Members of the UCD Common Room Club based in the Newman Building are considering a boycott action against the new Club, currently under construction in response to plans to close the Common Room at the end of this semester. The Club which will cost €14 million to complete as is intended only for staff, donors and corporate guests has been a source of controversy recently on campus.
At an EGM last Tuesday members of the Common Rooms, expressed dismay at President Deeks decision to close the Common Rooms, and also the fact that the planned closure date is at least five months before the new UCD Club being constructed at the back of O’Reilly hall is completed.
The reason given for the closure by estate services was the “space requirement for teaching and working facilities” across the Newman Building which is currently undergoing renovations. The board of the Common Room Club had believed that they would have the entire academic year to make their case for the continuation of the Common Room. Members of the Club calling on President Deeks to facilitate the Common Room remaining open and operating even after the new UCD Club is finished. This is due to a strong belief that the two Clubs are catering to different clientele and service different purposes.
In comments to the Tribune, Common Room Club Chairperson Wolfgang Marx said that the Common Room members complaint was not against the new Club being built, but rather at the fact the Common Rooms would be closed as a result. He believed that both can exist in paralleling saying that he ‘takes the argument that there is currently no where on campus where we can currently entertain visiting ministers or delegations.’ This lack of a more formal environment was something that Marx felt should be addressed, though not to the detriment of the current facilities.
A great concern of the current members of the Common Rooms is the increased cost that could be associated with this new club. The current Club is run by its members, and subsequently the fees and costs associated with the Club are set by the members. This will not be the case with the new Club, which will be under the control of UCD management. The fear amongst members is that due to the fact that the new club will need to recoup its building costs, and the costs associated with franchising out the running of the Club, that membership will be more costly.
This concern is sufficient to cause nearly 33.2% of current common room members to say that they are either unlikely or certainly not going to join the new Club. However, of greater concern was the lack of staff representation on the board of the new club, with 57% of current members claiming it was essential. This widespread skepticism and organised a campaign could mean that the uptake of Club membership will prove to be lower than anticipated.
Additionally, as a part of a survey circulated to members in May 2017 when the proposals were first raised, a section was left to allow members to comment as they wished. These provide a interesting insight into the concerns of members outside of the standard set of questions. A frequent point made was the lack of the intimacy or cosier of the current Common Rooms in the modern open plan building. Another concern that is repeated regularly is the fact that UCD Management are apparently prioritising such amenities instead of addressing the Student-Staff ratios and staff retention issues.
There was also support for the Club proposal found within the comments. Many staff supported the increase in the options for food on campus and noted that there was a need for a more high-class facilities for visiting guest. However nearly all members advocated keeping both the Common Room and continuing with the construction of the Club. Many members expressed particular concern about the fact that this appeared a part of an ongoing trend of corporation, with the interests of donors and corporations are of greater concern than those of staff and students. One comment even went so far as to claim ‘This is an attempt to build an events centre and get UCD staff to fund it.’ This appears to be a common feeling among the members of the Common Room, and fuels their desire for both facilities in parallel.
As a further part of the campaign to save the Common Room Club, members are running a seminar series throughout Semester one. The first seminar will be presented by Áine Mahon and Shane Bergin from the UCD School of education and is title ‘It’s so funny… how we don’t talk anymore’: Reclaiming Community in the 21st Century University’. It is scheduled to start at 4pm on the 26th of September the Common Rooms.
Aaron Bowman – CoEditor