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Myth vs Truth HEA Bill 2022

Myth: The HEA Bill 2022 will mean that the government will invest in mental health and other areas.

Truth: The bill itself does not contain any provisions for mental health funding. The “Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework”, already published in 2020 October will fit in to provide for it under section 37 of the legislation. However, in line with government policy of consistently targeting mental health funding during austerity and in 2012, 2016, and a general continued sharp decline in the health budget from 16% in the 80s to 6% in 2020, we do not think the government will do anything differently and step up under the new bill. There is a stated need of 28 million euros for an appropriate student-counsellor ratio (USI – Pre-Budget Submission 2022), in response to which the government provided only 5 million euros.

Myth: The HEA Bill 2022 and the funding plan for universities are separate issues.

Truth: You can’t have one without the other. The HEA Bill 2022 contains the framework that will distribute funding. In the funding plan, there is no commitment to reducing the student fees as the USI pointed out and also, the funding is less than half of what our universities need as per the 2016 Cassels Plan.

Myth: The HEA Bill 2022 will increase student representation on governing bodies.

Truth:

In earlier drafts of the bill, over 60% of HEIs will lose student representation on governing bodies, as the bill prescribes 2 representatives, including Trinity, UCD, UCC and others.

However, on the 21st of June Tuesday 2022, it has been confirmed that Minister Harris will support an amendment that increases the number to 3, changing the situation. It is not ideal, as we would have asked for 2-4, but this way less HEIs wil lose student representation. This is a win and we welcome this amendment to the bill.

Myth: The HEA Bill 2022 will mean that the USI will sit on the HEA Board, therefore democratizing education.

Truth:

The USI has been promised that they will now sit on the HEA Board, but it is just one vote against a lot of apparatchiks provided for by the Minister who will always vote against student interests. When have they ever listened to the USI in committees?

As per section (16) (2) (b), one of the members appointed to the HEA Board will be from a nomination of a student from the national student union. However, they can be rejected. The 12-member HEA Board will be appointed by the Minister as per section (16) (a), and so it is his Board, and he will control its direction and fulfil the aims set out in section 8 and 9 (e.g. equality, diversion and inclusivity). The spirit of these aims will be controlled by the government and will not be fulfiled.

Equally for all other matters as outlined here where the HEA’s scope of power is extended, the Minister is influential as he appoints the members of the HEA Board. The HEA Board is by no means democratic, and does not guarantee democratic representation for trade unions, students and staff.

For a lot of matters, therefore, we will be reliant on the Minister. For example, in an email to the USI President, Minister Harris has said that the HEA Board can invoke section 143 to protect student union autonomy. In practice, this means it is at the whim of the Minister.

Myth: The HEA Bill 2022 contains elements of student partnership.

Truth:

Once again, the “partnership” this bill promotes is the corporate one, also known as “commodified dissent” for example through the NsTEP program or StudentSurvey.ie. In the U.K. the NUS is boycotting the StudentSurvey.ie equivalent, the National Student Survey, due to concerns that it leads to the corporatization of universities. They can make as many surveys but these will not stop the rising cost of education as they relate to wider socioeconomic factors.

These surveys fit well within the KPI-centric, corporate and capitalist ways of measuring universities’ activities, like league tables, as part of the corporatized university.

Myth: The HEA Bill 2022 will provide more oversight for universities, and for taxpayer money.

Truth:

The argument that universities need strict financial oversight to overcome their troubles comes from multiple flawed narratives.

Firstly, the underfunding of universities is a crisis that the government themselves have created, and are now stepping in as saviours to fix it.

Secondly, there will be more oversight, but it is by the government. A den of thieves, crooks and landlords. The government will be no better than the universities, since both university leaders and the government belong to same elite. In fact, oversight should be done on the frontlines and with non-bureaucratic and truly democratic university governance, not via a state takeover, something that the IUA also spoke about.

Thirdly, there will be more oversight, but it is by the government. A den of thieves, crooks and landlords. The government will be no better than the universities, since both university leaders and the government belong to same elite. In fact, oversight should be done on the frontlines and with non-bureaucratic and truly democratic university governance, not via a state takeover, something that the IUA also spoke about.

Finally, there is no independent appeals board for such decisions as per (69), as the Minister appoints it, furher cementing a government takeover.

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#StopHEABill22

Students’ Union Autonomy and the HEA Bill 2022

There is an email circulating with regards to Minister Harris’ reply to an amendment about student union autonomy to the HEA Bill 2022, which was rejected.

It was sent to the Union of Students Ireland (USI) and this is an explainer post as to why his reply is not enough to protect student unions.

Minister Harris claims that section 139 (in the latest bill section 143) will be used to guarantee student union autonomy, in other words the HEA can use its power to issue “guidelines, codes and policies” for this.

