To the lassies – 2016

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen

I am very pleased to talk to you this evening. This is the third time over the last fifteen years or so when I have been asked to propose the toast “To the lassies”. Two years ago, I gave a very short talk where I discussed the importance of the Lassies in our Society. Afterwards several people thanked me for my brevity. Tonight, I am not going to be so brief. However, I hope that you will like what I have to say. I shall add my talk to the Society’s web site tomorrow; if people wish to comment, then I shall be pleased to discuss it.

There is a tradition in such talks to indulge in banter about the way in which the two sexes see one another. I do not do “banter”, so I am going talk about other matters.

About three weeks ago, after I had agreed to give this talk, I heard a programme on Radio 4 called “A man’s a man for a’that: Frederick Douglass in Scotland”. Did any of you hear it? It was excellent. It is still available for the next few days on the BBC iPlayer. (Reference 1).

In the programme, the opera singer Andrea Baker explored the impact of Frederick Douglass during the time he spent in Scotland. Douglass escaped slavery in the USA in the nineteenth century and become an abolitionist and social reformer. He spent 18 months in Ireland, Scotland and England. Prior to making the programme, Andrea Baker had been unaware of the impact Douglass had on Scotland and vice versa. Douglass was very influenced by the writing of Burns and spent time in both Ayr and Dumfries visiting the haunts of the bard. He often quoted Burns in his speeches throughout his life. In the programme, Andrea Baker explored a subject which has been something of a taboo in Scotland during our lifetime, the role of Scotland in the slave trade. At the University of Edinburgh, the Reverend Dr Iain Whyte has recently written a book, “Send Back the Money! The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery”. Andrea Baker talked to Iain and others during the programme. It is a very interesting book, and I have a copy here if any of you are interested. (Reference 2)

I do not know if any of you know Iain Whyte? When I was a student, I knew him and his family quite well. He was the Chaplain to International Students at the time. I used to baby sit for them occasionally. He spent his life in the Church as Chaplain at the Universities of Saint Andrew and Edinburgh; he retired a few years ago, and is now an Honorary Research Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh.

However, I am not here to discuss slavery, I am here to discuss the Lassies. The major social challenge of the nineteenth century was the abolition of slavery. The major social challenge of the twentieth century was the emancipation of women, starting with the suffragettes and later the feminist movement. While this process is not yet complete, it has certainly made great progress. When I went to Glasgow University in 1969, I read a long document about the University and it described the Senate and the Court, and other bodies. It included a list of all of the professorial chairs, deans, titular professors, readers and the like. There were just over 100 professors in the University at that time, and there were several things which I found surprising. One thing was that there were no women who were professors. I also noted that there were several chairs of medicine where I had no inkling of the nature of the specialization; such subjects as oncology and obstetrics. My tutor in the Engineering Faculty was the late Professor Hugh Brown Sutherland, so I asked him about the absence of women in the Senate. (I did not discuss obstetrics with him). He said that there was no prohibition against women, but there were none at the moment.

Today, I had a look at the statistics on the web site of the Higher Education Funding Council, and also on the web site of the University of Glasgow. This was not a careful piece of research, just an hour looking at things which are readily available. However, what I found rather surprised me.

Over all of the universities in the UK, there are approximately the same number of women and men employees, with the ladies slightly in the majority. If you look at the job positions, the proportion of men increases with seniority. At the level of professor, only 22% are women, and this is the same proportion among professors in their 60s, 50s, 40s and 30s. So, it is not set to increase any time soon. (Reference 3)

The top job at Glasgow University is the Principal; at the moment, the Principal is Professor Anton Muscatelli who visited us four years ago, and we had a lunch for the Society in Exeter College. Reporting to the Principal are ten vice principals, of whom three are women, Professor Muffy Calder, Head of the College of Science and Engineering, Professor Anne Anderson, Head of the College of Social and Political Sciences, and Professor Anna Dominiczak, Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences. Muffy, Anne and Anna have clearly achieved great things, and we congratulate them. The University has twenty Schools, and four have women as Head, Muffy, Anne and Anna, and Professor Kathryn Crameri (Modern languages). (References 4, 5, 6)

So, what this quick survey suggests is that the participation of women in senior academic positions at Glasgow is in line with the UK as a whole, at 20%. While things have changed since 1969, there is still a long way to go. It would be nice to welcome the first lady Principal to a meeting of OSGUG, but it may be some time yet.

So, if Burns were alive today, would he change the words of a “Man’s a man for a’that” to something more politically correct? I don’t know, but I am sure that he would have supported and admired the achievements of the Lassies over the last fifty years, and especially the achievements of Muffy, Anne, Anna and Kathryn.

So, gentlemen, I invite you to join me in a toast: “To the Lassies”, not just to the lassies here tonight, but also to those working in Glasgow University.


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