What next for the Kate Kennedy tradition in St Andrews?

March 1, 2012 8:00 am 1 comment

The dust is only just beginning to settle after a frantic week in St Andrews that has left one of the University’s oldest and most controversial student societies, the Kate Kennedy Club, fighting for its life.

The decision by two members of the historically all-male society to leave the Club and form a separate organisation, the Kate Kennedy Fellowship, in protest at the Club’s refusal to admit women, has seen the traditions and practices of the Kate Kennedy Club come under more public scrutiny than ever before.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning last week, former KK members Sunny Moodie and Pat Mathewson held a press conference to announce their split from the Club and the forming of the Fellowship.

“Every student in St Andrews, man or woman, will automatically be considered a member, unless they choose to opt out,” Moodie stated.  The Fellowship announced their intention to take over the operation of the Kate Kennedy Procession and the Opening and May Balls, in effect taking on all of the major responsibilities of the Kate Kennedy Club, at the same conference. It was also announced that the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), the body made up of elected student officials, had held an emergency meeting on Monday evening and passed a motion endorsing the new Fellowship.

Since last Tuesday, the story has developed with startling rapidity. The Principal of the University, Louise Richardson, announced in an email sent to all students on the same day that she was “delighted” to endorse the Fellowship, meaning the new society currently has the University support – something the Kate Kennedy Club has not enjoyed since Richardson withdrew official recognition of the Club upon becoming Principal three years ago, in protest at its refusal to admit women.

University Rector Alistair Moffat followed suit, announcing his support for the Fellowship in a subsequent email. Moffat, a member of the KK during his student days, also resigned his life membership of the Club.

The story has been covered extensively in the national media and a motion was even raised and approved by the Scottish Parliament last week supporting the establishment of the Fellowship.

The Kate Kennedy Club, however, maintain that they intend to continue as a male-only society and insist they will be holding the Procession and the Opening and May Balls as usual. They also state that Moodie and Mathewson never raised their concerns to do with the Club’s admission policy until the decision to form the Fellowship had already been made.

“These gentlemen are entitled to set up a separate organisation if they so wish, and the SRC and the University are allowed to give their support if they so wish, but the Kate Kennedy Club will go ahead in its current format,” the Kate Kennedy Club president told The Saint. “I see a future for the Club for the next however many years,” the Club’s vice-president added, “it’s dealt with many things over its 85 year history and it will continue to go from strength to strength.”

The Club’s fate seems, to a large extent, to rest on the decisions of two obscure bodies, the Kate Kennedy Procession Committee and the Kate Kennedy Trust, which are responsible for officially organising the Procession and for managing the assets of the Procession respectively. These organisations have yet to meet to decide officially on the stance they will take. Were they to withdraw their support of the Kate Kennedy Club in favour of the Fellowship, it is difficult to see how the Club could continue to hold the Procession. This would clearly be a significant blow for the Club, which exists, according to its website, primarily to “preserve the Procession.”

The news of the Fellowship’s establishment broke in dramatic circumstances. During the Kate Kennedy club’s meeting last Monday, rumours began trickling through via texts sent to KK members that the SRC were meeting to endorse a separate Fellowship. In the ensuing confusion, Moodie and Mathewson, who were present at the meeting, announced that they were proposing the admission of women to the Club. By doing so, the pair state, they immediately sacrificed membership of the Kate Kennedy Club, according to the Club’s constitution. “When we left, my words as I walked out the door were ‘I propose female membership to the Kate Kennedy Club,” said Mathewson.

The Club and Fellowship dispute several points – particularly the idea that, by proposing female entry to the Kate Kennedy Club, you are immediately expelled from the institution. “At different stages during our careers in the Club and beforehand, there have been debates regarding female membership,” the KK vice-president stated. The Club maintains that, before the AGM began last Monday, there was an “open forum” on the subject of female membership where “everybody was entitled to express their views.”

Some have questioned why Moodie, who has been a member of the Kate Kennedy Club for over four years – longer than most students are at the University – has only now changed his stance on female membership. In an interview with The Saint, Moodie described the Club as “a very intimidating place if you have a contradiction to the group mentality.” He added that “only after four and a bit years of seeing how the Club operates, seeing Club members in the past try and make change happen and being sidelined,” did he feel comfortable making a stand against the Club’s admission policy.

The issue has proved divisive not only between members of the Club and the Fellowship, but also on the student political scene. Senior Student Association figures, including Association President Patrick O’Hare, are understood to be unhappy with being kept “out of the loop” on the matter by Director of Representation Sam Fowles. Fowles, along with Rector’s Assessor Kate Andrews, has been instrumental in the establishment of the Fellowship and gathering support for it, while other members of the SRC had no knowledge about it before last Monday. The minutes from the SRC’s emergency meeting show O’Hare felt that ‘too much pressure has been put on the SRC to support a motion proposed by so few people,’ and was also “unhappy with the way, [that] as President of the SRC, he had not been kept informed.”

In an interview with The Saint, O’Hare pointedly avoided offering the Fellowship the “110% personal support” that Fowles has put behind it. “I’d send out a slight note of caution, as I think a lot has happened over the last couple of days in a very sudden way and in a rushed way and there are still a lot of details to emerge and to be worked out,” O’Hare said. He also said he was “uncomfortable” with the idea that current Kate Kennedy Club members, if they chose to do so, would be made ‘Fellows’ of the Fellowship, something some see as an extension of the Club’s “elitist” admission criteria.

Fowles, however, was unequivocal in his backing of the Fellowship, and also in his condemnation of the Kate Kennedy Club. “Personally, I reject everything the Kate Kennedy Club stands for. I reject the way they recruit, but I also reject the classist idea that you are defined, in any way, at birth,” he told The Saint. Many students are wondering what will become of the May Ball, one of the biggest student events on the St Andrews’ calendar, which is traditionally organised by the Kate Kennedy Club. Both Club and Fellowship maintain they will be holding the Ball this summer. “There will not be two May Balls, there will be the Kate Kennedy Fellowship May Ball, that’s it,” said Moodie. “We intend to go ahead with the May Ball as promised to our faithful customers,” the Kate Kennedy Club president told The Saint. Adding to the confusion, the Kate Kennedy Club May Ball Facebook page, of which Mathewson, formerly the May Ball convenor, was an admin, was renamed to the ‘Kate Kennedy Fellowship May Ball,’ only to be changed back an hour or so later. The page has subsequently been deleted, and a new Kate Kennedy Club May Ball page set up.

The disagreements, confusion and potential legal disputes thrown up by this split seem unlikely to be resolved in the immediate future. One thing, however, is clear. Whether we like it or not, St Andrews students currently have two KK’s for the price of one.

1 comment

  • Tried to organise drinks reception. Wound up throwing sparsely-attended, Occupy Wall Street-style “constitutional convention” to govern a club that wants to do something (that is already is being done perfectly well). Drinks thin on the ground. Conclusion: there is no way they will be able to pull off a May Ball with two months’ lead time and no committee.

    The effort is cute, but in the end, futile. … while all this will doubtlessly improve the two defectors’ employability prospects upon exit (look! look! my name got into the Telegraph! Next to a photo of Kate Middleton!), all in all, it doesn’t seem to have much utility. In common parlance, useless.

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