Call for Reform of Societies Recognition process after Socialist Party rejection

A potential Socialist Party society were denied society status following the latest Academic Council’s Society Recognition Committee meeting on October 10th. As of going to print, no formal reasoning has been given for the society’s rejection. The lack of formal recognition by this committee means that the group is excluded from postering on several areas across campus and cannot organise events in campus buildings.Yvette Kelly, a postgraduate student in UCD’s School of Social Justice, has been involved in the campaign to establish a Socialist Party society. Speaking to the University Observer, Kelly says that the society’s experience with the process in gaining recognition has been “negative” with “bureaucratic obstacles.” Kelly says that their documentation (including a constitution, a mission statement, signatures of students and an annual activity plan) was submitted in early September 2013. The University Observer has learned that subsequent enquiries into the status of their application sent via email to those involved in the process were ignored.Following this lack of response, Socialist Party TDs Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger and Joe Higgins, all graduates of UCD, wrote to the Registrar of the University, Mark Rogers, to express concern over delays in the society’s application being processed. Kelly says that Rogers was “sympathetic” and stated that he would raise the issue with the Chair of the Recognition Committee, Feargal Murphy, the Vice-Principal for Teaching and Learning in the College of Arts & Celtic Studies. The potential society was contacted to appear before the Committee on the 10th October, over a year after their application had been submitted. At this point, the potential society had missed two possible Freshers’ Weeks because of the delay.Kelly says that she felt the meeting was conducted in a “formal manner in which they seem to grill students instead of creating an encouraging atmosphere”. She added that she “felt there was no support and the whole process ultimately discourages students.” After she was informed of the potential society’s rejection of application, Kelly sought a formal reason for their rejection. No reasoning was received, but the Chair of the Recognition Committee, Feargal Murphy, did respond with a list of ways in which they could “strengthen” their application for the following year. To apply again, the aspiring society would need to re-submit all documentation, as there is no appeals process for societies who do not receive recognition.According to Kelly, Murphy went on to say that in his understanding, it was still possible to organise on campus despite no recognition by the committee, a fact which is incorrect. Murphy cited the example of recent Pro-Choice Society events held on campus. The Pro-Choice Society is also an unofficial society that has struggled to gain recognition, and have been only able to host events due to support from other recognised societies, including UCD Socialist Worker’s Party.Eoghan Murphy, Chair of the Societies Council, has indicated that given this and other recent examples of aspiring societies struggling for recognition “change is inevitable” and says that the change needs to ensure that the system works.Under current guidelines, Recognition Committee meetings are convened by the Chair at his discretion. This has meant that, despite the accumulation of potential society applications, only four applications will be in front of the committee at any one meeting. Since January 2014, the committees have only sat three times (8th April, 10th October and 24th October), with the Economics Society, Biological Society, Sinn Féin, Africa Society and the Harry Potter Society gaining recognition. It is not yet known if any societies gained recognition in the most recent meeting on October 24th.The Committee is made up of eleven members, including Eoghan Murphy, UCDSU President Feargal Hynes, two Societies Council representatives, and six academics who are elected according to Academic Council standards, and the Chair of the Committee who is appointed by the President of the University.None of the academics who sit on the committee have any involvement in societies in UCD, with many lacking societies in their faculties. While many faculty members have an involvement with societies in Senior Treasurer positions, none of these have involvement in the Recognition Committee.According to Eoghan Murphy, applications are chosen on a first come, first served basis. Yet while Sinn Féin Society submitted their application no less than five years ago, others, such as the Harry Potter Society, have submitted their application in recent months and received review by the Recognition Committee in the same sessions. Murphy has said that delays in application processes are often due to a lack of information provided by applicants, adding that it can also be due to difficulty in contacting the representatives of potential societies due to students coming and going from the University.Concerns have been raised about the criteria that potential society must meet when completing their application While there are criteria that all societies must meet, these are often not articulately clearly to the relevant applicants. Several aspiring societies have been told that they must submit 30 signatures of students supporting the application, while others are told they need a minimum of 50. The University Observer has learned that the committee members receive the documentation of a potential society only when the Chair calls the meeting, which by conduct should be minimum of seven days in advance, but an undisclosed source has said that this length of time can be “temperamental”.When asked what the Recognition Committee is looking for in societies, Eoghan Murphy said that the priority is for a society to be “student-focused” and “student-run”. He added there may be some concern raised in meetings about the level of influence external entities have, or are “perceived to have” over a society. He stresses that the University is ultimately responsible for the society and that “if people want to get involved in external groups, they can get involved in external groups.” This comes after the rejection received by the Socialist Party society recommended that not being affiliated with an external group was a factor that would “strengthen” their application.Kelly said that “we had previously been an active society from 2001-2010 and it was clearly stated  in the Recognition Committee meeting that we are independent to the party; being a member of the Socialist Party Society would not make you a member of the Socialist Party. We were also told that no appeals process exists and to simply apply again next year.”