You can be pro-life and vote to impeach UCDSU President Katie Ascough. Impeachment has absolutely nothing to do with her personal views, but rather how she has been representing students. So far not only has she not been representing them, but her actions have also weakened UCDSU as a whole.
It is important to remember what the main role of UCD Students’ Union President actually is, which is to represent students to the University. She is supposed to bring the student case to the decision-makers of the University, who make decisions on what impacts students on a day to day basis.
In this regard, the whole Winging It handbook debacle has completely undermined both the Presidents’ and the Students’ Union’s position as a whole, not just for this year but for the next number of years.
The union was severely in debt almost five years ago and had to be bailed out by the University. For the first time in a number of years the union was out of that severe debt and could simply focus on student issues. They did not need to be mindful of a University that had bailed them out from previous bad financial decisions.
The work of previous unions to level up finances and create an image that the union can be trusted with money is ruined by the decision to reprint the books, which at its heart is a bad financial decision. It has distracted and clouded the union when they should be focusing on so many other things.
The work of previous unions to level up finances and create an image that the union can be trusted with money is ruined by the decision to reprint the books, which at its heart is a bad financial decision.
UCD currently has the largest repeat and resit fees at €230 per repeated exam with no cap per student. This means if a student needs to repeat three modules, they will be charged the best parts of a €1000. UCD has previously received €1.8 million in one year from students paying these fees in the past. How can the union say to the University that they charge too much for repeat fees, or make any kind of recommendations on the university’s financial policy when they have already made such a bad decision regarding finance?
The library is also woefully understaffed and underfunded. The last University quality review of the library outlined this very clearly. The library has also seen significant staff cuts. Last Spring the University Observer reported that the Athletic Council had not had an increase in funding for nearly eight years. This has led to cuts for sports clubs and has had an impact on student activities.
Consent classes were also dropped by the union. Not only have they not been reinstated this year (despite numerous union officers claiming they were a priority in March), there are no plans outlined yet for their introduction next semester. The classes that were held last year were initially expected to have the support of the University, however they did not help the union to fund consent classes which cost €1800.
The University Foundation continues to fundraise for the controversial Confucius Centre, which is already over budget and significantly delayed. The benefits the centre offers the wider student population are not clear, and the more time that the University Foundation fundraises for this centre, the less time they have to fundraise for students services. Like the library or the athletic department.
These are all pressing issues that affect students and their education every single day. The Students’ Union should be confronting the University on these issues. They should be questioning why such decisions are being made and if the students’ best interests are at heart.
Yet they are not. They will face difficulty doing so in future with such a weak financial decision under their belt.
The University boards where all of these calls are being made, have virtually no student representation. The President, Welfare, and Education officers all sit on Governing Authority. However, none of them sit on the University Management Team, which is the highest decision making body in UCD and outlines the strategy that they want the Governing Authority to follow.
The union President is the only student officer to sit on the University’s financial board (FRAMC) and does not have a vote. What the union should be doing is pushing for seats on these boards to bring the student case to the decision makers of the University. Students issues are not prominent on these boards and will not be until the Students’ Union makes them.
What the union should be doing is pushing for seats on these boards to bring the student case to the decision makers of the University.
How can the union turn around and criticise the University and question them, when the union has reprinted a booklet at an extra cost of approximately €8,000? How can they confront the University about its financial decisions, when the union has made such a bad one themselves?
No matter what the result of the referendum, the SU has been placed on a much weaker footing than they were even last year.
Impeaching Katie Ascough is nothing to do with the abortion debate. She was elected this March to represent all students whether they are pro-life, pro-choice or on the fence. The role of the SU President is generally nothing to do with campaigning on broader political issues or only in so far as they affect students. This particular issue is a special case and has been for the last number of years.
Make no mistake, the reprinting of the booklets was a very bad decision. The information that would have been published has been distributed by the SU before, with no legal consequences. Most recently, almost the exact same information was published last year, with no legal action.
The main issue hinges on the idea that it is unsolicited information, and that abortion information can only be given out if asked for. However, who is soliciting the information exactly? That is not clearly defined. As the Students’ Union has a clear mandate to support moves to repeal the eighth amendment, this could be seen as soliciting the information.
However, even if you can say that the information was unsolicited, the fact remains that legal action was extremely unlikely as evidenced by the fact that virtually the same information was provided last year with no legal action against the union. No legal action has been taken for illegally publishing this information for nearly 20 years. Though in theory every person that distributed the book would be liable for a fine, this would have been highly unlikely in practice.
Furthermore, when the union faced similar action in the 1980s, it was taken against the union alone. The precedent is not for every student that distributes the information to be fined.
When the union faced similar action in the 1980s, it was taken against the union alone.
In purely marketing terms reprinting the booklets was a bad financial decision. In numerous posts on the “Vote No” Facebook campaign page, Ascough outlines that she would have preferred to publish the information online in the form of a pdf. However, this would have presented problems in regards to advertising. The union had offered a service of print advertising, not online. Publishing the handbook online only would have meant that the money received from advertising would need to be returned. From the minute that the decision was made to cancel the books, the union was facing a much higher bill.
In order to protect the sponsorship, the handbooks needed to be reprinted.
This makes the decision to redistribute the booklets a bad financial decision. This has a significant effect with how the union can deal with student issues at the university level.
One of the main roles of each of the SU officers is to represent students at different management boards. This includes the main financial making decision board of the University, FRAMC.
The union right now is not representing students and even worse than that, they are undermining their ability to address problems going forward or strengthen their position in future.
Though plenty of people from outside UCD are jumping on the bandwagon to offer their opinions, the only opinions that really matter (whether they are pro-life or pro-choice) are the students.’ Right now, they are the ones who are suffering the most from this whole ordeal.
For their education alone, students deserve a better President and a better union than they currently have.
Roisin Guyett-Nicholson is a former Editor of the University Observer and has also worked with the Irish Times and Newstalk. She is currently undertaking a Masters in History in UCD.