Bully Pulpit

9

The recent statement by Principal Richardson implicitly issues an ultimatum to each of the Kate Kennedy Club’s members:  Make a public exit from the Kate Kennedy Club on the grounds that it is a stubborn sexist anachronism; or be labeled a bigot by the University and its representatives:  (The Principal and Chancellor, the Rector, and the Student’s Representative Council).

This public declamation essentially amounts to [an attempted] University-sponsored, hostile takeover of a private charitable institution that is unaffiliated with the University.  This ultimatum is replete with a “  ‘grace period’, where members of the old Kate Kennedy Club will be offered Fellowships if they choose to join the new entity”, the replacement Kate Kennedy Fellowship.

I had no problem with Principal Richardson rescinding her endorsement of the Kate Kennedy Club or her endorsement of the Kate Kennedy Fellowship; I support them!  But I believe it is another matter altogether to publicly bash an unaffiliated institution; and implicitly tar its supporters as bigots.

The Principal rescinded University endorsement in 2009: “The University will not… continu[e] its recognition of the Kate Kennedy Club”.  Yet this week the Principal not only chose to recognize; but to publicly target; and to deprecate the club.

Principal Richardson has not only supported the arrival of a new club.  From her bully pulpit, she gratuitously upbraided the (unaffiliated) KK, and publicly (if implicitly) questioned the individual character of Kate Kennedy members who choose to remain.  I find this use of power inappropriate.

Additionally, I have noticed several disturbing trends with the recent commentary.

The first is to needlessly introduce unrelated issues such as race, socioeconomic privilege, and nationality into the debate.

Principal Richardson:  “The official endorsement of any club or society which excludes people because of their gender or race would be completely at odds with the values of this University”

Moody:  “But I hope, I really hope, they wake up, they realize we’re in the 21st century, realize we’re part of a public institution with responsibilities … [to] involv[e]people no matter where you’re from, no matter how much money you have or what gender you are”

In a discourse about sex and gender, I found the allusions to racism, chauvinism, and socioeconomic elitism, (often falsely ascribed to the club) a gratuitous contextualization.

I am also upset that the Kate Kennedy Club has been the sole focus of recent critical efforts.  The obvious lacuna has been a failure to mention a seemingly analogous all-female charity organization:  The Lumsden Club.  Indeed, the first thing the Lumsden Club specifies on its website’s  “Membership” page is that:   “Club members are female students of the University of St Andrews”[2].  In a recent Bubble TV interview, Moody cites a “crucial distinction” between the “public” Kate Kennedy Club and the “private” Lumsden Club, however this difference remains unelaborated and unclear.  Both clubs host public events open to all students as well as the community and both contribute proceeds to charities.

While the Kate Kennedy Club’s membership is exclusive, its events are not.  “Opening Ball” , “the Kate Kennedy Procession” and the “May Ball” are unreservedly open to both town and gown.  This is in direct contrast to popular social events such as Advent Ball and Don’t Walk which remain invite only.

If Principal Richardson’s role now extends to publicly judging the merits of all unaffiliated institutions in St Andrews and ensuring that all students are eligible; where does that end?

Finally, the replacement “Kate Kennedy Fellowship” hardly alleviates many of Principal Richardson’s complaints with the KK.

According to the Director of Representation, Sam Fowles: “The Kate Kennedy Fellowship is now recognized by the University and the Union and the Procession Committee as the guardians of the Kate Kennedy Tradition”[3].  Oddly, this seems to conflict with Principal Richardson’s assertion that “no group has a right to arrogate to themselves the role as sole preserve of the university’s traditions”.  The Fellowship’s policy of automatically making every student a “member” is a clever stratagem (and indeed more satisfying), but I believe the essential tension remains as long as any institution declares a monopoly on University tradition.

With regard to Principal Richardson’s actions, the (Kantian) distinction between public and private becomes essential.  It is one thing to personally disagree with a club’s membership policies (a private matter).  It is one thing to revoke an endorsement (again, a private matter—i.e. occupational obligation).  But by bringing this matter into the public sphere—To issue an ex cathedra ultimatum to a group unaffiliated with the University—to publicly (if implicitly) tar and feather respected student leaders as bigots before the student body and the community at large, seems to me, particularly distasteful.

 

I do not mean to endorse the practices of the Kate Kennedy Club, nor smear the new Kate Kennedy Fellowship, nor comment on the question of female membership (in any club).  I simply mean to argue that the current situation has been handled poorly.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article. This perspective perfectly reflects my feelings on the matter. It certainly seems odd for Principal Richardson to so publicly malign the KK club, regardless of their stance on gender. And frankly it’s inconsistent that she didn’t address the Lumsden club in a similar manner. It sets a a dangerous precedent for future interactions between the University and unaffiliated clubs. After this article, the many opinion pieces on the KK Club that we’ll surely see in this newspaper in the coming days seem redundant.

