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Deeks’s new office symptomatic of callous spending

Last April it was revealed by the Irish Times that UCD president Andrew Deeks’ new office in Ardmore house, which was set to cost €900,000, is actually going to cost €7,500,000. Not only that, but Deeks had approved the cost himself under “delegated authority” between meetings of the finance committee. The money isn’t just for Deeks’ office, mind, but also for the offices of his staff, and the UCD Foundation, the fundraising arm who teach poor students just how depressing call centre life really is. According to the minutes of UCD’s Governing Authority, “concerns were raised” over whether UCD had a strategic vision for how it spends its reserves, which are between twenty and twenty five million euro. That this extra spending wasn’t even part of a larger plan, let alone debated by any of the larger committees within UCD, is typical of how UCD in general and Andrew Deeks personally order priorities.

That the president of UCD should have a nice office in a central location is almost a given. Deeks needs to meet and impress many important people, such as representatives of the Chinese Government checking if the Confucius Institute is behaving adequately shadily, or Denis O’Brien to see if he can have his name associated with something other than being Denis O’Brien. What is less obvious is why renovations for this should cost seven and a half million euro. A full breakdown of the cost has not been posted, but at the price of almost twenty average Dublin houses, Deeks may as well be gold plating all his furniture and encrusting his stationary with precious stones.

The salary of a therapist in Ireland is roughly €51,458, according to recruitment website indeed.ie. The inside of the agriculture building is falling apart. Many mandatory text books for modules are in too short supply in the library, forcing some students to buy €60 tomes they’ll never use again. There isn’t an academic field that doesn’t have researchers seeking funding for new projects, and research projects are what drives students, academics, and whole fields of human knowledge forward. You know, like a university is supposed to do. Give €7 million euro to almost anyone on campus, from students to staff, to spend unilaterally on campus projects, and a better use for it than Deeks’s office will be found.

The timing of the revelations is also somewhat interesting. Depending on which course they are in, students voted two or three days before the revelation on whether to expand the Student Centre levy until 2040 to cover the cost of an even newer student centre, with even more expanded facilities. Of course, a new student centre is needed, or at least will be soon with more students attending year on year. However, the shouldering of the burden of the cost on students is a tad unfair, for two reasons. First, students are infamously broke, and second, because the student centre is beneficial for the entire university. The student body are informed that having space for their sports, societies, and day drinking is not for UCD itself to pay for, because those are all extra-curricular, not academic. Then, once it’s built, UCD puts an Ad Astra room, which is definitely academic by definition, inside. Furthermore they send prospectuses and recruiters across the globe to recruit international students. International students pay far more to attend UCD than Irish students, making them a goldmine, and each and every one of them was told about the “free” gym and discount swimming pool as part of the reason to study here. The same “free” gym and discount swimming pool UCD has already effectively said is not theirs to pay for, because they don’t see the benefit.

A mere €7.5 million euro wouldn’t cover the cost of a new student centre, of course. But it would go a long way to starting the project. It would at the very least cover the cost of having an architect plan and price the new student centre before Student Services Limited ask students to pay for it. And that is beside the point, UCD has more money, but the decision to use it on the holistic education it prides itself on providing seems to be made rarely, if ever. Even from a profit motive, a student centre would be a wonderful investment for the university. At least if UCD paid for it, it would be less cynical when they advertise it to American and Chinese tuition payers.

Last year much of the reporting in this paper covered the disgraceful closure of the Common Room Club in Newman. A space for staff members to meet, eat, drink, and network was closed for more teaching space to be made available. Nevermind that staff used this space for purposes genuinely beneficial to their work and students, and therefore the university as a whole. It was to be scrapped, replaced with some offices. The real reason, of course, was so that the staff would join Deeks new “University Club”, despite the fact that a democratically organised common room by and for workers is an entirely different set up to another project designed to squeeze alumni for what their worth, such as the University Club. In a letter to the Common Room committee penned by Deeks last year, he wrote “Of course there are numerous other tea rooms and cafés around UCD that they will be able to use, both during the gap and after the Club opens, including the Clubhouse Bar, which I believe is already frequented by a number of research groups, particularly on a Friday evening”. This is not the tone of a man with genuine concerns for possible negative side effects for his actions. This is cruel mockery from those with power to those without. If Deeks has the authority to spend €7 million unilaterally, then he has the authority to spend €7 million unilaterally on a new space for the common room. 

Ultimately, as with the Gateway Precinct, and the University Club, this is a display not just of wealth and power, but of callousness towards those in UCD, be they students or academics, who make the university a university.