The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the QMU.
The controversy surrounding the election of a new Rector at the University of Glasgow will not have passed anyone by. Since the list of twelve candidates was released on 3rd March, one outcry has followed another, particularly as the nomination of Milo Yiannopoulos made national and international headlines. In the midst of a great deal of heated rhetoric, it’s unsurprising that many of us are confused. Who are the candidates running for rector, how should we decide who to vote for, and why does it even matter? With hustings due to take place on Thursday evening and polling opening on Monday 20th, this is as good a time as any to take a step back from the unfolding drama in order to really unpack these questions.
What does the Rector do?
The Rector of the University of Glasgow is elected by the students every three years, to represent them to the senior management of the university and to champion student interest. The Rector serves as statutory chair for the university Court – the governing body made up of 25 members who are responsible for the finances, administration, and strategic plans of the university. The Rector also typically makes a speech to incoming students at the annual Freshers’ Address. A Rector who performs these duties is known as a “working Rector”, whilst a Rector who is unable to do so may occupy the role in a purely symbolic capacity, as has been the case with Edward Snowden.
How does voting work?
All current students can vote, and will be able to do so by logging in to MyCampus on Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st March. The election will use Single Transferable Vote (STV), meaning that voters will be able to rank the candidates in order of preference. A common misconception about the STV system is that every candidate must be ranked on the ballot, which in this case would mean putting a number from one to twelve beside each candidate’s name. This is not necessary – you should only rank as many candidates as you would like to receive a vote. This could mean voting for only one candidate, or, for example, voting for five candidates in order of preference, and so on.
Who are the candidates for this election, and why has controversy occurred?
Twelve candidates were initially announced for the position. The number has since gone down to eleven after Graeme Eddolls formally withdrew on Saturday. The remaining manifestos can be found here.
*Update: Dr Leif Azzopardi has also withdrawn from the election.
Favourites for a working rector include human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, judge and gender equality advocate Lady Cosgrove (who is officially endorsed by the QMU, GUU, and GU Law Society), and recent graduate Jonathon ‘JJ’ Tease. Notable candidates nominated to hold the position in a symbolic capacity include Brace Belden, an American volunteer fighting with the YPG militia against ISIS in Syria, Milo Yiannopoulos, former senior editor of the far-right publication Breitbart News, and Professor Jordan Peterson, psychology lecturer and vocal critic of political correctness at the University of Toronto.
These latter two candidates sparked enormous controversy when they were announced. Yiannopoulos is a self-described “free speech fundamentalist”, who aggressively opposes feminism, Islam, and social justice issues, and has a history of inciting online racial and misogynistic abuse against actor Leslie Jones. He also came under fire recently for defending sexual relationships between 14-year-old boys and adult men. Professor Jordan Peterson is noted for holding transphobic views and for speaking out against a bill in Canada intended to add gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination according to the Canadian human Rights Act. He has also stated his refusal to use non-binary pronouns such as “ze”, “zhe”, or “zir”.
After nominations were announced, GU Feminist Society called for a boycott of the vote until Yiannopoulos and Peterson were removed from the ballot. A petition was also launched with this aim, and has currently received over 3,500 signatures. Both candidates were also denounced in a public statement by GULGBTQ+ Society.
Notable developments during the campaigning period
Last week it came to light that Lady Cosgrove is listed as an honorary patron of the Jewish National Fund UK (JNF-UK). The JNF a charity founded in 1901 to buy and develop land from the Ottoman Palestine, and which today owns 13% of the land in Israel and cites “Zionism in the philanthropic sense” as one of its central aims. It has now been clarified that the JNF-UK is no longer affiliated with the JNF, after their relationship broke down in 1999. When questioned on her involvement with the JNF-UK, Lady Cosgrove stated that it is “a non political organisation with no connection to the Government of Israel”, and said that the aim of the charity is “to support good causes in the State of Israel [and] to relieve poverty and advocate health and education by supporting schools and hospitals.” Some confusion remains amongst the student body over the history of the two organisations, and this may need further public clarification.
Over the past week the Glasgow Guardian conducted email interviews with all available candidates. Milo Yiannopoulos caused yet more outrage with his deliberately provocative answers to interview questions, including his statement that he wishes to “ban the Muslim Students’ Association”. Professor Jordan Peterson’s answers were slightly less unhinged but nonetheless obnoxious. He admitted that his stance on “so-called ‘preferred pronouns’” conflicts with the University of Glasgow’s Equality and Diversity Policy, and stated that the requirement to use the preferred pronouns of trans individuals is “an attempt by post-modern neo-Marxist radicals to continue their appalling, nihilistic and ideologically-possessed onslaught against the values of Western culture” (the qmunicate team will be gleefully updating our Twitter bios later).
In the most recent debacle to emerge from the Rector election, the Brace Belden campaign were asked to leave campus by university security yesterday, following ambiguous insinuations that their campaigning material was in breach of the university’s code of conduct. This is likely to be a reference to one of their poster slogans, which reads “There’s only one candidate who shoots ISIS”. Later the same day the university backtracked, and a spokesperson told the Glasgow Guardian: “On checking with superiors it was agreed that the material was acceptable and the student campaigners were informed an error had been made and that they could continue with their activities on campus.”
Voting in the Rector election is of paramount importance. This is the only way to prevent candidates who are actively harmful to minority groups on campus from being elected, and furthermore, the election offers a valuable opportunity for the student population to appoint someone to represent our rights and our concerns in a time of increasing instability.
It is the view of this writer that a working Rector is needed to fight for student services as they come increasingly under threat due to Campus Redevelopment spending. The Rector should also be in a position to defend the rights of EU and ethnic minority students, as well as championing refugee rights in the wake of the Brexit vote. Lady Cosgrove comes across as a strong candidate, promising to be an advocate for gender equality and refugee and asylum seeker rights, as well as improving student employability by making better use of the alumni network, increasing study spaces, and promoting the use of sustainable fuels. Her links with the JNF-UK, and the charity’s former connection to the JNF, are potential sticking points in her campaign which may need to be further addressed.
A clear contender is Aamer Anwar, who has an impressive history of fighting against institutional racism in Scotland and campaigning LGBTQ+ and refugee rights. Anwar promises to be very active in the role of Rector, and his manifesto prioritises mental health services, support for EU students , and rent control in the West End – three extremely pertinent student concerns. Another surprise candidate worth considering is JJ Tease, who, despite the jokey nature of his campaign, offers a well-thought-through manifesto, focusing on improving mental health services, increasing funding to the student bodies and opposing tuition fee rises, and championing student welfare initiatives like free or cut-price sanitary products on campus. Those interested in voting for a symbolic Rector (whether as their first preference or their second, third or fourth alternative preference), have a strong candidate in Brace Belden, who represents international solidarity in the fight against fascism and extremism.
Candidate hustings take place tonight at 5:30pm in Bute Hall. Four candidates have been confirmed as attending: Aamer Anwar, Sir Vince Cable, Duncan Logie and JJ Tease. It is unclear whether or not Milo Yiannopoulos will attend. The Glasgow Guardian will be live blogging the event here.
[Cat Acheson – @cat_acheson]
This article has been edited to provide further clarification on Lady Cosgrove’s connection to the JNF-UK.