The independent inquiry looking at the prevalent culture of Glasgow University Union (GUU) has highlighted the possibility of criminal behaviour taking place on the premises, suggested that sexual behaviour had become “normalised” and labelled the Union “out of date.”
Following the public outcry after allegations of sexist heckling at the GUU’s Ancients debate in March, an independent inquiry was set up to investigate the culture of the GUU and report back with recommendations. The victims of the alleged misogyny, Rebecca Meredith and Marlena Valles, claimed that they were told at the time, “that’s just how it is here.” The Commission was led by Sandra White MSP, law professor Noreen Burrows and former GUU Board member Dr Roddy Neilson. The report was published on Monday 25 November.
The inquiry team looked at comments posted on social media in the weeks following the Ancients debate and noted that many of these comments “pointed to possible criminal behaviour with sexual assaults being carried out in the form of groping, touching or forcing sexual advances.”
The report went on to say: “Such sexualised behaviour from some student members had become normalised with some of the female students accepting the behaviour as part of their membership of GUU.” The complaints posted about the GUU on social media were also said to have created “an intimidating, uncomfortable or unwelcoming atmosphere”.
One of the other key issues that the inquiry investigated was that of same-sex dinners, which were indefinitely suspended in March after the Ancients debate. The topic is particularly relevant after the Glasgow Guardian revealed that the Last All Male Board (LAMB) dinner would return to the Union at the end of November. There was huge criticism of that decision on and off campus, with the venue subsequently changed. An anti-LAMB protest party was also held on the night of the dinner, organised by the Glasgow University Feminist Society.
The report, however, supported the idea of same sex dinners, saying: “We do not believe that there is anything in principle to prohibit or condemn such dinners.”
It went on to acknowledge, though, that sexist behaviour had been behind some of the same-sex dinners held at the Union, stating: “However, in practice, there is a perception among some people that some same-sex dinners have been held to allow male and female members of the GUU to express their misogynistic views on eligibility for membership of GUU.”
The report recommended that same-sex dinners should be permitted, “provided that the purpose of the dinner complies with the objects of the Union.” The issue of harassment of staff at some same-sex dinners was also addressed in the report with a recommendation that staff be made aware of their rights not to be subject to harassment or abuse and that security staff should have the right to remove any participants seen to be harassing staff.
The GUU Board of Management passed the above recommendations regarding same-sex dinners and intends to pass a code of discipline, complaints procedures, equality and diversity policy and harassment policy which will be presented in a single document to any party booking the premises for a dinner or other event.
As well as reviewing the issue of same-sex dinners, the inquiry team was asked to look at other parts of the GUU’s constitution for any concerns relating to equality and diversity. In addition to this, the team also offered recommendations on the constitution that did not fall into this category. It noted: “Although we were not asked to comment on matters outside the area of equal opportunities we would take this opportunity to mention that the constitution is out of date in a number of respects … The opportunity to look again at the constitution might afford the GUU the opportunity to revisit and modernise the constitution as a whole.”
The constitution was said to be out of date with regard to: changes to the structure of the academic year; changes to Glasgow University governance; the demolition of the GUU’s Extension; the shift from matriculation to registration of students; and the modernisation of communications and entertainment.
The GUU Board of Management accepted the report’s criticism that the constitution was out of date and, in response, has set up a sub-committee of Board members charged with the task of reviewing the constitution. The sub-committee will consider all the recommendations of the inquiry team’s report as well as come up with its own revisions. The group will aim to present their proposed revisions before the end of the current Board’s term in order to vote on and pass the changes before leaving office.
Some specific recommendations on the constitution have already been approved by the GUU Board of Management when the Board met in September to discuss the findings and recommendations of the report. Recommendations that have been approved and which will appear in the proposal of the sub-committee include changing the constitution to remove all gender specific language; replacing the possibly disrespectful word “foreign” to “international” when referring to international students; removing reference to the other “Ancient” universities to address perceived elitism with the special arrangement to enrol the presidents of their unions as Ordinary members; and introducing an equal opportunities clause “such as that found in Section VII of the constitution of the QMU.”
Section VII of the QMU constitution explicitly states measures must be taken to ensure no prejudice of any kind occurs within the Union. The QMU promises to: “continually monitor its activities and practices to maintain accordance with [this practice].”
Members of the QMU will now also be able to join the GUU after the GUU Board of Management approved the recommendation that Article III (12) of the constitution be removed. That article stated that: “Membership of Glasgow University Union and of Queen Margaret Union shall be mutually exclusive.” The inquiry team criticised this, pointing out that there does not appear to be a similar exclusion in the QMU’s constitution and that “it does not appear that the University Court has made this a condition on the unions.”
As well as there being concerns in terms of an equality perspective with this restriction of membership, the inquiry team also noted that it may not comply with the Education Act 1994. The GUU approved the deletion of this article and the sub-committee charged with revising the constitution will take this issue forward.
The GUU was also asked to investigate the composition of its Board over the past five years in terms of gender, ethnic minority and the representation of students with disabilities and the Board has agreed that it will do so.
Should it find that the composition of the Board over the past five years “does not broadly reflect the composition of the student body” then the report advises that steps should be taken to ensure that it is so in the future. One of the measures recommended by the inquiry team to ensure that the composition of the Board is as desired was via a quota, requiring that a certain percentage of members to be of a particular sex.
However, the GUU has not at this point accepted the suggestion of requiring a certain percentage of its Board members to be female, instead stating that it will opt to “consider measures to encourage participation in elections” if it finds that a particular minority group has been underrepresented on its Board over the past five years.
In response to the report, the GUU has also agreed to make information easier to access for disabled students, improve the procedure for making complaints and give equality and diversity training to all members of the Executive Board, Trustees and management staff.
There was also a recommendation for the University in the report, with the team pointing out that under the Education Act 1994, the University must ensure that the GUU constitution meets equality requirements. In a look at the legal obligations for the University in terms of its relationship with the GUU, the report stated: “The University of Glasgow should ensure that in the provision of funding or the provision of facilities or premises that it (GUU) meets its public sector equality duty.”
The report made reference to already implemented changes to the conduct of debates at the Union, with the Speaker now able to immediately send anyone accused of “offensive or discriminatory language or conduct” from the chamber and with teams sent to debating competitions now requiring each gender to consist of at least one third of the team.
The inquiry stated that they “have been impressed by the desire of the GUU Executive and Board to ensure that the appropriate changes are made.”
President Gavin Tulloch said on the publication of the report: “We would like to be clear – our Union does not and will not tolerate prejudice, however it is manifested. The recommendations of this report will help us to achieve that.”
With the exception of revisions relating to the constitution, all other proposals of revisions were due to be presented to the GUU Board by the various working groups at the end of October. The GUU would not confirm at this time if these proposals had indeed been presented on time.
A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said: “We welcome the independent report and the response from the GUU to accept and implement all of the recommendations made. We have consistently stated that the University of Glasgow operates a zero-tolerance policy and will not accept any form of discrimination either on campus or through any of our affiliated student bodies. We look forward to working with the GUU and others to ensure that the student experience is always a positive and inclusive one.”