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The Principal rescinded University endorsement in 2009: “The University will not… continu[e] its recognition of the Kate Kennedy Club”.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”. 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”. 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.