Editorial: Threats to the Tribune Independence Should Concern All in UCD

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Over the last semester the current college administration has been attempting to bring the College Tribune under the governance structures of the university. The university management would like to see the Tribune answerable to a college committee that governs student activities. A vision that is not shared by the editor of this paper.

This move has been resolutely rejected by the Tribune as an attempted encroachment on the paper’s independence. Interestingly last semester I received an email from Prof John J Kelly, professor emeritus and former Registrar of UCD. Prof Kelly was the deputy President of the college back in 1986 and oversaw the setting up of the Tribune on campus. Kelly wrote to say ‘having the occasion to visit Belfield, I took the liberty of reading the latest edition of the Tribune, which I enjoyed, and agreed fully with your editorial commentary’. Prof John Kelly outlined that as Registrar in 1989 he ‘arranged finance from Vincent Browne, then editor of the Sunday Tribune for the launch of the College Tribune, with the clear understanding that it was to be an independent voice of the students, which I am pleased to note that it still very much is so. Keep it up’.

Vincent Browne, writing in a special Tribune publication celebrating 21 volumes of the paper a number of years ago, also poignantly recalled that UCD President Art Cosgrove was present at the first editorial meeting of the paper. Browne described how himself and Art Cosgrove discussed what the point of the College Tribune would be. ‘Art and I were of the view that holding institutions of power to account is one of the central purposes of journalism generally, and applying this to the power centres at UCD might be one of the purposes of the Tribune’. The value that the former UCD President and Registrar placed on critical thought as a constructive concept and how they recognised the benefits of an independent student press to the college community stands to the character and ethos of UCD back then.

The paper has survived for thirty volumes based on those premises, and remained entirely independent of the UCD’s governance structure. This separation has allowed us to provide critical, uncompromising and investigative reporting of those who hold power in UCD. Therefore, attempts from the college to bring us into the university governance structure can be viewed as nothing less than an effort to curtail that independent and adversarial reporting, and as such worry both staff and students in UCD.

The Tribune has in recent years trenchantly opposed the shift in UCD towards the corporate business-like model we see today. The concentration of power in the Tierney building has precipitated a systemic cutting of academic supports and teaching resources, and in their stead prioritised research and the increased monetisation of services.

We have long held the editorial opinion as a publication that these changes have been to the detriment of students, the faculties of the Arts & Humanities, and the true idea of a university; to encourage the pursuit and spread of knowledge. It must be accepted that this institutional change has been accelerated by the alarming underfunding of higher education by the Irish state. But the funding pressure colleges are under should be no excuse for abandoning the values of teaching, or the ethos of critical debate.

This recent effort to coerce the Tribune to bend under the university’s authority speaks volumes to the current priorities and character of this administration, as one that seeks to stifle criticism and is more preoccupied with its carefully crafted PR image than the concerns of students or staff. But at the same time this highlights more than ever the need for an adversarial, investigative and independent campus paper that can challenge this increasing concentration of power in UCD, and question how that power is exercised. To hold UCD to account to be the best version of itself, and to the values of what a university should be.

As such the Tribune has resolved to oppose any threats to our independence. We’ll be resolute in maintaining the culture of critical opposition that we were set up to provide in UCD. If an unfettered and independent student press is not valued by this current university administration, we would hope it is valued by the students and staff.

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