What Minister Harris is saying in this email, is that not only will we take away universities’ autonomy with section 139, but student union autonomy will also be at the whim of the Minister-dominated HEA Board. Only one student representative will sit on the aforementioned Board, and if he does not like your student union – tough luck!

This is not in any sort of framework or legislative solution to the idea of student union autonomy, which Minister Harris later admits in the email, saying that “these issues are not directly addressed in the new legislation”.

It is furthermore unclear how student unions not affiliated with the USI, like UCDSU, will be able to raise their issues with their universities.

In 2021, NUIGSU had its funding unfairly taken from them over a dispute over a levy collected for services.

After quoting section 139, he claims that the bill has strong student partnership.

Firstly, we would fundamentally reject that any bill which cuts student representation can be considered a partnership. In earlier drafts, over 60% of HEIs would have lost students on governing bodies.

According to latest news, which we welcome, the number of student representatives will be 3, but this is still not the 2-4 we asked for.

Secondly, he mentions that section 8 and 9 provide for equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education, since they make it one of the functions of the HEA Board.

The HEA Board will be appointed by the Minister, and he promised only to have 1 student representative from the USI.

This is a joke. The HEA Board will be dominated by apparathciks of the Minister, while he weakens the student movement and refuses to reduce student fees. It does not make sense how equality will be guaranteed if the voices of those most vulnerable – students, staff and trade unions – are being silenced with the bill on governing bodies.

The implementation of section 8 and 9 under this government will result in the spirit of the law not being followed, since no further procedures or goals are outlined on how to reach this equality. Without a democratic HEA Board, and based on the prior actions of this government, there is no indication that they will implement any substantive equality, inclusivity and diversity initiatives.

Thirdly, he mentions that Section 43 will provide for the training of student representatives on the governing bodies of universities. This does not answer the question of student union autonomy, and furthermore, this sort of training fits well into the service-provider, KPI-centric and neoliberal student union, wherein everything they do has to fit into the labour market and be respectable and professional.

After setting out that Section 44 will provide powers for the HEA Board to consult with student representatives on issues of a national level, he mentions StudentSurvey.ie as an example of a partnership.

StudentSurvey.ie is a corporate survey that pushes a cookie-cutter capitalist logic, and its equivalent the National Student Survey (NSS) is boycotted in the U.K. for corporatizing universities and raising tuition fees.

QQI is also mentioned, which only cares about quality of education insofar as the bottom line, how financially viable the way institutions run their courses is.

This is disgraceful from Minister Harris.

Him and his cabinet, and all the bureaucrats working on this bill, are taking us for fools.

There are 245,000 students in Ireland, and their voting rights will be diminished with the HEA Bill 2022, as over 60% of HEIs will lose student representatives on governing bodies. A democratically elected TD is putting forward legislation into the Oireachtas that is reducing student representation. A minister is asking a democratic parliament to reduce democratic student representation. Bureaucrats wrote the bill, with their bureaucratic reasoning of “efficiency”, to reduce governing bodies. But the real bliss of this bill for bureaucrats will be that no more awkward questions will be posed at governing body meetings.

The USI needs to step up, stop being in useless committees and mobilize people. A question is, as such, posed before all our organizations. Will they become radical, or redundant?

Sign the petition!

#StopHEABill22

A Year of Student Activism – 2021-2022

Our fight is against the corporatized “productive” education, constant evaluation of efficiency above equity coupled with solidarity to the the workers’ struggle and the democratic deficit of the capitalist system.

Re-opening protest for housing rights, face-2-face and hybrid learning for inclusivity and mental health.
Re-opening protest for housing rights, face-2-face and hybrid learning for inclusivity and mental health.
On the picture our Chairperson László Molnárfi and Jack Nolan. Re-opening protest for housing rights, face-2-face and hybrid learning for inclusivity and mental health.
Protest for mental health, public education and democracy outside Leinster House.
Delivering the #NoInPersonExams open letter with 5,000 student and staff signatures.
Fuck the Fees!
Protest against proposed fee increases.
Taking about the #StopHEABill22 campaign.

Together with Trinity GSU, TCDSU and others, we fought for the rights of student and staff. With our combined efforts, we managed to, for example, secure a better re-opening while advocating for hybrid learning, reveal investments in the war-industry, stop the structure on College Park and significantly reduce the amount of in-person exams. Onwards to next year!

FOI Reveals Minister Harris Discredited Student Voices during Exams

An FOI request put forward by László Molnárfi, Chairperson of Students4Change and Gisèle Scanlon, President of the Graduate Students’ Union, on behalf of the #NoInPersonExams national campaign to Minister Harris’ Office has now been granted. The reason for the FOI request was to ascertain a timeline in which Minister Harris engaged with the 5,000 student and staff signatures of the open letter so that he can make a balanced and fair decision relating to in-person examinations. The #NoInPersonExams open letter is spearheaded by two Trinity students, undergraduate László Molnárfi and postgraduate Giséle Scanlon, and has amassed over 5,000 signatures, which were delivered to Minister Harris in good faith on the 1st of December 2021.

