In the tenth and final issue of this year’s College Tribune we lead with another investigative piece, looking into UCD’s forgotten plans for a five storey car park by the Clonskeagh entrance.
The abandoned plans make interesting reading on UCD’s propensity for grandiose ambitious projects that never materialise. The multistorey car park vision was pursued from 2011 through to 2013, to the backdrop of a massive contraction in state funding for universities. The more pertinent question however, would be where did the committed €12.5 million that was set aside for the development go?
University documents say nearly €4 million of the project’s cost was to be covered through the Student Centre business model, which was funded through the €247 student levy charge paid by students since 2007. The €50 million Student Centre was also backed by a university loan, to be repaid by future student levy contributions. More controversially, on-campus paid parking permits were introduced specifically to help fund the multistorey car park. The allocation of the parking permit revenue now the project has been abandoned is a question UCD needs to be made answer.
The piece, alongside other investigative lead articles in the Tribune this year, highlight the need for accountability journalism in UCD. The national press neither have the time or the inclination to rigorously keep watch on the decisions made by higher education institutions. The national government and Department of Education are also content to give universities a wide breadth of space in which to operate and spend or cut resources. The increasing corporatisation of management models and structures within this university means academic staff no longer have the latitude to openly criticise the direction of the university, without fear of repercussions for their future career path. The structure of internal committees within the university are also increasingly geared simply towards stamping the decisions made at the nucleus of the University Management Team.
The task of holding this university’s decisions to account therefore falls largely on the shoulders of the campus press. UCD is lucky to have two well established and long standing newspapers in the Tribune and the University Observer, with more than fifty years of reportage between them. As the editor this year I’ve attempted to work towards rediscovering an investigative and adversarial strain of journalism, that questions the increasing corporatisation of the university.
The student media on campus should keep striving towards that end, to provide a check on the university’s plans that often span over a number of years. And hold the college management to their promises, like the claim UCD will build another 3,000 student accommodation beds on campus in the next number of years. Greater scrutiny should be cast over where and how exactly student’s €247 levy is spent. Inevitable further increases in service charges or efforts to introduce new income streams should be closely examined. Few examples highlight this better than the effective bait and switch the college has pulled over paid parking permits and the multistoery car park plan.
Holding this administration to answer for such decisions and expecting the worst intentions from UCD might be seen as overly pessimistic. But campus newspapers don’t exist to trumpet whatever PR the college is spinning. Nor should they be mouthpieces that cosy up to the administration and provide soft pandering interviews to the Provost of the day. Institutions often have a hard time of holding themselves to account, so it is the job of the press to be uncompromising in doing so.
So signing off this year I would hope the return of a more investigative and adversarial editorial line from the Tribune this year continues into the future. An investigative, independent and vibrant student press should be valued as a necessary voice on campus, even if it does present those within the Tierney building with facts or contradictions they would otherwise like to ignore. My hope is the Tribune will continue to investigate and pose the hard questions to this administration, for many years to come.
That’s the test, go to it.
Jack Power Editor Volume 30