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St Andrews principal: R&A's ban on females offends me and hinders my work

The female principal of St Andrews University has finally given vent to her true feelings about the neighbouring R&A's discriminatory policies, claiming that it has interfered with her work.

Louise Richardson, the principal of St Andrews University, has been denied the traditional offer of membership of the R&A normally afforded to those taking up the post. Picture: Gordon Terris
Louise Richardson, the principal of St Andrews University, has been denied the traditional offer of membership of the R&A normally afforded to those taking up the post. Picture: Gordon Terris

Louise Richardson, an American who was appointed as the university's first female principal five years ago, has long resisted commenting on the decision by the club which spawned golf's governing body to deny her the offer of membership that is traditionally afforded to those taking up that post.

The 55-year-old mother of three left it to others, including First Minister Alex Salmond, to speak out against their failure to do so at the time, but now, in an interview given to The New York Times, Richardson seems to accept that she under-estimated the importance of the issue.

"I, being kind of a professional and a pragmatist, said, 'Oh, we can work something out; this is silly'. But little did I know . . ." she is quoted as saying.

However, she now recognises that the closeness of the R&A's association with the town is a hindrance to fund-raising, which she cites as one of her central missions, while also impacting upon her efforts to encourage ambition and raise aspirations among her students, 57% of whom are women.

"The last thing I want to do is sound strident about this, because on my list of concerns, it's not high up there, and yet it's tough when you think about it," she says. "Here's St Andrews University, ranked third in the UK, we're an organisation of 10,000 people, we support 9000 jobs, I run this place very successfully, and I'm not allowed in the clubhouse 600 yards from my house?

"I should say I have occasionally been invited into the clubhouse. I think once a month on a Sunday, wives that are well-behaved are invited to a lunch, something like that. People have said, 'Don't worry, I'll take you to lunch'. But I've said, 'I'm not eating in the clubhouse until women can enter'."

With what looks like calculated timing, this interview has been published in which she exposes the childishness of the most unreconstructed elements within the R&A, which postures as a standard-bearer for good behaviour and etiquette.

The article outlines how, in what is a small community, Richardson routinely finds herself conducting business with R&A members who, it claims, wave their ties in her face: "To draw my attention, lest I didn't notice. They think that's funny.

"Once or twice, female professors have seen me in situations where I'm surrounded by men wearing their R&A ties, and they get really upset and offended for me," she is also quoted as saying.

Just two months ahead of the R&A's vote on whether to permit female members the interview appeared on the weekend that the British Women's Open was taking place at Royal Birkdale, an open club, but the Scottish Open was taking place at male-only Royal Aberdeen, and her comments expose what those seeking change are up against.

Meantime, Richardson explains how the dysfunctional nature of the way things currently operate affects the business of one of Scotland's most important institutions by preventing her from being able to cultivate business relationships in customary fashion.

"A supporter of the university got in touch and asked if he could possibly have lunch at the R&A today," she told her interviewer. "I had to arrange for somebody I know to take him to lunch at the R&A because, of course, I can't. And I had to arrange for another member of the staff to take his wife to lunch some place in town because, of course, she can't get into the R&A, either."

Richardson's decision to speak out to a publication in her native America rather than a British one has the potential to be interpreted as a snub to domestic sports writers, whose lack of appetite for scrutiny of this issue has often been questioned.

However, this interview hints at different motivation for that decision, noting that she arrived from Harvard, where her academic focus had been on terrorism, most notably through her publication, eight years ago, of What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat.

The interviewer observes that Richardson is an advocate of working to understand terrorists' perspectives, rather than summarily demonising them, and speaks of isolating terrorists from what she describes as their 'enabling communities', before suggesting she has "employed a similar strategy" in St Andrews.

"My general approach is absolutely to try to understand the other, try to understand where they're coming from," she is quoted as saying.

The R&A vote takes place on the same day as the referendum on Scottish independence on September 18.

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