Today we have received the results of this FOI. The correspondance which we received contains 6 records were granted to us after we asked for “Documents, communications regarding the decision of Minister Harris to not intervene in Universities holding in-person exams for Semester 1 of 2021-2022. Any communication between Minister Harris and Donnelly for this issue including the meeting minutes of the meetings that Minister Harris had with
management, staff and student representatives. E.g. the one on December 1st
2021 with the student unions” and “Documents, communications regarding Minister Harris’ and the Department of Further Education “s consideration of the #NoInPersonExams open letter, which was delivered to the Minister’s Office on 52 Stephens Green on the 1st of December 2021”.

As early as November 19th 2021 at a meeting of the Covid-19 TES Steering Group the issue of Semester 1 examinations across Universities and Technological Universities was discussed. Minister Harris said in his opening remarks that “Decisions in relation to examinations should be taken in accordance with the framework in place i.e. on the basis of risk assessment and consultation”, according to meeting minutes.

At the same meeting, the Union of Students Ireland (USI) President Claire Austick raised the issue of having alternative options for students not able to attend in-person examinations, according to meeting minutes of the Covid-19 TES Steering Group.

Dr Joseph Ryan from THEA, the Technological Higher Education Association, brought concerns relating to increasing levels of anxiety surrounding examinations.

The IUA’s representative at the meeting stated the importance of alternative examination arrangements and also access to PCR tests. The IUA is short for the Irish Universities Association and they represent DCU, Maynooth Uni, NUI Galway, TCD, TU Dublin, UCC, UCD and the University of Limerick. The IUA is composed of the Presidents of each of these Colleges.

Just a month later, at the next meeting of the Steering Committee on the 10th of December 2021, in the middle of exams, Minister Harris in his opening remarks is seen to call the student voices, like NUIGSU, who called out instititutions not creating safe exam conditions to be lies. He called upon stakeholders to “debunk misinformation regarding the application of public health advice”. He also said that an agreement was reached that a “one size fits all approach is not appropriate” – this agreement must be referring to the government’s own decision, as meeting minute do not indicate any sort of direct discussion on the topic.

Dr Breda Smyth, is the director of public health for the Health Service Executive in the west, and also is one of the leaders of the Unicov project.

Claure Austick, USI President, after the opening remarks of Minister Harris, reiterated the importance of alternative options for assesment students in light of rising Covid-19 cases.

The IUA suddenly at this meeting agreed with Minister Harris, contradicting students’ and staff’s account on a number of issues, namely the amount of in-person exams, whether these exams are safe and whether there are proper alternative arrangements (e.g. deferral mechanisms) in place. They also claim that whenever an exam was postponed due to Storm Bara, it was moved to a different date “in agreement with local student unions”, but this was clearly not the case for NUI Galway’s Saturday exams.

Stella Griffin from FORSA, an Irish trade union, noted concern for invigilators (since they are older and more at-risk) in exam halls at the meeting.

It does not seem that at these meetings Minister Harris allowed much discussion, either at the November meeting, or at the December one, despite claiming to do so. His Office had already made up their minds before hearing any of the other stakeholders, and the government seems to not have listened to student and staff concerns. It seems that at the November meeting, promises and suggestions were made by a variety of stakeholders that were never implemented by the government. Proper deferral was not implemented across many universities – 86% said they felt pressured into not deferring according to a recent survey, and PCR testing at the time of the Christmas exams was very difficult to access. Eyewitness reports, pictures and videos detail crowded scenes in examination halls. It seems that those in-charge have no clue what is going on on-the-ground.

Following the 10th of December meeting, a document which describes how to answer questions from TDs in the Dail relating to in-person exams was disseminated to government members. It said that the key messaging must be that all stakeholders were consulted. Furthermore, it crafted a reply to possible “opposition attack lines”.

Another meeting was held just between Minister Harris and the USI and different SUs on the 1st of December 2021. The briefing document prepared for Minister Harris for this meeting shows that Minister Harris’ Office essentially let Universities take the blame. This was re-iterated to the representatives at the meeting, who raised the issue of #NoInPersonExams.

Briefing document.

As far as whether the Minister’s Office considered the #NoInPersonExams open letter with 5,000 signatures, they did not. They put it in the government system, but there is no indication that Minister Harris or others in the government took the time to engage with the signatories. This shows a huge disrespect for the 5,000 students and staff who raised the mental and physical dangers of in-person examinations and is an affront to the democratic process.

