On Tuesday morning, The University Times (UT) ran a front page story outlining the growing difficulties that student societies are facing in operating within Trinity. Citing several documents of correspondence between societies and College offices (specifically the Enquiries and Examinations offices) the article outlined the increasing problems that societies are encountering as College moves further and further away from its commitment to student-led activity, despite its claim in the latest strategic plan to recognise societies’ “key role in the student experience”.
The University Times article brought to light the disdain and disregard in which College currently holds student organisations.
However, the documents cited had been provided by the Central Societies Committee (CSC) under the agreement that neither the correspondents nor the documents themselves would be mentioned. This agreement was not upheld and when the paper was distributed, the article named several correspondents, including the president of the University Philosophical Society (Phil).
The president then asked members of the society to remove copies of the paper from campus. Shortly after this, the editor of UT decided to pull the remaining public copies. Yesterday, this paper reported these events, despite huge pressure from various quarters not to do so.
Trinity News has a responsibility to the students of Trinity College and we believe we did right both in reporting the news and in how we reported it. There are undoubtedly those who strongly disagree. We believe our reporting has benefited the student body.
From the leaked documents, it is clear that Trinity’s societies are fighting hard for the right to be able to function properly and are being met with entrenched opposition from College. It is clear that the Phil, among others, is struggling against College to be able to provide the student experience that makes Trinity worthwhile.
The Phil, the documents show, has been working hard on behalf of its member to provide them with the best experience possible. The CSC, in compiling the information, is acting in the best interest of Trinity students, trying to bring to light the uphill battle facing societies in their engagements with College. The University Times in trying to bring the information into the public discourse would have been helping the situation, had it abided by the initial agreement with the CSC. However, UT’s breaking of rank with the Phil and the CSC has led to a situation that could be disastrous for student life in Trinity.
“As a journalist, I oppose the idea of a society deciding to take a paper out of circulation due to a disagreement over content but first and foremost as a journalist I disagree with printing information that was given under the assertion and promise of anonymity.”
Everyone from the Phil to Trinity News to The University Times has been struggling with College’s attitudes to student life in recent years. The unprecedented cuts last year affected everyone and the reluctance to engage with students is a worrying problem this paper can attest to, as can every other body that contributes to student life on campus.
The Phil’s response to the UT article is not surprising. Once the UT printed names and cited documents that it had agreed not to use the rules of engagement were broken. When UT split what had been a united front, the Phil began damage control and went into self-preservation mode, which is understandable. I think the Phil reacted as I believe many would have if they were in a similar position to those named.
As a journalist, I oppose the idea of a society deciding to take a paper out of circulation due to a disagreement over content but first and foremost as a journalist I disagree with printing information that was given under the assertion and promise of anonymity.
Whereas up to that point there had been a concerted and united attempt to improve the situation of students, once UT broke their agreement with the societies it was understandable that the rest would fall apart. If the media does not respect those with whom it liaises it cannot expect to be respected in turn. The Phil acted in the best interest of the Phil once it became apparent that UT had not acted as it had promised to do, which was to act in the interest of students as a whole, without compromising individuals.
A combined student push for improvement has quickly descended into a situation of student versus student. In deciding to report the story, it would appear this paper is involved in another us versus them situation, which again is pitting students against one another. I reiterate that we believe that we are acting with the best interest of our peers in mind.
“What student life in Trinity does not need now is for its various components to draw battle lines against each other while the fabric of the student life that we champion in Trinity continues to disintegrate.”
Prior to this week, as the leaked documents show, society life in Trinity was in dire straits due to the attitude and actions of College. That information, however, was available to very few. It is now very much public information. What happens next will be key for student life in Trinity in the future.
College aims to buy silence by privileging a select few to the behind the scenes machinations of College-student interactions. College’s policy is that by letting only a limited amount of people in on how things are run, those people will keep their mouths shut rather than lose this “privilege”.
However, given the obvious disrespect that College shows those who negotiate on our behalf, and the refusal by College to play ball, the promise of silence might not be one student representatives will be willing to keep much longer.
The University Times made a serious mistake in reneging on a promise to their sources. Their attempt at bringing into the public forum the difficulties societies face in dealing with College did not turn out as they had planned but, nevertheless, the issue is now public. Our reporting of the story truly brought the issue into the public forum and I believe this is a good thing.
What student life in Trinity does not need now is for its various components to draw battle lines against each other while the fabric of the student life that we champion in Trinity continues to disintegrate.
The reporting of the College- society correspondence by this paper, might, as is feared by some, further worsen the current relationship between College and societies, if not rupture them altogether. But as those documents reveal, that relationship is not a positive one, nor one that we can afford to let continue down the path it is going. Up until now, these were issues that affected all of us but were known by few. It is this paper’s hope that a more informed student body can be a more effective student body in opposing College’s policy of student disregard.
Unless Trinity students can present an informed and united front against College then the situation will continue to worsen. UT, the Phil and the CSC were acting together in the best interests of the student body and had UT produced a better final product then we might be a step closer to this ideal. As it stands we are heading in the opposite direction.
Last night, a motion of confidence in the president of the Phil was passed. As a result of our commitment to act as we believe to be in the best interests of Trinity students, we have lost two very capable journalists, whose departure is of regret to me personally and Trinity News as an organisation.
Trinity student life is a world of independent republics, which is the foundation of its diversity and dynamism, but is also unfortunately the reason why we are an easy target. We are at worst a fractured body in which very few know what’s actually going on behind the scenes. This weakens us.
This paper’s duty, one shared with UT, is to report what we believe to be important and what we believe are peers should be aware of. Only a fully informed student body can combat the current climate of exclusion that College is fostering towards Trinity’s societies. This paper’s intention is always to inform its readers to their benefit.
Trinity News stands by our reporting and in doing so we stand by our peers.