  2. I see the argument in this well-written viewpoint, however I must say that the Kate Kennedy Club has in many ways dug its own grave. While I have heard many times from Kate Kennedy supporters that members of the KKC are not elitist and come from a variety of backgrounds, it’s very hard to find that out unless you personally know the select few. If you were to ask St Andrews students how they viewed the KKC, I would guess the answer would be along the lines of seeing the KKC as a more upper-class institution that really nobody notices outside its three sponsored events. The thing is when you receive viewpoints like so that you know not to be true, you address it publicly and do some PR, instead of just getting angry when the next student stereotypes members of your organisation. Personally, being involved in university charitable organisations, I have never felt the KKC has been approachable to our causes nor have I expected them to lend their support. They come off as a private-organisation that holds control over three major public events, and in my opinion, if the university needs a private organisation to throw events without interacting with the student body, they should hire a professional company. The KKC may be a private institution, Mr Brooks, but the Club has historically taken on a major public role within our university, one that it defines itself from, and has neglected its duties to interact with our student population. Sexist? I have a hard time with that one considering the popularity of fraternities and sororities back in the states. However, neglectful of their duties as an organisation in the public eye? Yes, I would have to agree.

  3. Dr Richardson is starting to make a mockery of herself in regards to her stance on gender rights, and as an life member I take personal offence to her request for members of the KKC to disband. It is natural for single-sex groups to exist, and clubs are fully entitled to stay private. Claims that the Club is stuck-up and classist are unfounded, as it offers much better representation of the student demographic than many other more elitist clubs that exist currently within the student fraterntiy (no pun intended). Where does the Principle draw the line, why does she not attack these other St Andrews institutions as well?

    The Club was bestowed the honour and responsibility of maintaining the tradition of the procession by a member of the Kennedy family itself (over 80 years ago), so what right does the present generation of university officers to complain? I think the university and town should show more gratitude to the Club for so successfully resurrecting and organising such grandiose events year on year, the May Ball was a KK Club creation too! Without the unwavering hard work of club members the Procession simply wouldn’t exist.

    Maybe it is time for the Principle to host an open discussion with the KK Club and its members.

  4. As the parent of a current student I find it remarkable that the Principal would choose to expend so much time and energy on this issue. There are so many other areas that require greater attention; the deplorable state of the library, the substandard athletic facilities and the endowment, to name but three. Incidentally my guess is that KKC alumni have been disproportionately generous to the university over the years. I suggest the Principal spend her time on more significant matters.

  5. Glad someone has drawn attention to all the flak directed at the KK about the supposed wealth and social position of their members. It would seem that the tired stereotype of them as being spoiled, feckless public schoolboys is still doing the rounds. It was prevalent before this furore arose last week and it has been referenced frequently in both articles and comments since then as Mr Brooks has noted.

    It is a ludicrous accusation to level at the KK. Firstly because every single Bejant is invited to apply for membership. True, it might appeal more to the public schoolboy type but if people don’t bother to apply and have a go then they can hardly be expected to go chasing after every honest-working-class-salt-of-the-earth type simply in the interests of diversity.

    Secondly, all these KK boys have to work together on these projects and will probably seek to recruit people with similar interests, opinions and backgrounds simply because this will make things easier when they’re all hungover and have to work together cleaning up early in the morning after the May Ball or the Raisin Monday Foam Fight (incidentally the latter event would have died out had the KK not stepped up and offered to do the cleaning duties – but in their eagerness to put the boot into the KK, most commentators seems to ignore this). All clubs in the university, whether for sports/hobbies/interests, will attract similar types of people each year, that is just the way things are. The rugby club will inevitably attract beefy, beer-swilling rugby types and rock-soc will attract pallid, long-haired goth types…etc…etc… Yet it seems only the KK are legitimate targets for not having a more diverse intake.

    As for the stereotype itself – well, surely the fact that they manage to organise the Opening Ball, May Ball, Pantomime, Gaudie, Procession, KK Sixes, KK Silver Arrow competition, Raisin Monday Quad clean-up and do other unspecified charity work as well as completing their studies and socialising like any other student, speaks against the likelihood of them being especially feckless.

    And spoiled? It’s not for me to say as that is definitely a pretty subjective term. I would suspect that having money and privilege and being sent to a public school neither increases nor decreases your potential for being an arse or a decent guy. Just as having neither and being sent to a state school could equally well make you into an arse or perfectly nice person…

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