This was the only communication and document relating to the FOI about whether the government considered the #NoInPersonExams open letter. Branding the Graduate Students’ Union of Trinity a “protest group” just shows how out-of-touch Minister Harris’ Office is with student representation on-the-ground.

Find all the original FOI documents here. Note that for the briefing document mentioned just a moment ago, there were supposed to be “redacted” parts, but the government failed to redact it properly – you can simply copy-paste from the PDF, so we made an unredacted version which describes different issues relating to third-level education at the moment.

We would hope that the Minister has learnt lessons from this, namely that the next time we call to deliver a petition with several thousands signatures and hundreds of thousands of social media interactions, that the Minister will have the good grace to engage with not only the content of the petition, but should extend appropriate respect to the many thousand voters who took the time and consideration to be a part of the campaign.

How to make an FOI request and expose the secrets of your Institution

At Students4Change we aim to empower you with the tools to make change and effective activism. An FOI request allows you to request any data from any public body, even data considered confidential. It is free and legal right enshrined in the 2014 FOI Act.

For example, we have used an FOI request before to expose Trinity’s 2.5 million euro investments in the war-industry.

It is a very powerful tool as it allows you to gather data. For example, most students would feel that a refund for last year is a fair demand, as online College was disengaging and it made no sense to pay so much money for it.

However, to prove this, statistics are needed. For example, from the big SUrvey from last year we know that 71.4% did not feel part of the College community in 2020-2021 due to online learning, which suggests that the student experience was greatly reduced. From an FOI request, we also know that the total number of students (both undergraduate and postgraduate) who withdrew in the academic year 2020/21 during the pandemic was 1,231 (higher than previous years) December 2020, further supporting this argument. This can then be packaged into e.g. a report or a press release which supports refunds.

Some other examples of FOIs requests that we have done:

  • To discover that Trinity’s use of the RDS for exams costs them 0.5 million euros.
  • That the number of students with overdue tuition debt last March was 506.
  • That there are only 180 academics with Non-EEA nationality as of May 2020 in College… etc.

To make an FOI request for Trinity College Dublin, you have to fill out a PDF form, which you can do online, and then you have to send on this form to the email address [email protected] .

Here is a link to the FOI request PDF form, and here is a link to an online PDF editor called Smallpdf. When making our FOI request for Trinity’s investments, for example, this is how we filled it out.

It is a similar process in other Universities, like for University College Dublin. There the email is [email protected] and the form can be found here.

The same investment FOI as a filled-out example can be downloaded here.

Some tips:

Results of Inclusivity Survey

Students4Change has undertaken a research on inclusivity at Trinity College Dublin and has found that there is a rigid, inflexible system which is a barrier to accessing education for many, especially disadvantaged groups.

Students4Change has always advocated for choice for students regarding online or recorded lectures. Other universities already have hybrid learning, such as 293 Colleges in the U.S. which employ hybrid learning (Source: C2I).

During the pandemic, students with disabilities faced increased barriers with regards to their education. One of these barriers was not-recorded, online live events which posed challenges for students with, for example, hearing difficulties.

Despite the return to face to face lectures, some students may be hesitant or anxious to come back in a full time capacity, either due to general anxiety around the ongoing pandemic, or due to them having vulnerable family members that means that they cannot take the risk, however small, of catching Covid-19 when in college.

Recently, staff complained of a lack of CO2 monitors, which measure how well rooms are ventilated. College could have worked on ventilation during the summer, but they choose not to, possibly due to the expenses associated.

Students who commute from long distances to come to college often have to get up very early, and have worse sleep schedules than students who live closer to college. The mental toll reduced sleep has on a student’s performance could be minimised if hybrid learning was implemented, giving students the opportunity to commute later and watch the recorded lecture when they have time later on in the day, not to mention financial considerations.

“My first semester of College cost ~150€ in bus fares and my girlfriend has spent about 50€ last week on train fares, ” says a student.

With the unaffordability of accommodation and many students commuting, recorded lectures and hybrid learning opportunities offer a more equal playing field for all students to get a quality education with reduced barriers to entry, not to mention that since not all courses were recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, some students had less access to education than others, and as such, it was not a level playing field. It needs to be ensured that this does not happen again.

This issue will also manifest itself if in-person exams return, with students having to travel for online and in-person exams, both which might be scheduled for the same day.

Email from Senior Lecturer on October 18th saying that there is no remote learning for the entirety of the semester.

The issues surrounding lecture recording have been dealt with in our press release on September 12th, and it is our view that these issues are surmountable.

Student testimonies support a policy for hybrid learning. There is a moment, here and now, to push for this, and to build back better. Despite this, College’s re-opening plan is still chaotic and has barely an inclusivity considerations.

