With new regulations for residences being put in place, Zelda Cunningham examines why they could be a source of conflict in the university.
Since the beginning of the academic year, a new set of regulations governing campus residences has been put into force. The regulations, entitled ‘Managing breaches of Residence Rules’ lists an extensive compilation of offences and corresponding punitive fines, which students in breach of the rules can face.
Vice-President for Students, Dr Martin Butler, commended these regulations, saying that they simply categorised the existing rules for residents on the Belfield campus. He commented that the document gives “transparency for students”, enabling residents to comprehend exactly what the rules and regulations of their licence to reside are.
Admittedly, there was a need to explicitly categorise the exact reasons behind disciplinary action of the Residences Committee. Students should not feel that a decision to fine them is arbitrary. There should be something tangible for staff and residents to point to act as a benchmark of acceptable conduct.
However, what emerged from the document has been criticised strongly by the Students’ Union (SU) as being Draconian. Despite the document’s unflinching clarity, SU President, Aodhán Ó Deá stated that the new regulations need to be reassessed, questioning the legality of the regulations.
The primary difficulty identified with these rules was that they were not sufficiently circulated among students. It was felt that many students were fined for offences that they were unaware of. Surely, the clarity of the document is irrelevant if it is not widely dispersed to all of those it affects.
Definitions of offences in the regulations have also been a source of conflict. Under the stipulations in the document, a party is defined as “an unauthorised gathering of eight persons or more in any one place.” This includes residents of an apartment. This would mean that, in the apartment blocks of Glenomena and Roebuck Hall, which each houses six students, a visit of two people could warrant a minimum fine of €100.
The report clearly states a range of minimum fines, but fails to point to any maximum fines. Cumulative fines for various offences committed at once, cost a student more than any fine enforced by the Registrar. For example, three people smoking in an apartment, at an unauthorised party will could cost the resident a potential €600, a hugely onerous fee for any student to face.
However, perhaps the most worrying aspect of the regulations is the rules laid down for regarding the appeals process.
The initial document stipulated that students seeking to appeal their fine would pay a fee of €60 for a hearing. The reasoning behind this fee was said to be to prevent students arbitrarily appealing their fines.
However, this fee has since been reduced to €50, and there is a proposal currently in the works to ensure students pay this only after an unsuccessful appeal.
However, regardless of the reduction, it can be argued that the system of charging students for the right of appeal is inherently unfair. The prospect of paying the cumulative price of the fine and potentially the appeals fee would undoubtedly deter many students from arguing their case, perhaps believing that it was their word against the person imposing the fine.
Dr Butler has stated that “you have to do something fairly serious to get a €150 fine. It is up to you to adjudicate ‘Am I guilty or am I not.’” Yet there appears to be an indication here that if a fine is imposed, the student is guilty. This appears to fly in the face of any presumption of innocence, that one would hope the university would afford students.
Dr Butler described the residence rules as “an agreement of set parameters [for discipline] in which everyone abides. We want the student residences to be like a community, or a family.” With all UCD’s promotion of collegiate community, its seeming inability to communicate the details of what is expected of students and to ensure fairness in its affairs could add to the sterility and coldness that is often associated with Belfield.
If such rules are to be implemented, students’ say must to be considered, or even afforded explanations in order to ensure everyone does feel like a valued member of this extended “family”.