The nineties showed an increase in Union / School mistrust. The Union gained another Sabbatical in 1991, making the grand total up to three, and opened its first snack bar. This was to be plagued with problems, not having a permanent member of staff to oversee it, and rumours were rife about the profits not always going straight back to the Union. This coupled with opposition by the School, meant the was a sarnie war with the catering services. However there were other more positive aspects to this period. During the Gulf War SOAS Union helped set up a helpline for Arab Students, who were being victimised by the Home Office.
“The Spirit” starts up in 1991, the new magazine once OASiS winded down. This put it in the right place to report the news when the first of the nineties Library Occupations occurred. This was in 1993, and it was ostensibly over book shortages and the introduction of library fines. After a three night occupation the School capitulated, offer a cash injection of £11,000 to buy new books and removed the fining system. It was reinstated over the summer three years later.
Outside the School a number of students were involved in the “March For Grants” demo, a few getting batoned by police action, and a couple of court cases ensue. The government proceed however with their plans and the grant dwindles, whilst reliance on loans and overdrafts increase. The financial situation was starting to get perilous again, and the School starts talks with the Union about putting a permanent member of staff in place to regulate the finances. The Union refuse this seeing it as School interference. In the meantime certain bills do not get paid.
In 1994 the Union runs a number of highly successful open meetings with representatives from Palestine and Sein Fein. The college bans the Islamic fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir after they go on a strong recruitment drive around the University of London. A 400 strong UGM debate for hours which the School and Press wait outside. The Union overturns this ban, falling out with the NUS and ULU. This further leads talks to disaffiliate with the NUS (though since the Union had not paid any subs for a while, it was actually in danger of getting chucked out). In the end the rest of the University of London’s stance on Hizb ut-Tahrir make them withdraw from their recruitment campaign.
There is a large degree of dissatisfaction with the 1994 editions of “The Spirit”, prompting the editor in 1995 to rename the organ “The New Spirit” to distance themselves from the old magazine. This is concurrent with more run ins with the law as the bar is raided a number of times on suspicion that drugs are openly being used and sold there. A number of arrests are made, though not of SOAS Students. The Union demands more money from the School, the School demands more accountability – as under the 1994 Education act they became responsible for the overall control of the students budget. Audits fail to convince the School that good practice is in place, and a showdown ensues. The School forces the Union to drop one sabbatical officer and replaces them with a Student Union Administrator. The Union fights back with a policy of non-co-operation with the newly appointed Administrator. The Administrator lasts nine months, whilst getting into a number of slanging matches with the two Co-Presidents.
Unfortunately the Union’s credibility suffers yet another blow at this point with the union attempting to pass a vote of no confidence in the Finance Co-President over allegations of fraud. Rumours are rife and the Union become split. The charges are not proven but the damage is already done. The School refuses to release the students grant directly to them, only after double signing and receipts going through the finance department. The Welfare President also tries to run for a second term, without the School’s permission. She gets in, and more wranglings ensue. In the thick of this, there is another Library Occupation.
The Great Occupation of 1997 (as it was known) was over the School refusing to buy library tickets to Senate House Library for all students. This lasted three weeks, during which all students had 24 access to the library, including sleeping and reshelving. The usual injunctions are sought, the usual court orders were obtained, and as usual a compromise was reached with the School promising to buy all the tickets demanded. A compromise is also found over the Welfare President, who becomes an employee of the School for a year. In early 1998 a new Administrator is appointed, and the Union decides to co-operate with him.
Under the steady hand of a permanent member of staff and with less in the way of political ructions, the Union yet again pulls itself out of debt and instigates a building plan to renovate the Snack Bar. This is a resounding success, increasing the Union’s services and financial viability. “The New Spirit” is renamed “The Spirit” as it was not new any more, and in an attempt to distance itself from the magazine that existed before. At the same time the School enters into a “co-operation agreement” with UCL. SOAS Students see this as merger through the backdoor and oppose it vehemently. This results in the First SOAS Festival of Arts and Diversity, a proposed yearly event to push the uniqueness of SOAS. A uniqueness based, largely on a history which has been chequered to say the least, but has never been dull.