For example, a student shared with us that they were promised the ability to follow College online on September 6th, but College backtracked on this by the 18th of October, despite document proof that they are in HSE’s “high-risk” category. At the moment, their case is being helped by the Disability Service, but the outcome is expected to last weeks, at which point almost the whole term will have gone by.

– Email to the student in question asking for hybrid learning.

In a similar vein, there are a variety of exclusivity-related issues in College, namely that the LENS system is not effective enough. In one case, there was a part of a computer science module to which a student had to travel to 2.5 hours every Thursday to present their work, despite “it taking about 5-10 mins per student”.

“I emailed the lecturer explaining that I have severe travel anxiety (supported by my LENS) and wondering if I could just email my code in each week, however he adamantly refused to offer this. I even met with the head of my school and the Disability Services and nothing could be done about this and I was forced to take that travel time each week,” they say.

LENS reports are very limited in scope of what they can mandate from lecturers, and that does not guarantee that a lecturer will immediately grant what entitled to when a student has a LENS. The LENS primarily revolves around smaller things like alternate exam venues (instead of the RDS), a small amount of extra time in exams and access to the respite spaces on campus (which are themselves incredibly limited in scope, allowing only short amounts of time in them and requiring booking in advance). Any form of accommodations beyond what is in a student’s LENS are entirely up to the lecturer, and it is on the student to request them, which can be a demeaning experience.

Email to Computer Science students about the withdrawal of remote access to labs.

In some cases, the widthrawal of remote access seems absurd. For example, in the Computer Science department, remote lab access was withdrawn. They could reserve a few for remote access, but either there are a lack of computers or this consideration was not taken into account.

As such, a pattern was found to emerge. Casework by the Unions help, but the system by large remains insufficient because of bureucracy. As one student put it, “support services [during Covid-19] did not apply to people who are genuinely seeking help. They are a bandaid to a larger problem, that you have to beg for the process knowing it won’t ease the pain”. “Case-by-case” basis can produce results for some, and is better than nothing, but it also means that there is no effective long-term policy for dealing with an issue.

Specific issues that have been raised with us in our research:

  • The changeover of TCD-supported disability aid software from Grammarly to Microsoft Editor was done without consideration or consultation to users.
  • LENS report applied marking scheme not being used for grading assignments. E.g. no penalties for spelling and grammar would fall under this citerion.
  • Lecturers need to be aware that for some students, there is a marked difference in how they absorb information, which is different for online and in-person education, e.g. for discussion-based learning.
  • Emails go ignored, which is an issue for cases which have deadlines. For example, for one module’s assesment, voice narration was required, “I was struggling with a lot of anxiety when talking to other people, [so] I reached out to my lecturers for the module asking if I could write my part for the update, and my emails were completely ignored”, they say.
  • For assesments, more leeway should be given. Considerations that should be given include for those with slower reading and writing times for essays (e.g. dyslexia), those with chronic migraines, etc. During Covid-19 in the University of Manchester (which has a radical student movement), mitigation measures included automatic assignment extensions up to 7 days for two pieces of coursework, and the removal of the need to provide medical evidence for mitigating circumstances applications. “I have a good friend who is gonna be given a zero on an assignment despite having an IV in her arm right now because she “doesn’t have a doctor’s note, ” says a student.
  • The perception on-the-ground is that there is little to none continued support for hybrid learning. The technology is already partly there in College, so this seems like an absurd decision.

We would like to note that the workload of academic staff, which with ever-increasing administrative and bureaucratic aspects, is also a barrier to access to education for students. It results in academic staff not having as much time as they should to consider individual students on a case-by-case basis.

Graduates throwing hats.

Similarly, but on another matter, LLM Law students had their graduation on Diwali this year (2020-2021), and despite complaints by Indian students, it was not changed. This means that Indian parents, for example, could not always come and see the graduation of their sons and daughters. Another student missed the graduation sign-up deadline, and despite pleading with the College, was not allowed to attend the ceremony, despite his girlfriend having travelled 4,500 kms to Ireland. These are all signs of a creeping takeover of College by bureaucracy which appears rational, but in reality, is the not conducive to human existence.

Graduation, in any case, should be based on alphabetical order (for being called up on stage), and should have a more inclusive dress code. Dress codes are generally ableist as they do not allow for flexibility in the event of discomfort formal clothes bring to disabled people, such as those with sensory processing issues related to autism where an autistic individual may be averse to the feeling of certain materials. We should also acknowledge non-binary people. Here is a list of policy suggestions that S4C made with the TCDSU’s Welfare Officer.

Schools need more funding, and College needs more democratic and inclusive decision-making structures, and long-term sustainable planning needs to replace chaotic short-termism. The bureaucracy needs to be done away with, and replaced with human-centric structures.

