The UCD Staff Common Room Committee has responded to criticism from Andrew Deeks by inviting him to address members and staff of the Common Room “on a day of [his] choosing.”
In email correspondence to President Deeks, seen by The University Observer, Chairperson of the Common Room Committee, Wolfgang Marx wrote that “at a Common Room EGM on 27 September, it was decided to invite you to another EGM in the near future and address our members with regard to these developments”.
“[They] are interested to learn what your arguments are in more detail. We could schedule such a meeting for a late afternoon/early evening on a day of your choosing in the near future and would look forward to welcoming you at it.”
Members of the UCD Common Room announced in September that they intended to boycott the controversial UCD University Club which is currently under construction at the site adjoining the O’Reilly Hall. The estimated cost of the new Club is €14 million. A bulletin circulated by President Deeks last month stated that “most world-class universities have a venue of this nature, and the Club will address a significant gap in our facilities.”
Responding to Deeks’ suggestion last week that the Committee were running a campaign which was “damaging to the reputation of UCD and its employees”, Marx wrote that “the distinction between the reputation of UCD and that of its employees is an interesting one, yet we are not sure that it is helpful in this context.”
Marx wrote that the Committee were “fighting for what we perceive as the right and most productive way forward for the university while opposing something that will affect working conditions negatively”.
Responding to the assertion that the Common Room Committee had “engaged in design consultations” which resulted in modifications being made to plans for the University Club, Marx wrote that “our initial participation in the planning process was based on the assumption that this would not lead to the Common Room’s closure”. Marx stated that it came as a “complete shock to us” which “instantly changed our approach to the matter” when its closure was announced at a meeting of the Governing Authority in December 2017.
He added that this “is something that can only enhance our reputation as it is a public case study in critical thinking; we can only teach students convincingly how to assess statements and facts, avoid kowtowing blindly before authorities and reach independent, well-rounded conclusions if we apply those abilities ourselves outside the classroom.”
The response comes as anonymous notices entitled ‘Space Games’ were distributed around the Newman building this week. The ‘Belfield SM’ notices criticise the “special approach” UCD has adopted in renovating the Newman Building, claiming that teaching space has been lost at the expense of larger corridors. The notice contains a photo of a corridor in Newman before and after the renovations and claims that “there were two classrooms on this floor, yet now there is none – the broader corridors leave space for offices or very small classrooms only.”
‘Belfield SM’ also states that the “number of larger classrooms sacrificed for this expansion of corridors has to be particular high. But there is a way out – the Common Room!”
“This absolutely useless space in which nothing happens that couldn’t be done in a corridor or a meeting cubicle can be converted into up to three classrooms! So the Common Room is not a way to make way for additional teaching or office space – rather its demise is necessary to compensate for the widening of corridors.”
In July of this year, the Common Room Committee received the notice to quit the premises by 21st December 2018, and were informed that the area occupied by the Common Room was needed for “teaching space”. The Committee have stated that its closure represents the removal of the “only space for collegiate exchange on campus”.
A UCD staff member told The University Observer that the ‘Belfield SM’ publication is similar to “one-page samizdat publications that appeared for a while during Hugh Brady’s presidency”.
The Committee’s response to Deeks’ comes as the number of signatures on the petition to boycott the University Club reaches 365. The University Observer previously reported that a paper petition circulated to and signed by staff reached 400 signees in a single week. UCD Students’ Union recently announced their support for the boycott and stated that they firmly opposed the closure of the Common Room Club.