The UCD Common Room Committee has launched a petition online to stop the forced closure of the members’ club on 21st December. Less than 24 hours after its launch, the online petition had been signed by over 200 people from Ireland and abroad.

UCD Students’ Union this week announced their support for the boycott of the new University Club, stating in a press release that the Union “firmly opposes the closure of the Common Room Club for staff”. UCDSU President Barry Murphy stated that “UCD President Andrew Deeks has chosen, without staff consultation, to close this historic but basic staff facility, by 21 December.”

“The University Club, which is set to replace the Common Room Club, has started construction despite clear and vocal objection from students.”

The decision to launch the petition online comes after President Andrew Deeks accused the Common Room Committee of “damaging” the reputation of UCD and its employees.

In an email response to a petition circulated to members by the Committee which been signed by over 400 staff members in a single week, President Deeks identified an “inconsistency” in relation to the Committee’s position on the timing of the Common Room’s closure.

“If, as you assert, the petition contains many of the regular visitors to the Common Room, the gap between the dates becomes irrelevant, as the majority of users of the Common Room have now pledged not to use the University Club”, Deeks 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.”

Deeks reiterated that, although the issue is now set to be discussed at the next Governing Authority meeting, “the date by which the Common Room is to vacate the UCD facilities it is currently utilising remains December 21, 2018”.

Among the online signatures are University Societies Officer Richard Butler, Associate Professor Vincent Durac and Professor Ben Tonra from the School of Politics and International Relations, School of Education Lecturer Declan Fahie, Geraldine Cremin of the UCD Retired Staff Association Committee and former Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and author Andrew Lyall.

A number of UCD staff members voiced their opposition to the closure of the Common Room in comments written online. Having signed the online petition, Lecturer in the School of English, Drama & Film Lucy Collins wrote that the Common Room “is a relaxed place where everyone who works in UCD can meet on an equal footing. No other venue on campus offers this sense of community.”

Irish Folklore and Ethnology Lecturer Bairbre Ní Fhloinn echoed the arguments put forward by the Common Room Committee, stating that there was “No reason why there shouldn’t be room on campus for both the Common Room and the new facility”, while Associate Professor in the School of Computer Science Dr Mel Ó Cinnéide asked “Why not leave the Common Room and University Club co-exist, and see how they evolve together?”

Other commenters called the University’s decision to serve notice to quit the premises “absurd”, “disturbing” and “authoritarian”, echoing suggestions that the decision is part of a trend in the higher education sector to bring the affairs of academics under greater control.

University Societies Officer Richard Butler lamented the loss of the Common Room, writing that it “has also had an important role to play with student events hosted in the Arts Building, providing a reception space, with no other suitable space in the building to host guests. Guests have included Taoisigh, Presidents, Nobel Laureates, Actors, Authors, UK Secretaries of State and Ambassadors, among many others. The Common Room Committee and successive Managers have always been of the utmost assistance with these events.”

The online petition emphasises the concerns held by many staff members over the manner in which the University Club will be run, with Chairperson of the Committee Wolfgang Marx writing, “Unlike the Common Room it will not be run by its members; decisions regarding membership fees, opening hours, staffing issues, types of events to be hosted etc. will be handed down from above”.

“Common Room members (and many other colleagues) fear that this new venture’s main purpose will be to generate revenue, represent the image of a new, corporate university and control staff’s activities; we argue that both clubs serve different needs and can coexist.”

By signing the petition, signees are calling on President Deeks to announce an “indefinite postponement” of the closure of the Common Room and demanding that it should continue its operations alongside the University Club.

In the email response to Marx, Deeks stated that his preference had always been “for a smooth transition of activities from one to the other. I was very happy that the Common Room engaged in the design consultations, and modifications were made to the design based on your feedback. However, I have been disappointed by the decision by the Common Room to campaign to coexist with the University Club, and to run that campaign in a way that has been damaging to the reputation of UCD and its employees.”

“You should be aware that many members of our community have expressed support and appreciation of the position I am taking and disappointment with the behaviour of the Common Room committee.”

Two part-time staff and one full-time barman are employed by the Common Room and are set to lose their jobs when the Common Room shuts its doors on 21st December.