Thank you to everyone who contributed.

College Knew For Months, But Did not Consult Sports Clubs for Interim Exhibiton

László Molnárfi 

According to documents from College Board’s meeting on the 19th of May 2021, two possible locations to temporarily house the Book of Kells interim exhibition were presented and approved as part of the Old Library Redevelopment Project (OLRP). The tentative locations agreed at Board were Library Square and New Square.

However, between June and August of 2021, the Bursar, Chief Operating Officer of the Corporate Service Division and Estates & Facilities of Trinity College Dublin engaged with Dublin City Council (DCC), who allegedly deemed these two locations unsuitable, and proposed the location of College Park instead. To date, no paperwork or correspondence surrounding this decision has been made available for scrutiny. 

The idea of College Park as a location, as yet comes with no formal application and extent of the engagement is unclear, but College was ‘guided that planning permission would be unlikely for either location [the Library Square and New Square’. It seems to have been more like a conversation than a formal engagement process with no concrete evidence as to why the originally proposed two locations were unsuitable. 

“I have asked the Bursars’ Office for clear data surrounding the decision-making process between College and DCC, but to date I have not received a response,” says TCDGSU President Ms. Giséle Scanlon. Trinity Fox, in light of this lack of engagement between College and the TCDGSU, has submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to find out information about how College and the DCC arrived at this suggested new location.

Stakeholders directly impacted by this decision had heard nothing of this change in location for four months until the Estates Policy Committee (EPC) on the 15th of October 2021, at which Ms. Scanlon was the sole dissenter of the proposal, and raised deep concerns about the impact this structure would have on-campus sports, mental health and the well-being of everyone, including those working in the buildings adjacent. The EPC is “a Principal Committee of the Board responsible for the review of policy in the area of the development and operation of the College’s sites” and “the meeting was led to believe that extensive engagement had taken place between the Bursars’ Office and stakeholders, who would be deeply impacted,” she says, “I believe committee members were misled, as there had not been adequate engagement with stakeholders. Our own engagement with the GSU, similar to the, consisted of a brief meeting with the Provost”.  

Because EPC does not have a representative from on-campus sports clubs or the TCDSU, Ms. Scanlon bore the sole responsibility of representing the student voice, and dissented, because she felt there had not been enough consultation with her members and other clubs across campus. 

“It became clear to me that the official slides presented at the EPC did not have the correct pitch sizes. When I left the meeting, as a matter of transparency, I Tweeted my concern and mentioned that I had dissented. Within an hour, DUAFC (football club) expressed surprise that this location was even an option, as the proposed measurements do not cater to football appropriately.  I was deeply concerned that neither DUHAC (athletics club) nor DUAFC and the DUCC (cricket club) had not been consulted before the meeting on the 15th. I talked to postgraduates who are members of these clubs and they confirmed that not only had no one spoken to them, but the captains of these clubs had not heard a single thing about College Park as a proposed venue”, she says. 

Essentially, Ms. Scanlon’s Tweet about her dissent is the way the wider student body discovered the new proposed location. 

Ms. Scanlon isn’t the only one to have voiced feelings of discontent with the new location and the lack of stakeholder engagement. It is reported that trade unions oppose the structure’s location as well, due to it taking away natural light from those working and studying in the neary buildings and libraries.

Mr. Raymond O’Malley, President of DUAFC (football club), said in a written statement to Trinity Fox that “The prospect of not having home matches at College Park for up to 4 years is unthinkable for the Club,” adding that “in our opinion, Library Square or New Square would be superior locations and the temporary nature of the proposed structure would ensure no permanent impact on the setting of either square or the adjoining buildings, which are protected structures. Dublin City Council has recently granted a temporary permission for Covid related structures in New Square that were permitted to remain in place for up to 3 years or whenever the covid restrictions ceased, whichever is sooner. In other words, the Council has accepted the principle of a temporary structure at these alternative locations, so their apparent resistance now to this proposal at those locations is inconsistent”.

Ms. Laura Brennon, President of DUHAC (the athletics club), said in a written statement to Trinity Fox that while they recognize the importance of the redevelopment project, they “are deeply concerned about the impact the proposal of a temporary structure on College Park would have on student sport and recreation. As a club, this is our main training ground, and we simply cannot afford to lose this facility. We pride ourselves in being an easy and accessible club where recreational runners can train alongside world class athletes and College Park is at the heart of this,” and pushed for alternative locations to be found for the Interim Exhibition. 

