University College Dublin’s (UCD) Students’ Union President has called University President Andrew Deeks’ attitude towards the voice of students “quite sexist”.
In an interview with the Irish Times in February, President Deeks said that students had reacted “quite emotionally” to the recent decision to increase the cost of on-campus accommodation, following a number of protests on campus. UCD Students’ Union President Joanna Siewierska has encouraged next year’s team to “question the patronising and sexist undertones” of the Presidents’ comments under her leadership.
In an internal report, Siewierska, said President Deeks’ “attitude to the voice of students is tokenistic at best, and patronising and quite sexist at worst.”
Protests erupted on campus in February this year when the University Management Team (UMT) took the decision to increase rents on campus by more than 12% over the next three years. At the time, Siewierska maintained that the decision was made “behind closed doors” and with “zero consultation with any student representatives.”
In an interview with the Irish Times, President Deeks defended the university’s decision. “The way you solve the housing crisis is building more houses, you don’t solve a housing crisis by putting caps on rents, you don’t solve a housing crisis by subsidising people to pay rents, all that does is push up the rents.”
Within Siewierska’s report, she says “it is not good enough for the President of this University, a man, to continuously refer to statements written by the President of the Students’ Union, a young woman, as emotional and not representing a holistic approach to their work.”
In a statement to the College Tribune, Siewierska said she has “expressed her concerns” on the Presidents’ comments in a number of internal university forums and will be communicating these to university management before her term ends.
In 2006, a room in UCD’s cheapest accommodation block in the Belfield campus cost €3,544 from September to May, with an additional fee of €353 for utilities and insurance. The base fee has increased by 88.57% to €6,683, a raw increase of €3,139. By 2022, the most expensive accommodation facilities will cost over €12,000 for a nine-month tenancy during the academic year.
In a statement to the College Tribune, the university did not directly address Siewierska’s remarks about the President. A university spokesperson did, however, note a number of achievements by the President since he started his term in 2014, highlighting that the Students’ Union hold positions on a number of senior committees which is “not common practice.” The spokesperson also noted that the UMT has “a near 50/50 gender balance with seven men and five women on the team,” and that UCD’s Governing Authority, of which the Students’ Union are members of, appointed its first female Chair in 2019.
Addressing the contentious issue of increasing rents on-campus, the spokesperson said that “by providing more on-campus residences, UCD is helping to alleviate this problem in the Dublin area. The finance for these residences comes from bank loans and the payback is the main determinant of the rent.”
The spokesperson highlighted that UCD were making provisions for COVID-19 since January, and “when many universities across the world were evicting their students when the COVID-19 pandemic broke, UCD gave a commitment to keep residences open.” Around 1,000 students are currently living on-campus. The President will also “seek to mitigate the enormous financial cost of the COVID-19 restrictions on the University,” as the financial impact may approach €100m this year.
The spokesperson brought attention to the underfunding of the university from the government since the 2008 recession, noting that 65% of the university’s income now comes from non-exchequer sources, which is “pumped back into the University for the benefit of students.”
Siewierska’s end of term report was released internally on April 6th and according to a Students Union spokesperson will be published publicly by the end of term.
UCD has the most expensive on-campus accommodation in Ireland by a significant margin. A number of Irish universities have taken the decision to increase on-campus accommodation, resulting in student protests nationwide before the implementation of the current health crisis restrictions from the government.
Conor Capplis – Editor