Grace Dean looks through the Courier archives to trace the more memorable moments of Newcastle’s history.
1961 – RAG under fire
Throughout the 1950s, RAG was famed on campus for its debauchery and excess over its charitable services, and so students of 1961 came to debate the motion “that this house does not like RAG”. A RAG Investigation Committee was even set up, which accused the committee of claiming excessive expenses.
1963 – outrage in Men’s Bar
The Courier reported how some men were outraged by “a mass invasion of the Men’s Bar, by a crowd of WOMEN, who entered the bar as if they had every right to do so”. The newspaper described how “this was objected to very strongly by the men who already occupied the bar”, with one student being “forced to interrupt his game of darts” to shout “You can’t come in here”. Four of the girls left the bar, but another group remained in the room. A complaint was made to the steward, who shouted over the tannoy: “Ladies please leave the Men’s Bar” to cries of “here, here”. The women, however, remained seated, with the Courier reporting that they “obviously did not consider themselves to be ladies”. The Courier described how “it seems that male students cannot have a place where they can drink free from the presence of the opposite sex. After all, when one is trying to concentrate on a game of darts, it is difficult enough to hit the board after 9:30pm as it is, without having to tolerate the added distraction of pairs of legs scattered round the place. What can we males do about this ever increasing menace to our privacy? We are now uncertain where else we are to suffer a massive female invasion. Why should we tolerate women in our bar? Any male who has his fiancée or girlfriend in the Union should take her to the Bun Room if they want a drink, and leave the men who want solitude in peace. The male population of College are by no means mesoginistic, but there is a time and place for everything.”
Almost exactly six years later, the Courier reported that women would be allowed to “enter the sacred confines of the Men’s Bar – at least on Friday and Saturday nights”. It was said that, “by introducing both women and a jukebox in the same week, the Union Executive have shown themselves capable of a surprising boldness”, described as “two of the best ideas anyone has had for persuading people to use the Men’s Bar in the evenings”.
1969 – sew cool!
The Courier excitedly announced that a new sewing room had been opened on Level Six of the Students’ Union, reporting that “inside is all the equipment necessary for the avid dressmaker”, including “a brand new electric sewing machine which can sew anything from simple seam stitch to buttonholes” and a mirror “for admiring the finished work”. Students had to merely deposit their Union card and pay six pence an hour to access the facilities, with the Courier reporting that “boys are free to use the machine as well”.
1990 – Farron accused of anti-abortion support
It was announced that Newcastle student Tim Farron became the first Liberal Democrat to be elected to the left-dominated Executive of the National Union of Students (NUS) in over two years. However, the Courier revealed that Farron was elected only when the extreme-left and right-wing delegates cooperated to force out the National Organisation of Labour Students (NOLS) candidate. Immediately following his victory, however, a delegate from MOLS accused Farron of supporting the anti-abortion group Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), and demanded that the NUS executive refuse to ratify his election because of the Union’s pro-choice policy. Farron refuted the allegation, saying that he found SPUC’s literature offensive, and following a tight second vote his ratification was approved. Almost exactly a year later, on this week in 1991, Farron became President of the Students’ Union. He announced his first move to be looking through his manifesto to work out the promises made, including opposing rent rises and eliminating division among the executive, and “making sure I damn well do them”. Farron later became President of the Liberal Democrats in 2011.
1998 – the downfall of the president
After a period of bitter dissatisfaction with presidents of the Students’ Union in the 1990s, in 1998 students voted to remove the role altogether after claims the role was “vague and poorly defined”. Additionally purged were the sabbatical treasurer and secretary roles – both described as “three day a week jobs” – leading to the creation of three new sabbatical roles: communications officer, education officer and the catchily-titled finance and administration officer. Even the Athletic Union couldn’t escape the presidential purge, with the AU President being replaced with an AU Officer, which still exists today in the form of our wonderful Joe Gubbins. The ban on presidents set Newcastle apart from most other students’ unions and lasted until 2005.
2006 – Ur-ine trouble
The Courier reported that students won a legal case of criminal damage against a “loo-pee” housemate after he urinated and defecated in their shared student house. Described as a “urine revenge rampage”, the student was proved to have committed a series of “malicious acts at 26 Osborne Avenue, including pouring pints of urine over carpets and sofas, tampering with food and excreting in a flatmate’s shower bag”. Further dastardly deeds committed include “using toothbrushes for cleaning the toilet and urinating on radiators, clothes and in the other flatmates’ beds”, which he admitted to in a note left on a notice board, which further described his housemates as “the worst people he ever hoped to meet in [his] life”. The housemate in question, who fled during the night after committing the atrocities, was described by a fellow housemate as having “wee man syndrome”.
In very different news, a PGCE student that week complained against his dismissal from the University after two of his placement schools alleged that he had been “expressing himself through dance”. In his complaint, the student described connecting to a student through martial arts and dance moves, saying: “We got on well and he gave me a conker as a gift. I was touched by this gift and hoped I would be able to build on the relationship in the coming weeks and keep him [the student] out of trouble.”
2008 – Felch flop
Felch Society set a precedent by becoming the first society in living memory to be expelled from the Union. Founded in 2006, the society was ratified on the basis that it would be a social group promoting sexual health and guidance. In 2008, however, the society sparked complaints after its new hoodies featured silhouette drawings of a man and woman with a straw leading from his mouth to her bum. An investigation into the society, which had 57 members, revealed that it had furthermore been holding initiation events, which are banned by the Union, and failing to actually meet its aims in promoting safe sex. The society’s Facebook page was also found to contain a variety of explicit content, including links to pornographic sites, definitions of felching and a graphic “felch rap” which proclaims: “stick a straw in, have a suck, it’s much better than your average fuck”. The society was deratified by the Societies Executive Committee, leading the society president to claim in a Facebook rant that the Union is “in major debt, can’t fill its doors anymore on a Friday night and has ridiculously priced food and drink”.
2018 – spring strikes & speaker speaks
In spring 2018, over 65 university campuses across the country, including Newcastle University, faced unprecedented levels of strike action which lasted for 65 days and involved approximately 190,000 academic members of staff due to pensions changes.
Newcastle University Student Council chose to take a neutral stance on the strikes after rejecting two rival motions both supporting and opposing the lecturers’ strike which had been proposed by the Marginalised Genders Officer and NUSU President. Following the tense sitting of Council in February, the Marginalised Genders Officer ultimately resigned from their role, saying that: “After already experiencing a lack of support and feeling alienated by the actions of members of NUSU, I made the decision that I would not want to represent the sort of union NUSU has become.”
At Newcastle, a petition to obtain “a refund for every lecture missed” following the strikes obtained over 11,000 signatures.
That same week, John Bercow, 157th Speaker of the House of Commons, also spoke at the University. Delivered as part of the University’s Insights lecture series, and seeing the highest public lecture attendance at the University in 20 years, Bercow spoke on Parliament and its role in modern democracy.
Last modified: 10th February 2020