Dr. Ian Morrison, coach at the athletics club, added that “College Park is the heart and soul of our club in DUHAC. [..] [It] is where National Champions and beginners can be observed in training, coaching and developing and our only guaranteed time on grass for most of the athletes. We carefully use the entire perimeter respecting the inside soccer pitch and cricket crease. This will be destroyed by annexing a portion of College Park. Our running area will be massively reduced, to the point that no long intervals could be done without risking injury. We would have to run over cricket and soccer areas recurrently damaging the inside surface and we could not share College park on training nights as we currently do. [..] In the 1990s DUCAC and Trevor West the then Chair fought to stop development on College Park when the College proposed it be sacrificed. This “temporary” structure for 3 years will destroy the grass permanently and College’s record of temporary structures is sadly poor”.

On the 16th of October 2021, DUCAC (representative body for all sports clubs), who have so far shown no willingness to come out against the plan, sent an email to affected sport club captains inviting them to a meeting with DUCAC Chair Mr. Matthew Simons (who ran on a campaign of listening to sports clubs) and Head of Sports and Recreation Ms. Michelle Tanner. The email writes “We will also be providing you with some lunch so please come hungry, ” and essentially issued a gag order on sports clubs, saying that there is a “second meeting [with the Provost]”, until which “we would appreciate [..] that you do not comment to the Press (University Times, Trinity News) about any questions that may be directed to you”. 

The EPC feeds into the College Board, at which the final decision is expected to be taken on the 3rd of November 2021 on the location of the Interim Exhibition. A widely-shared petition was launched by Ms. Scanlon in opposition with already over 1,600 signatures at the time of writing, and was backed by independent activist group Students4Change. DUFAC has also come out in support of the petition, with DUHAC and DUCC also voicing their opposition.

Mr. O’Malley also commented on the petition, saying that “College Park needs to be protected for all Clubs and Students and not hijacked for tourists”.

Ms. Aisling Ahern, alumni of the College and former Ladies Harriers Captain wrote that she is “saddened and disappointed that the College would consider the wonderful facility of College Park dispensable.  It is absolutely essential as the heart and soul of DUHAC and had contributed endlessly to the fitness, health and happiness of members in Trinity Athletic’s 150 years of existence. […] Knocking the park out of use for 3 years is unacceptable and would damage the long standing culture and tradition of Trinity College Athletics”.

Another student who signed the petition lamented that “greedy developers are even here [in] one of the oldest schools”, echoing sentiments across College that corporatization is slowly destroying third-level educational institutions.

Documents relating to the Exhibition Pavilion also show a proposal to transform New Square into a ‘wellbeing space’ for students and staff, which is understood by some as an attempt to placate student representatives, some of whom, like DUCAC and TCDSU, have so far shown no willingness to oppose the proposed location despite their constituency’s democratic will. It also mentions that the School of Engineering, Provost Linda Doyle’s research area, are interested in using the space, under the heading ‘longer term potential benefits’, which details its possible uses for longer than 3 years.

Neither the College Bursar, the Head of Sports and Recreation, TCDSU nor the DUCAC Chair was available for comment as of the publication of this article. Trinity’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications, Mr. Tom Molloy declined to comment on whether there was engagement from College with the Old Library Redevelopment Steering Committee, a working group of the Library, with regards to the new location of College Park.

In a written statement to the University Times, Trinity Media Relations Ms. Officer Catherine O’Mahony said that  “College has made commitments to ensure proper engagements are made throughout the project for impacted clubs and individuals. College is looking to work with the community to ensure the Old Library project proceeds with the support of all stakeholders and for us to minimise the impact of the location for the interim exhibition on sport and recreational activities”.

Trinity’s Links with Declan Ganley and the Far-Right are Morally Reprehensible

László Molnárfi

From the lovely Cafe Tri Via in southside Dublin one can see a stretch of buildings, most of them the property of Trinity College Dublin, accumulated over the years for real estate investment. One of these, on the right, is CONNECT’s headquarters, a research center for telecommunications projects with the involvement of third-level institutions across the country. It is funded by the government, headquartered by the College and influenced by over 45 industrial partners. Partners, who hold sway over the institution, like Rivada Networks, whose controversial founder Declan Ganley is involved with the right- to far-right sphere.

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It is this link that has led to Rivada Networks directly funding Trinity researchers, like in the case of then-Professor Linda Doyle’s and Peter Cramton’s 2016 paper on wireless markets, and many more through CONNECT.

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This is somewhat of an open secret amongst people familiar with academic research, but is not widely known. It is important to note, however, so as to realize that the corrupting influence of capital goes much further than Trinity’s two and a half million euro investment into the armaments industry, and gets its claws much deeper in the institution. The history of CONNECT is representative of the ruling mode of production and the intensification of capitalism over the past few decades.

