acquired around 45,000 books. The next few years were marked by intensive building work on central campus: the long muddy walk between the Library and Rootes Social Building is firmly entrenched in the minds of all Warwick's first graduates. By 1970, the Library, the Science and Arts Buildings, Benefactors and Rootes Residences and Social Building were all complete, and Bernard Schottlander's iconographic sculpture installed in 'Red Square'.

In the first year of its life as a fully fledged University, Warwick offered 18 undergraduate degree courses in Arts, Social Studies and Sciences. Several of these were 'joint' degree programmes such as Philosophy and Politics, for there was an interdisciplinary focus from the very beginning. Subjects were presented in a very 'different' way. Economics, for example, was firmly focussed on analysis and quantitative techniques - by no means usual in British universities at that time; History included periods of study in the USA and Italy; Chemistry and Biology were taught in the School of Molecular Sciences rather than in separate departments. There was also, for the first few years, a compulsory course for all undergraduates entitled 'Enquiry and Criticism' which professors in the various disciplines took turns to teach. There was a strong focus on research, which the Vice-Chancellor believed was essential to good teaching, leading to the early establishment of specialist research centres such as the Centre for Industrial Economics and Business Research.

The First Degree Ceremony - 1968, Coventry Cathedral
The First Degree Ceremony -
1968, Coventry Cathedral

In 1966 the University received its armorial bearings containing, appropriately, the symbols of both Coventry and Warwickshire - the elephant and castle, and the bear and ragged staff. In July 1967, Lord Radcliffe was installed as the University's first Chancellor (Lord Rootes had died in 1964) at a service in Coventry cathedral. The following July, he presided over Warwick's first degree ceremony, also held in Coventry Cathedral, where Yedhudi Menuhin was awarded an honorary degree, and played to the congregation. In 1970, the University made its mark nationally when the Warwick team won the 'University Challenge' competition, and the Queen paid a formal visit to the campus.