NOW that the final nail has almost certainly been driven into the coffin of De La Salle College, Hopwood Hall, the breakdown of the merger negotiations between Hopwood and the Liverpool Institute (Catholic Herald, February 21) certainly makes interesting background reading.
The story goes back to March 1985, when negotiations were under way with first Salford College of Technology, and later Bolton Institute of Nigher Education.
The Trustees of Hopwood, the De La Salle Order pulled out of these merger negotiations — the legal problems surrounding the voluntary status of Hopwood and the maintainedsector status of both Salford and Bolton were too great.
This was in aCcordance with the wish of the hierarchy to keep Hopwood as a "Catholic" College.
During April and May 1985, initial approaches were made to Liverpool Institute and a very rough framework for a merger was put together for presentation to the National Advisory Body, the commission which advises the Secretary of State about higher education matters. In September 1985, the NAB Board rejected the principle of the Liverpool merger, and recommended the closure of Hopwood.
After a fight and the visit to the College of Peter Brooke MP, then Minister for Higher Education, Sir Keith Joseph decided to allow the college a further intake for this coming September, and until March 31 to work out a full merger package.
Full negotiations began, and such was the desire of Liverpool to make progress that they were apparently "willing to cancel Christmas Day" to make time for the negotiations.
On January 7, there was a meeting, at Liverpool, between representatives of the Liverpool Governors and Br Wilfrid, DLS Principal and the four DLS Deans of Faculties. The following day, there was a meeting between the Liverpool governors and the Hopwood trustees, who were represented by Brs Thomas, Wilfrid, Terence and Damian. An administrative package was discussed.
On January 22, the Provincial Council of the DLS Order met to discuss this meeting. It decided that the Order could not finance or accept the merger
package discussed on January 8. On January 29, Br Joseph Hendron, Provincial, notified Archbishop Worlock of this decision.
Nearly a month later, there was an article in the Catholic Herald about the breakdown of negotiations ("De La Salle Faces Closure after Talks Collapse").
The same evening, an article in the Manchester Evening News reported the decision.
The article in the Evening News, the source of which, after investigation, was found to be "the college", was thought by many to lay the blame for the breakdown of negotiations quite firmly at Liverpool's door.
This is entirely wrong. The only reason the merger negotiations foundered was because there was a lack of commitment on the part of the Hopwood trustees.
Over the last few years, and in particular over the last few months, staff and students at the college have had nothing but misinformation and evasion about the merger negotiations. We at the College believe the beginning of the troubles about DLS was in either May 1981 or 1982 when, it is thought, a primary post graduate certificate of education teacher training place return of nil was sent to the DES, thereby inviting closure of our teacher training places, and ultimately, complete closure of the college.
Despite repeated assurances that we would be kept fully informed of the situation (said to every new intake of students since 1983 on their first day in college), quite the reverse was the case.
Things begin to look ominous in a college when its closure is virtually announced and the authorities begin redecorating and refurbishing buildings and accommodation. Although it was stated that no thought had yet been given to the future of the Manchester site if De La Salle closed down, it was quite evident to those of us "on the inside" that preparations were already being made for the sale of the College.
It strikes us that the De La Salle Order's interest in the college is not educational, but financial. They have declared their intention of withdrawing from the college. If their intentions were educational, they would pull out now, transferring the trusteeship to the Catholic Education Council with the minimum of fuss.