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Herald Letter to the Editor – Response to Gavin Tulloch

by on March 18, 2013

Glasgow University Union’s board must take heed of outside opinion

Monday 18 March 2013

GAVIN Tulloch assures us that the Glasgow University Union (GUU) “does not tolerate prejudice, however manifested” (Letters, March 15).

 

The nature of this response raises three questions. Does Mr Tulloch dispute the eye-witness accounts of sexist heckling during the Ancients’ Final? Does he dispute that the lack of action against this behaviour, during the debate, amounts to tolerance of sexism? Or does he believe the comments made towards Ms Meredith and Ms Valles do not comprise prejudice? Perhaps the equality and diversity training he mentions is of even greater necessity than I had thought.

Mr Tulloch promises an independent review of the GUU’s culture. By whom, I wonder? Perhaps by our university’s Rector, Charles Kennedy, who – mysteriously silent on this debacle – is an ex-president of the GUU, and graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1982? Which side of the picket was he on when the union was forced to admit women in 1980?

I’m inclined to welcome the immediate suspension of all single-sex dinners, though this issue is more complex than an all-out ban could handle. What is needed is a more thought-out strategy on how to differentiate between what does and does not constitute prejudice; ideally accompanied by a generous helping of common sense. A coincidentally single-sex dinner is not, in essence, discriminatory. A dinner which explicitly bans a particular sex or gender is. An event which celebrates past discrimination is also inherently discriminatory. I wonder if an extreme parallel could illustrate the problem with the Last All Male Board dinner and other similar traditions. Would the Montgomery Bus Company hold an annual all-white dinner celebrating the last segregated bus? Would that escape criticism?

Mr Tulloch writes that “where change is required, we will change” – an echo of the final line of the GUU’s constitution, Article XVIII, Interpretation, which states that the constitution will apply “mutatis mutandis to ladies”. How archaic that in a document which speaks throughout with male or non-gendered pronouns, the female sex is only added as an afterthought; an empty gesture. And then of course, the semantic pedant in me wants to scream – are women not protected by this constitution? I am not a lady. I hold no title, nor land; I am a woman. Is there no place for me in your constitution, your union?

Mr Tulloch seems to miss the point that for many victims of discrimination, the GUU board is not a viable avenue of complaint. Does he insist that ridicule is nothing to be scared of? Or does he simply toe the line that the board will always investigate and bring to justice those responsible? Does he deny that in some historic reported incidents (let’s not fall into that heinous, defamatory trap of taking a victim’s word), it has been the actions of [ex-] board members which have merited complaint?

The truth is that the incident at the Ancients’ Final – and how the GUU board finds in the disciplinary hearing of those responsible – will be the litmus test of how committed they are to the values reported by Mr Tulloch; of how perceptions of “where change is needed” differ between those accused and those accusing. The verdict of the hearing on March 20 will betray their longer-term intentions.

A wise man once said to me that an institution can work in one of two ways: either it will heed the outside warnings and cast out the stains of ignorance, boorishness, and prejudice, to clean the institution’s reputation; or it will close ranks, whitewash, and protect the guilty parties.

On Wednesday we will discover which of these ways the GUU will choose. I can only hope for the better outcome. And remind Mr Tulloch that the eyes of the nation watch him; and of the proverbial nature of the fury of a woman, scorned.

Gillian Reoch,

Gowrie,

Thorn Drive, Bearsden.

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