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CONNECT used to be the CTVR, the Center for Communication and Value Chain Research of Trinity founded in 2004. It was now-Provost Linda Doyle who embarked on an ambitious project to transform it into what she envisioned to be a nation-wide multi-institutional research center. From this, CONNECT was born in 2015 as a public-private partnership, with the government’s Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and corporate players funding its 300+ researchers who come up with ideas, and third-level institutions like Trinity managing their projects and profiting from the system through getting paid for administrative expenses. Trinity has an especially important role in the project, not only in headquartering, but it also hosts its directors, one of them who was now-Provost Linda Doyle until 2018, when another professor from the College took over.

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Of course, the involvement of the government who demand spin-off companies with profitability and multinationals means it has an entrepreneurial bent.

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This is where Rivada Networks comes into the picture, which is one of the corporate players involved in funding research and real-world applications thereof. Mr. Ganley, its Chairman and CEO, sits on the board of CONNECT. And if by nothing else, his influence can be measured by his net worth of €455 million euros, which he amassed through a network of businesses in Ireland, the United States and Russia, primarily in the telecommunications field. In June 2021, he and then-Provost-elect Linda Doyle did an interview on CONNECT’s YouTube channel, indicating his continued involvement, which becomes problematic when considering his political views, the organizations he runs and where he spends his money.

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Mr. Ganley is described as one of Ireland’s most prominent conservatives, and he is on the limit of political respectability at first glance. Always one step shy from explicitly engaging in the extreme right network, he works to support the Christian, right-wing and far-right forces from the background. This is done mostly through funding and donations.

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In 2017, he gave the seed money for so-called ‘conservative student newspaper’ The Burkean, which at the time described itself as a publication of Trinity students aimed to fight the ‘degeneracy’ in the western world. This is, of course, a common far-right dog whistle.

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To take another example, at the time of the abortion referendum in 2018, he campaigned fiercely on the ‘No’ side, even saying that he will ‘not pay taxes that fund abortion’.

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The question is, of course, where the profit motive lies and where his money is coming from. Naturally not solely from endeavours such as CONNECT’s spin-off companies, Rivada Networks is supported by right-wing interests around the world. It is not a coincidence that his company employs people such as John McGuirk, the editor of far-right newspaper Gript.ie and political player who once called a pro-choice TD, Kate O’Connell, a “catty, spiteful, loathsome twit”. He was communcations director for the anti-abortion “Save The 8th” campaign in 2018, and during his time at Trinity College Dublin he was “was forced to apologise after anonymous emails used to make allegations of sexual harrasment against a member of TCD’s College Historical Society were traced back to him”.

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To find other proof for the involvement of vested interests one only has to open a newspaper. Near the end of his presidency, it was reported that Donald Trump was pressuring the Pentagon to give a no-bid contract to develop 5G spectrum to Mr. Ganley’s company, ‘whose prominent investors include Fox News regular Karl Rove and Peter Thiel, Trump’s biggest supporter in Silicon Valley’.

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This is not to mention that the directors of Rivada Networks include a former lieutenant general, two formal admirals and a former deputy-secretary of Homeland Security, who also sits on the board of LockHeed Martin, a defense contractor that Trinity coincidentally has an investment of 721,473 € in. In addition, it includes Richard B. Myers, fifteenth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oversaw the 2001 invasion of Iraq by the United States. Mr. Ganley himself, through using Rivada Networks as a telecommunications supply company, tried to profit from the U.S. invasion of Iraq by securing contracts for the failed reconstruction effort in 2003.

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Later, between 2004 and 2008, ‘Rivada Pacific won contracts totaling $37.3 million from the U.S government.’

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In this light, Mr. Ganley’s former political party, the so-called Libertas, also makes sense. He set up Libertas to campaign against the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2018 in alliance with national-conservative forces, on a platform that presented itself as defending the ‘libertarian democracy’ of the European Union (EU). However, upon closer inspection, this was a red herring. The Irish Times in 2008 reported that Mr. Ganley’s aspirations came as part of his vision, written down in a paper for the Foreign Policy Research Institution (FRPI) in 2003, a neoconservative think-tank that promotes military interventionism and U.S. foreign policy goals, which at their core arise from an ever-growing need to expand the markets that capital can spread to.

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In this paper, he denounced European criticism of the Iraqi invasion, and declared that the EU must cease its ‘contradistinction to the United States, [that] this new Europe must be an equal partner and influence in the worldwide extension of justice and liberty,’ – a goal which Libertas shamelessly promoted.

Declan Ganley’s ex-Party, Libertas, also allied itself with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a pro-Israel organization which claimed in 2013 that BDS is a “thinly-disguised effort to coordinate and complement the violent strategy of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim ‘rejectionists’ who have refused to make peace with Israel for over six decades, and to pursue a high-profile campaign composed of anti-Israel big lies to help destroy the Jewish State by any and all means”..

As such, if Trinity wants to adhere to its mission statement to promote a campus culture of ‘dedication to societal reform’, it should be more careful of where it gets its funding.

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