The Daily Mail’s coverage of the Glasgow University Pole Dancing Society reminded me of a Twitter exchange I had with the SRC and its President at the end of 2012.
On the 7th November, Mr. Harrison triumphantly announced to his followers that on behalf of the SRC, and the students of the University of Glasgow, he had signed a UK-wide petition to ban the inclusion of the naked ladies that feature in some of our national newspapers.
In protest, I asked Mr. Harrison for what purpose he had decided to include this stance as part of his mandate as president of our representative council. The response I received from Mr. Harrison, and the SRC’s official account, stated that a council member had brought the motion to a monthly meeting, at which point the decision was made to support the petition. When I asked why there had been no consultation with the students, the official response was: “How are we supposed to contact 27,000 students?”
I think the SRC’s decision to sign the “No More Page 3 Girls” pledge, reveals a number of worrying aspects regarding the organisation’s direction and management. Firstly I find it astonishing that the SRC can take a stance such as this without consulting the students via campus surveys or online polling. Given the SRC’s raison d‘etre is to represent I was baffled at the their sheer indignation at the prospect of having to make an effort to consult.
Moreover though, the SRC continues to bewilder me in its perennial ability to assume a moral superiority in making decisions on behalf of the students. The SRC Council encompasses a vast number of positions that deal with diverse aspects of university life, and in the majority of cases, I am happy to recognise that their decisions are made by virtue of them having been elected. However in my five years at university, I can’t recall having ever voted in an election for the ‘Officer of Moral Conscience’.
Who gave the SRC the right to take a stance stating that Glasgow University does not like half-nudity? Where did the SRC Council obtain the legitimacy to cast a judgement against those that enjoy hanky-panky on the newsstands?
At the first principle, my argument does not concern the debate on Page 3 Girls, rather the decision-making of the SRC. The officers of the SRC are elected to achieve the ambitions set out in their manifestos. Votes to office does not qualify council members to whimsically support issues that may take their fancy on any given day. Nor does it entitle them to embark on tangents that were not part of their original mission statements.
An equivalent example of the SRC breaching its mandate is its position regarding equal marriage. Whilst the SRC is an “equality organisation,” it is not within its scope of governance to take a political stance on such matters. And in not maintaining a neutral position, the organisation has quite rightly endeared itself to criticism. I personally support equal marriage, but find it preposterous that the SRC has used its veil of responsibility as a leverage to commit all of the students of the university.
Indeed, I find it scandalous that Father John was omitted from the 2012 Freshers’ Address due to his signature on the Catholic Church’s petition of opposition to equal marriage. To add insult to injury, the tenacity of the SRC to then claim the reason for Father John’s exclusion was as a result of a lack of space, was as insulting as it was indicative of their lack of spine.
The SRC’s purpose is to represent and better the interests of the students of the University of Glasgow. One of the fundamental reasons this university community opposes the National Union of Students, is because national representation at a lower level does not engender results that bare significance to relevant stakeholders. The demands of student populations are diverse; and we cannot be so naïve as to assume that student communities can be shepherded together. We at Glasgow University elect our SRC president to produce results for the students of Gilmorehill, not so that he can vote on national issues in order to publicly cement his personal views.
In a wider context, what is the issue with Page 3 girls? The feminist society of the university will claim that it discriminates against women; and that the sexualisation of women is both undermining and dangerous to their wellbeing. I believe in some cases, particularly in the pornography industry, this is probably true. Nonetheless, at a local level, at which the SRC is operating, the moral debate regarding Page 3 girls does not, and should not, concern the SRC president in his daily responsibilities.
Rather in my opinion, if Mr. Harrison is concerned about the safety and wellbeing of students at the university, he should spend more of his time concentrating on areas that will foster tangible results. For example better street-lighting in-and-around campus, or increased campus security, as I think it is abhorrent that students find the area surrounding the library and University Gardens threatening after nightfall. The SRC should focus on reducing this perception and risk, by spending more time working with the police and local authorities, and communicating improved measures with the students.
I think in many respects, elected students at the university can conceive in themselves a sense of self-importance that is out of proportion. In my later years of managing the GUU, I recognised this flaw in myself and thus made a conscious effort to ensure that my work was constantly delivering a substantial benefit to the members of the Union. I believe this manifested itself in the work I carried out on The Hive settlement in 2011/12. However it is my opinion that the SRC, as an organisation, has yet to understand its place on campus, principally the manner in which it is perceived in the eyes of the students. This point is particularly evident in the hyperbolic charade regarding Page 3 Girls, not least because as far as I’m aware, a pair of boobs in The Sun has yet to seriously harm anyone at the university.