The University of Edinburgh is set to investigate its “historic relationship” with an all-male secret society after students have complained it violates equality policies.
The Speculative Society - founded in 1764 - has held black tie meetings in closed rooms within the university’s Law School building for almost 200 years.
Said to be the “the oldest debating and literary society extant”, the Society’s members include the Duke of Edinburgh, former Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home and businessman Sir Angus Grossart.
The announcement follows an investigation by The Student, Edinburgh University’s student newspaper, which revealed the University was paying property tax on the Society’s rooms.
According to Law School Head Lesley McAra, the Society has “absolutely no links to the School of Law,” adding: “the rooms which are used by the Speculative Society do not belong to the Law School nor do they belong to the university.”
Despite no rules banning female members, the society maintains an all-male membership.
Stacey Devine, National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland Women’s Officer, called the society “sexist”, stating: “We’d hope Edinburgh University management would be investigating who this society is and what benefits they receive”.
In 2001, Edinburgh signed its Dignity and Respect Policy committing it to ending “discrimination” on university grounds.
Lothian MSP Alison Johnstone said: “There is a real need to address both real and perceived elitism, discrimination and inequality and I hope the university will take a long hard look at this society and make sure it matches their stated values”.
Society member Michael Upton thought differently, stating: “If the society has no female members, in the year in which association in single-sex marriage has been recognised, it would take a remarkable degree of prejudice to question the freedom to associate in other single-sex arrangements.”
Midlothian East Councillor and Society member Peter de Vink called the all-male membership “very offensive”, adding: “In my time as an active member I cannot recall that we even ever discussed this crucial issue and no one would have ever thought of raising it.
A spokesperson for Edinburgh University issued a statement saying: “The university is strongly committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students and is intent on promoting a positive culture for all members of the institution.
“Our policies and procedures are regularly reviewed and the university intends to initiate a review of its historic relationship with the Speculative Society.”
Speculative Society Secretary Chris Hawkins declined to comment.