A sudden, deafening silence

The University of Edinburgh is currently reviewing its “historic relationship” with the Speculative Society, and has been doing so since March.

In March, The Student revealed that: the Society paid no rates or rent to the University for use of its halls and had not contributed to the upcoming £35 million Old College redevelopment project, that staff had raised concerns about the University’s relationship with the club and that a law student had been told by a Society member that they “would be seriously damaging their career” by speaking out against the Society. The University declared that it would review its relationship with the group and appointed the Senior Vice-Principal, Professor Mary Bownes, to lead the investigation. In April, it was announced that the review would be concluded in “late summer 2014”. The University has said barely anything since then.

On February 17 2014, the Speculative Society made a provisional booking to hire several Old College rooms for the Society’s 250 year anniversary dinner on November 22.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act earlier in July reveal that The Playfair Library, as well as the Elder, Lee, Raeburn and Carstares rooms have been put on reserve for the secretive all-male society. UOE Accommodation Ltd (UOEAL), the subsidiary company managing the use of University facilities, was unconcerned by the review, and emailed the Society on July 21 to ask whether the booking was to be confirmed.

We won’t be told whether or not the event will take place.

UOE Accommodation Ltd refused to release this information citing “a public interest in the UOEAL and the University being able to conduct its business without disruption; to protect the safety of its staff, students and visitors; and to prevent crime.”

On the contrary, it is the University’s continued silence over the Speculative Society that poses the greater threat to the protection of its staff and students. It is students and staff who suffer when University management refuse to put their interests before those of an all-male, self-selecting group who contribute nothing to campus life but are supported by public funds and University services.

Hugh Murdoch, former President of Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), told The Student on April 29 that he would contribute to Bownes’ report and that he hoped the review was not “just an opportunity to sweep [the issue] under the carpet”.

Freedom of Information requests sent by The Student reveal that by June 5, two and a half months after the review was announced, no contact had been made between the University and the Speculative Society. The review had not even started, but was expected to “commence shortly”.

The University divulged on August 11 that the Society had been contacted relating to the review. Bownes was also said to have “arranged discussions with a number individuals, both internal and external to the University” and that “a number of relevant documents” had been identified for the report. The disclosure of a list of all contributors and documentation relating to the review was refused, on the grounds that this would “substantially prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs” before the review was concluded.

One document submitted to the review, seen by The Student, contained the following passages: “In meeting the Society’s bills, refusing to charge a lease, or investigate the eviction of the Society, […] there has been a misuse of public funds and private donations.”

It added: “There is no doubt that the Society genuinely believes it can inflict damage on a student if it chooses to, and it has no qualms wielding that threat.”

By October, over six months since the review was announced, no date has been set for the release of its results. According to a University spokesperson, the review is “ongoing”.

In accordance with the Speculative Society’s laws, the Society would have recommenced meetings in its Old College halls on October 15, the third Wednesday of October. As with every year since 1819, the rooms will be used by the Society for one evening a week until March. They remain shut to the public, to University staff and students.

Chloe Oakshett, who contributed a submission to the review, told The Student: “No sign of the review is a bad sign for students. The University has had submissions since July and offered no acknowledgement or timeline to those who contributed.

“The University is acting against the interests of its own staff in entertaining this sexist elite on its premises. There is no concern for students, who through their fees are continuing to support these privileged men. If the governing body of the University are not unequivocally motivated by the interests of their staff, their students or the transparent spending of public money then they are not fit for purpose.

“We are long overdue a clear condemnation of the Speculative Society from the University, as well as some honesty about how this situation has been allowed to continue. That the Spec is merrily planning another delightful black-tie bash in Old College is, frankly, embarrassing.”

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