2013 has been a busy year for the students and staff of UCD. New buildings have been added to UCD’s ever growing campus and the Students’ Union has received somewhat of an overhaul.
January marked the continuation of the escalating SUSI saga, in which students were left without fees being paid by the newly established system. This left students without access to vital areas of the University, such as the James Joyce library. Although eventually resolved the SUSI scheme received a lot of criticism from both students and colleges who found the situation unacceptable. Attempts to resolve this issue for the 2013 academic year were made and the process ran more smoothly from September 2013 onwards.
In February, a referendum on whether to remain affiliated with the USI took place. One of the main arguments debated was the cost of USI membership to UCDSU, accounting for €110,000-120,000 each year. Following strong campaigns from both sides the students of UCD voted to disaffiliate from the organisation.
On the 6th and 7th of March the annual SU elections took place with both a low number of candidates and a low number of voters turning out. Mícheál Gallagher was elected SU President for the new academic year. Cian Dowling and Adam Carroll were also elected Welfare and Education officer respectively. The position of Graduate Education officer remained uncontested during elections and was eventually filled by Dylan Gray.
Another election took place in July 2013 resulting in the UCD Governing Authority appointing Professor Andrew J Deeks as the new President of UCD. He will take over the position in January 2014 following the departure of Doctor Hugh Brady in December.
In September students were faced with an increase in the student registration fee of €250, a rise which was introduced in the December 2012 budget. This increase will continue yearly until college fees stand at €3,000, a move which was blasted at the time from students around the country.
In September plans for both a smoke-free campus referendum and an abortion preferendum were introduced by the SU. The smoke-free campus referendum was introduced following a suggestion by the group Action on Smoking and Health. The proposal could see students having a go to the entrances of the campus for a cigarette, something which many groups in UCD opposed. The referendum was passed in October, however, as of yet no further action has been taken on the result of the referendum and it remains unclear if UCD will become a smoke-free campus. At the time, SU President Mícheál Gallagher told the College Tribune it was up to the University Management Team to decide the next step but he saw it as a “realistic goal.”
The abortion preferendum was introduced with SU President Mícheál Gallagher felling it was important that the Students’ Union had a policy on such topics, telling the College Tribune at the time, “we should have concrete policy on issues like this that students regularly get in contact with us about.” In October, 1,198 students voted in favour of the proposal that “UCDSU should adopt a policy of legalising abortion in Ireland upon the request of the woman.”
September also saw the arrival of UCD’s much anticipated new bar which had been on hold following delays. The Clubhouse opened in September just over a year after the forced closure of the old student bar due to long-term financial difficulties. Gallagher stated at the time, “students are quite happy with their new social hub.”
In October the University’s mental health services were called into question. It became clear that UCD was one of the few universities who could not state when the next non-urgent appointment would be available to a student seeking help. The situation was branded “ridiculous” by a spokesperson for the Irish Association of University and College Counsellors Dr. Declan Aherne. Dr. Aherne also called on the HSE to help tackle the mental health crisis affecting Irish universities.
October also saw the opening of various buildings across the UCD campus. Both the Sutherland School of Law and the O’Brien Centre for Science opened in October, both running nearly two months late. The two buildings had been constructed under UCD’s Campus Development Plan which began in 2005 and is due for completion in 2015.
October also marked the beginning of a UCD pro-life group’s appeal to reverse the recent abortion preferendum results or allow for members of the group to leave the Students’ Union. The group, UCD Students Against Abortion, officially handed the petition to SU President Mícheál Gallagher in November through their spokesperson Samuel O’Connor who told the College Tribune at the time that the group no longer felt represented by the SU.
The request to leave the union was subsequently denied in early December, as according to Gallagher the constitution did not allow for students to leave, so unless the constitution was amended, O’Connor’s resignation was unable to be accepted. This led to O’Connor threatening legal action against the union. “I am prepared and indeed morally compelled to take this fight to the very highest levels,” stated O’Connor. On the 17th of December O’Connor’s request to leave the union was granted following a meeting of the Union’s Independent Appeals and Disciplinary Board (IADB). Although his name was removed from UCDSU’s electoral register and any databases used by the union to contact students, his request for a refund of membership fees was denied by the IADB. At the time, O’Connor called the decision “satisfying.”