Editorial: Blackrock Accommodation Conversion Highlights Need for Oppositional Student Representation

The Tribune this week leads with another piece of investigative journalism, exposing how UCD is converting student accommodation on the Blackrock campus into seminar rooms, office space, and fine dining facilities for the college’s Executive Development programmes.

The revelation is the another telling example of the strategy and priorities of this college’s administration, which seems is working almost exclusively towards increasing its income. The lack of political opposition to this strategy from Student Union representatives is a critical element in enabling UCD to pursue their course of increasing corporatisation. The arguments offered to student representatives for the planned conversion to executive seminar rooms (in the middle of an accommodation crisis) should have been questioned. It highlights the fact that the paradigms of decision-making presented to SU officers at university committees are gamed to favour the university administration’s predetermined plans.

Similarly, weak arguments that on-campus rent increases are necessary in order to fund future residences developments are too readily acquiesced to and unchallenged. It is not the responsibility of students currently living in UCD accommodation to fund future residence plans, through the near 40% increase in rent over the last five years. It is the responsibility of UCD to fund capital developments like building more on-campus accommodation, not the students. The successful lack of any political opposition to exorbitant rent hikes by the Students’ Union have allowed UCD to increasingly square the cost of Res developments onto student’s shoulders. Thus freeing up capital funds to spend elsewhere; on projects like the Confucius Centre, or the planned private staff club and restaurant the University Club.

The apathy of students in UCD to their Students’ Union only extenuates the problem, and thus perpetuates a repetitious cycle of poor representation. The low student turnout and engagement with Union elections has seen the regular elections of popular careerist hacks to the office of President. Rather than the kind of political candidate who would be willing to stand up to the university and question their assumptions and priorities, which have been too often accepted a priori by ‘pragmatic’ SU officers.

The Tribune has this year sought to breath some political discourse into student’s relationship with this university administration. To clearly demarcate and investigate the decisions taken by UCD’s management and pose the question to students if they think those decisions are made in their interests. From investigating library staff cuts, to the Confucius Centre overrun, or the €10 million profit made from on-campus rent, and this week’s lead on the conversion of 40 student accommodation beds on Blackrock to executive seminar rooms. There has been a marked absence of effective student representation providing an adversarial opposition to the strategy and university priorities behind these decisions. If you find yourself in agreement that the need to enact change has never been greater, then that starts by voting for proper SU representation on March 7th and 8th.

The one candidate in the SU Presidential race I believe who could represent a political change in leadership is Ronán Bartley. The final year Arts student demonstrates the most defined and articulated comprehension of the university’s politics and strategy, and recognises this corporate culture of management is sidelining student’s interests and should be properly challenged. While it could be questioned how effect Bartley would be in reawakening a more active and engaged student body polity as he claims, I believe he offers on balance an ideological change from the other candidates of this race and past elections.

However, the more oppositional candidate Bartley will certainly fail to get elected if the usually small turnout in Union elections is repeated. The re-politicisation and return of an adversarial Student Union will be defined by the degree to which students who traditionally have disengaged with Union politics vote for its return. Failure to do so will ensure a continuation of student representation that has little to no understanding of the university administration’s politics, and is bound to fail to oppose it effectively as a result.

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Jack Power  |  Editor 

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