Every year around Christmas, Dublin’s Grafton Street becomes the venue for a monster busking session by a number of high-profile Irish musicians, usually including the likes of Bono and Glen Hansard, with a view of raising much-needed money for Irish charities. Personal views on U2 and their music aside, this event while undoubtedly well-intentioned, invariably gives rise to the same question each year: if the likes of Bono really cared about these causes, surely they would use their own considerable wealth to help? Instead, critics say, they hide away their own money and avoid paying taxes while asking us to fork out to alleviate the problem.
The same question arises every time a major multinational makes statements on climate change while doing little themselves to help, or an American politician condemns gun-violence but does nothing to promote gun control. Claiming to care about a certain group but shifting the burden to others to turn those words into action has been a longstanding tactic of politicians and businessmen for time immemorial, and UCD appears to be going the same way.
On April 1st and 2nd UCD students voted overwhelmingly to extend the Student Levy to facilitate both the continued upkeep and proposed extension of the Student Centre. This extension will undoubtedly be a great benefit to UCD student life, there’s no sense in arguing otherwise. Countless sports clubs and societies, heavily restricted by the limits of the current building, will finally be able to operate to their full potential, and the ability to use the proposed new sports hall as a major exam-centre instead of the RDS will be universally welcomed. These much-needed facilities would remain nothing more than a distant pipe dream were it not for the students of UCD agreeing to cover the entire cost of the project themselves. This is noteworthy at a time when other expensive buildings are being facilitated and prioritised campus-wide without threats of closures and funding cuts if students don’t personally pay for them.
Two years ago it was reported that a new “club” was to be built beside O’Reilly hall to cater exclusively for dignitaries, staff, and other invited guests. The initial reports stated that this was to cost in the region of €300,000 and was the “number one priority” of President Deeks in terms of campus-development. Two years and €14 million later the building nears completion, and soon the private guests of the President will be able to marvel at the views of the library, the lake, and of the students who not only do not benefit in any way from such an expensive project but are not even permitted inside. Even staff members in UCD were opposed to this building, pointing to the now departed common-room on the first floor of the Newman building as not only fulfilling the same purpose as this glamorous new club but as being a preferable option to the new glass appendage to O’Reilly Hall. Regardless of this anger and outcry from students and staff alike, UCD management were able to find ample funds for this vanity project without any ostensible difficulty. Hardly surprising though for our President’s number one priority.
A short hop away from the club, the newly-opened Confucius Centre stands beside the dilapidated engineering building; a gleaming €12 million beacon to symbolise UCD’s status as a truly global university and in particular its links with China. This expensive monstrosity, which again is of absolutely no benefit to the vast majority of students in UCD, has had no shortage of critics and controversy but nevertheless was funded almost entirely by UCD itself, with limited financial assistance from the Chinese government. This funding can only be taken to mean that building such a white elephant was another ‘priority’ for UCD management and President Deeks.
Across from the Confucius centre, a mass of apartments are currently being built to house even more students on campus, these again are being funded entirely by UCD. On the face of it, this may seem like it would, in fact, benefit students, but a closer look will show you that these, along with many other private buildings around Dublin, are going to be primarily luxury apartments aimed at attracting even more international students with deep pockets to Belfield, and are in no way a meaningful response from UCD management to the housing crisis that is creating such a barrier for students in Ireland today. These new buildings, coupled with statements from Jim Miley, chairman of the Irish Universities Association (IUA) that universities may soon “cap” the numbers of Irish students they take in to facilitate “higher fee-paying international students” are once again testimony to the fact that UCD’s priorities do not include the wellbeing of its own students.
The final and most recent example worth mentioning was reported less than 24-hours after the levy referendum passed: UCD is to spend upwards of €7 million redeveloping Ardmore House to house new offices for President Deeks and his staff. This decision was announced two weeks after student volunteers in societies, sports clubs, and the union were threatened by UCD staff that a vote against the levy would lead to facilities closing and funding being cut; those who actually care about contributing to student life on campus were bulldozed into supporting students personally paying for improvements yet again, while UCD management discussed office upholstery and expensive redesigns . This new development serves as nothing more than a slap in the face to every student who was sold the lie that the levy was the only way to fund these facilities, and is once more a damning reiteration that UCD management does not, and will not prioritise its students.
The levy referendum passed and student activity is going to be better for it, but it is simply inexcusable that funding can be found for UCD’s real “priorities”, but never for anything actually beneficial to its student population. Something needs to change.
By James Brandon – UCD LawSoc Auditor