Trinity’s Bursar has come under fire from students for being the senior member of the Claret Club drinking society.
The Club holds exclusive parties on College facilities each year. Students objected to the perceived elitist nature of the Club, an all-male, predominantly public school drinking society.
Kevin Knott, Trinity’s Estates Bursar is Senior Member of the Claret Club and allows the society free and private use of the College’s extensive lawns for their annual invitation-only drinks party. The lawns are not listed under the facilities available for hire by students in the college handbook.
However Knott stated that: “The lawns are ordinarily available throughout the year to students of the College… If any other student club or society of the College wishes to use them, they would also be able to do so without charge, subject to availability and the normal approval process.” He pointed out that “The Trinity Players use the lawns every year for their Trinity term play. Commemoration Balls take place on the lawns”. Unlike for the Claret Club’s annual event, all students may purchase tickets for these events.
There have been no other instances of private hire by student a group at Trinity in recent years.
A request put in for lawn hire by a non-Claret Club Trinity student two weeks ago has as yet received no response.
The Claret Club is the only society at Trinity that does not have a free admission process, with secretive “test” dinners to select new members.
According to a Second Year PPEist at the College, most of “the current second and third year members are mysteriously alumni of some of Britain’s most elite schools, including Eton and Westminster”. Attending events, including termly dinners in College, can cost upwards of £80.
Mr Knott defended the society, saying “The Claret Club is a long-standing student club of the College. It holds two dinners every year for members and guests, and a lawns party in Trinity term. The Senior Member of the Club, or another Fellow, is always present. Like any student body or organisation, the Club determines its own policies and manages its own affairs”.
The President of the Club also said in a statement: “The Claret Club is a society in which the only thing of significance is the enjoyment of each other’s company; absolutely no importance is attached to any matters, such as individuals’ backgrounds or schools. Any events take place in the presence of a senior member of College and with no disruption to, or intrusion on, college life.”
The annual Trinity term Claret Club Lawns Party, at which the Estates Bursar is always present, costs £20 and only those who receive a formal invitation in their pigeonhole have the option of attending. Mr Knott claimed that all students were welcome on the lawns during the party.
Last Trinity Term, all three gates that allow entrance to the lawns were chained closed for the event.
Katie Marriner, a Third Year History and Politics student at Trinity, commented on the “segregating” effect of this event, explaining that students who were not invited felt “utterly unwelcome on event days”.
The Estates Bursar is the senior administrative and financial officer of the college, and the role also is responsible for dealing with student requests for bursaries and emergency hardship grants.
Some Trinity students have suggested that his involvement in the society constitutes a conflict of interest. A second year commented: “No one would suggest that Mr Knott cannot do what he wants, when he wants. But any reasonable person would probably point out to him that his role as domestic bursar – in which he is responsible for the financial welfare of poorer students, and is closely linked with access policy – should contravene his involvement in a group which, whilst harmless in itself, plays up to the image of an exclusive, all-male rich boys’ club.”
First year Trinitarian Amanda Green described the Estates Bursar as “the anti-Robin Hood”.
Meanwhile, Trinity English Graduate Rory Platt described it as “endemic of an administration that is too entangled with the trappings of privilege to embrace its commitments to access and social inclusivity on any meaningful level”.
A Third Year English student remarked: “Trinity’s bursar’s involvement in the Claret Club compounds the sense in which the college actually seems to officially endorse the exclusive rich-kids club.”
Trinity students were overwhelmingly concerned with the impact of the college’s endorsement of the elitist club on Access programs at Trinity.
James Routley, a Third Year Engineer said “I don’t think the college would be very happy with potential students knowing about the club”
The Society, which has on average ten members at a time, currently has just one state school member.
Routley pointed out that Club originated as a society “exclusively for Old Etonians”.
The Club now commonly accepts members from Eton, Westminster, St Paul’s, Radley, Tonbridge, and Canford, among other elite public schools.
Another student, who is in second year, argued “in an environment where we are led to believe that access is of the utmost importance, it is disconcerting to discover that something so archaic and elitist is happening in our own back garden.”
Trinity graduate Rory Platt also said that “a college that over the years has garnered a greater reputation for elitism than most, shows once again that it still has a long way to go if it’s serious about widening its intake beyond those from the most exalted backgrounds.”