The Glasgow University Union, one of the oldest student unions in the UK, has for decades stood strongly at the centre of university life. It has been a place of entertainment, academic prestige and buzzing social events all in equal measure. Since its founding in 1885, the GUU has played an important part in the lives of many students. However, with recent events and changes around the Union, some have spoken of its decline. Has the Union put its best days behind it, or can it recover from this slump?
The current board, with President Gavin Tulloch at its head, has been given the mantel at a most difficult time. The Union that once so effectively combined academia with students’ social life is suffering from a loss in popularity, and, in some circles, even infamy. Freshers’ Week was a disappointment, and the Union has had to watch as a number of its current and potential members flee to Queen Margaret Union. The decline of the GUU has had a variety of causes, but two, in particular, stand out: the first is the series of events surrounding the misogyny scandal in March 2013. The second is the demolition of the Union’s nightclub, Hive, a major source of income.
The GUU has been academically crippled by the misogyny scandal earlier this year. In March, members of the GUU were accused of heckling and making inappropriate sexist remarks about two girls from the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh. The alleged offences made at the Ancients Debate resulted in the disaffiliation of numerous societies, University-wide outcry, and a rally against the GUU. The Union’s failure to react appropriately and immediately only made matters worse.
These events have put the current board in the hopeless position of having to recover the Union’s image. Unfortunately, this appears to have led to paranoia amongst the GUU executive team, who have seriously compromised the Union’s academic events by avoiding anything that has a remote chance of resulting in complication or controversy. Political debates with speakers that have even the slightest potential of being controversial require extra security (a cost that many societies cannot afford), and the filming of such events has been banned. The new board, clearly overwhelmed by the chaos left behind by its predecessors, has resorted to these strict and overwhelming new rules in an attempt to negate any potential bad press. The problem is that the board of management have yet to realize that they cannot forever evade controversy. The GUU would be better off addressing the problems at their source: the tolerance of discrimination within the Union.
On top of these fears, the demolition of the Hive has meant the GUU has lost a serious amount of floor space specifically geared towards student nightlife. Whilst the Union managed to get the University to commit to developing a new space, as well as covered the £375,000 profit shortfall, the GUU must still put up with over an entire academic year without Hive. Student club nights and other social events have had to limit themselves to using the Debates Chamber and other rooms that aren’t designed for clubbing. As a result, reports of this year’s Freshers’ Week have seen students disappointed with the GUU, leaving the Union near empty on nights where the QMU was packed. Though it has had its fair share of critics, Hive had become a cult club on campus, a place where most students could afford a fun night in which they were sure to see many friends. Hive was consistently busy on Thursday nights, and its demolition will put a real dent in the Union’s popularity.
Hive might now be beyond the grasp of the board, but it is not too late to make an actual change within the Union – one that doesn’t require the compromise of its events and their quality. One can hope that the new board make a real difference, though it must be said that little of worth has changed in the first few weeks of the semester. The demolition of Hive and the consequences of the misogyny scandal still loom over a crippled Union, leaving it, for now, as little more than a shadow of its former self.