While current Sussex students enjoyed their long summer break and freshers nervously awaited their all important results, the University of Sussex was alive with celebrations of the 50th anniversary of being granted its Royal Charter.
A weekend-long celebration, from 9 to 11 August, brought together 2,500 former and current students and staff, for a wide variety of events, from talks to showcases of new and old talents, and reminiscing over the last fifty years.
The anniversary date, August 16, also kicked off 12 months of special events and activities to celebrate 50 years of the University of Sussex and recognise its past.
The University of Sussex began as an idea not only to bring a university to the people of Brighton, but to expand opportunities in higher education for all.
Sussex stands as one of the first ‘plate glass’ universities, formed in the 1960s in an attempt to break down social and economic barriers, whilst creating and sharing knowledge at the cutting edge of disciplines, and applying this to real-world thinking.
Sussex’s first Vice Chancellor, Lord Fulton, described Sussex as “making the future”, and Sussex has continually been a place not only of education, but social politics, protest and change.
Sussex has always been a laboratory for challenging ideas and for forceful action, committed to internationalism, interdisciplinary studies, and always looking towards the future.
The anniversary of the university was marked by an extensive programme of events, designed to merge together the new and old, and celebrate every step of the University of Sussex’s story, allowing a nostalgic visit for Sussex’s alumni.
Despite the rain on Saturday, guests were able to enjoy boundary tours and a wander around campus, visiting old haunts and seeing for themselves the huge structural changes since Sir Basil Spence’s original few buildings.
These included the brand new Northfields accommodation, and plans for the refurbishment of the Gardner Arts Centre, in honour of the anniversary.
Guests were able to visit the Students’ Union’s own interactive exhibition in Falmer House (now relocated to the common room for current students, staff and visitors to view) to draw parallels between student activity over the past five decades, in an attempt to understand what the Sussex experience is really about.
On Saturday 10 September, guests were able to meet for lunch with old departmental friends, take part in a variety of sports from football to ultimate frisbee, and watch the 50th anniversary documentary film, produced by alumna Mary McMurray, class of 1967, (whose credits include ‘Coronation Street’ and the ‘Ruth Rendell Mysteries’).
Evening entertainment began with a reception hosted by Michael Farthing, Vice Chancellor, bringing together guests to toast to the past and future of the University of Sussex. Unfortunately the event was somewhat marred for some attendees by a comment made by Michael Farthing.
The Vice Chancellor said: “Harveys have their Anniversary Ale and I understand there’s quite a generous allocation for all of us who are here this evening, providing the women don’t drink too much.”
Some guests who attended the event were shocked by his comment, believing Farthing to mean that the women were only at the anniversary celebrations as an accompaniment to their husbands.
Jess Bayliss, a representative from the LGBTQ committee and a member of the Women’s Group said: “I was both shocked and appalled to hear Mr Farthing make this joke when I was at the champagne reception photographing the 50th anniversary proceedings.
“He is obviously a very high-ranking official within the university and it is extremely inappropriate for him to have said such a thing.
“I felt that the comment insinuated that women should only have been there for decoration, accompanying their husbands, and had no right to be there in their own capacity. His comment suggests that he expects women to be held to a higher standard than men, and that drinking alcohol is a pursuit that should be reserved for men.
“People are sacked nowadays for making these kind of comments and I think that Mr Farthing owes it to the campus community to conduct himself a bit more respectfully: women students and staff members deserve better.”
The Vice-Chancellor was however concerned to hear that someone might have misunderstood and been offended by his remark. He said: “At one of the many speeches I made over the whole 50th anniversary weekend, I thanked Harveys of Lewes for the generous gift of special ale they had brewed for everyone at our celebrations and made a comment suggesting that the women present might drink more of it than the men.
“While expressed in a light manner, what I actually had in mind was the quite significant and well-documented change in drinking habits over recent years.
“I certainly did not intend to offend anybody and I am sorry if I did.”
When told that Mr Farthing claimed he was referring to the population’s drinking habits, and the fact that the amount of alcohol drank by women in recent years has increased significantly, Jess replied: “So it still implies that women should be held to a higher standard then men.
“It is sexist whichever way you look at it, and not remotely amusing. I am very disappointed that the university’s Vice-Chancellor reduced himself to using this kind of language.”
Events continued throughout the evening as the University of Sussex Big Band warmed up people and live DJ sets in Falmer Back Bar (formally known by many alumni as the Hot- house or the Cube) allowed guests to celebrate into the small hours.
Sussex welcomed back Alumnus, composer and musician John Altman, who brought Pink Floyd and The Who to Sussex in the 60s and 70s, as well as sixties Sussex legends, The Baskervilles, who reformed for a special anniversary gig.
The next morning, Sussex awoke to a multi-faith service of thanksgiving for Sussex and its history, while specially acknowledging the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
The afternoon was spent at the brand new £105 million pound AMEX Community Stadium, beginning with tours of the structure, and ending with a match between
Sussex Alumni and Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. The University of Sussex were victorious, winning 2-1, matching the score line achieved by Sussex Alumni at the 25th anniversary celebrations at Goldstone in 1986.
Twitter was alive with congratulatory tweets for Sussex’s 50th anniversary. Sussex alumnus, Martin tweeted afterwards that he thought “the #sussexuni50 Birthday Bash has been a great success! Lots to eat, drink & do – and plenty of old friends to do it with.”
However, the celebrations are not over and continue for the next 12 months, with lectures and exhibitions on both the history and future of Sussex.
A series of ‘Sussex Conversation’ panel discussions have been designed to resonate with the university’s six major research themes. The events run from October 2011- May 2012, on topics from citizenship and democratisation to the environment and health.
An exhibition on Sir Basil Spence’s architecture allows students, staff and visitors to discover his vision for the campus, while ‘To The Common Room’ explores the Sussex experience, past and present.