The UCD Common Room Committee believed that there would be more of an opportunity to put forward a case for its continuation than the 21st December eviction deadline, according to the Committee’s Chairperson, Wolfgang Marx.
Opposition to the forced closure was made clear when the Committee “voted against it at the time, where we could, at different levels.” However, the Committee believed that there would be a chance to discuss the retention of the Common Room, allowing it to operate alongside the University Club. “It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, in anybody’s view I have talked to, except the President,” Prof Marx told the University Observer, “why you would close this place a full semester minimum before the new club opens. Even if you accept the view, which we don’t, that the new one is a replacement”.
“The President doesn’t care at all about collegiality or what is actually Objective 7 of the University’s Strategic Plan, which is to ‘develop and strengthen our University community’. And this won’t do it.”
The Common Room has been located on the First Floor of Block A in the Newman Building for almost 43 years. Despite its location, the Common Room is run independently and is a separate legal entity. Although it does not pay rent to UCD, Marx states that the University “gets a lot out of it.” The Irish Times has reported that the two-storey clubhouse will cost in the region of €14 million to construct.
The Common Room Committee received the notice to quit the premises in July and were informed that the area occupied by the Common Room was needed for “teaching space”. The Committee has rejected that a closure on the last day of the exam term would facilitate additional teaching space for the following semester. A list of arguments in favour of retaining the Common Room, given to the University Observer, states that “closing the Common Room a full semester before the University Club can be ready at the earliest is completely unnecessary even from the President’s point of view.” The Committee also dismisses as “not convincing” the argument that there is an “immediate need for teaching space”.
According to the arguments put forward by Marx, who is an Associate Professor of Musicology, the Common Room and University Club serve “different needs and can co-exist alongside each other.” Common Room members have also taken issue with a potential situation in which University Club members may have “millionaires” invited to observe academics and administrators “in the wild”. Concerns have also been raised that the structure of the University Club is too different to that of the Common Room. Presently, members may decide on the annual membership fee, the form of company it takes, the opening hours and the type of events held there. “Nothing of this will be in the hands of members over there. It will be determined by Management.”
Two part-time staff and one full-time barman may be set to lose their jobs when the Common Room shuts its doors on 21st December. Prof Marx told the University Observer that the members of the Committee have been “in touch by with UCD HR to say, if that happens, would there be a chance to redeploy them, so to speak – even though it’s technically not the same employer.” With fewer than 100 days until the Common Room is scheduled to shut, Prof Marx stated that UCD HR “haven’t been back to me for a while.”
A weekly bulletin circulated by Professor Andrew J Deeks to staff, seen by the University Observer, stated that the “UCD University Club is now well under way and looking well. We are expecting the Club to open in April 2019, providing a venue for faculty, staff, researchers, alumni and partners of UCD to meet, eat and socialise, and supporting Strategic Key Objective 7 – Develop and Strengthen our University Community.”
“Most world-class universities have a venue of this nature, and the Club will address a significant gap in our facilities. I’ll provide you with more information on how the Club will work over the course of the year.”
A survey run by the Committee, which received 900 responses from members and non-members, indicates that the main issue raised was “formal versus informal – so this is an informal place where you want to have a relaxed time. We are not there in order to have a three-star meal… or have some time with a Minister. It is where you meet colleagues.”
UCD Students’ Union Graduate Officer Niall Torris is set to discuss the forced closure at a Union meeting this week. Postgraduate students who are paid by UCD are entitled to join the Common Room.
History Lecturer Dr Conor Mulvagh, who has been a member of the Common Room since he joined UCD staff in 2014, told the University Observer that “there’s a mixture of feelings on the University Club, certainly, but I think the universal feeling at the EGM was that we are very disappointed at the decision… to serve the Common Room with notice to quit.”
Common Room members are expected to host a series of seminars this semester which will seek to “address developments concerning universities all over the world, but of special importance to the UCD community where the Staff Common Room is currently threatened with closure”. These seminars will highlight what many see as a trend towards the commercialisation of the University. Members will highlight what some view as a global trend of university management attempting to assert more control over the affairs of its academic staff on campus. The Committee claim that the Common Room is one of the last entities in UCD which is not managed centrally by the University.
“The view is, essentially, that the University is a corporate company and has to be run like one. Which is also why students are now customers and why all sorts of other things are expressed in a business-like language,” Marx said.
The notice to quit the premises echoes a similar situation which arose in the University of Ulster (UU) at Coleraine in early December 2013. The ‘Occupy Coleraine’ protest lead to a student sit-in which lasted over 3 weeks until water and electricity services were switched off by university management. Management at UU attempted to force the closure of the Senior Common Room (SCR) and convert it into a “corporate dining suite”. Like the Common Room in UCD, the SCR was a members’ only, fee-paying club, described by one student blogger at the time as “the last public non-commercialized space – open to students, staff, and any number of organizations – on the campus”.
In an open letter published in the Belfast Telegraph on 19 December 2013, lecturers from the University and Colleges’ Union declared their support for the student-led occupation. 40 lecturers signed the letter which stated that: “Students are asking for meaningful dialogue with university management, but thus far it is not forthcoming. This is a great shame, because meaningful dialogue is what a learning community is all about.” After the sit-in, a University spokesperson said that they intended to “move forward with the substantial improvement works which will deliver a new range of modern, high-quality facilities for staff and students on the campus.”
During the year, the Common Room has entertained guest speakers such as American historian Timothy D. Snyder. The Committee has also hosted a number of events such as beer tasting, a summer party in the Rose Garden and a charity table quiz.