A petition is being circulated calling for changes to the funding structure of the University Times (UT). The paper is part of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), though the union’s constitution stipulates that the paper has editorial independence.
If the petition receives signatures from 500 students, it will be voted on by Trinity students at referendum.
What are the rules governing UT’s budget?
The TCDSU constitution lists ways in which the union is obligated to financially support UT. It does not stipulate how much funding the paper receives, only that the union should provide funding to cover the publication of the newspaper, a salary for the editor, and an office and other facilities.
Each year, the editor of UT draws up a proposed budget for the newspaper and brings it to Union Forum (a body consisting of all officers, sabbatical and part time, of TCDSU). Union Forum can accept the budget, or reject it and ask the editor to draw up a new one. This continues until the forum is happy with the budget the editor presents.
What would the current proposal do, if passed?
The petition, if passed, would delete the line in the constitution which says the union must provide “a salary for the editor only, granted on a monthly basis during term”, and edit a previous line to add “…excluding salaries or wages”. In other words, it would mean that neither the editor of UT nor anyone else in the newspaper would receive a salary.
Both the University Times and the authors of the petition have described it as proposing to cut the paper’s funding, but this is not strictly speaking true; it would place a limit on what the funding could be used for. The decision about how, if at all, the paper’s overall level of funding might be affected after the change would be in the hands of Union Forum.
How does it compare to other positions and publications?
Most publications in Trinity, including Trinity News, the Piranha and TN2, are subordinate to and funded by Trinity Publications, rather than TCDSU. Both TCDSU and Trinity Publications are “capitated bodies” of Trinity, which receive funding from College’s Capitation Committee. There are three other such bodies: the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), the Dublin University Central Athletics Club, and the Central Societies Committee (CSC). Only TCDSU and the GSU have paid sabbatical positions; TCDSU has six and the GSU has two.
The sabbatical officers of TCDSU, including the editor of UT, receive both accommodation on campus and a living wage.
It is usually the case that the editor of Trinity News takes a sabbatical year during or after their time in college to run the newspaper, but it is not mandated that they do so, unlike TCDSU sabbatical officers. Trinity Publications pays for on-campus accommodation for the editor, or provides the equivalent value as a stipend towards other accommodation, but does not pay a salary.
The auditors of the two debating societies (the College Historical Society and the University Philosophical Society), which are funded by the CSC, also usually take sabbatical years, but this is not mandated and is not always the case. They do not receive accommodation stipends or salaries.
The overall budget for the University Times this year comes to €26,731, not including accommodation or salary expenses (which are bundled together for all sabbatical officers in TCDSU’s financial statements). Including the living wage, which is €12.90 per hour (and which accommodation costs are included in), adds a bit over €26,000, for a total of approximately €53,000. Trinity News has a total budget of €19,684, including €5,980 for the editor’s accommodation.
What’s the historical context?
UT was founded in 2009 by then-TCDSU Communications & Marketing Officer Rob Donohoe. For the first five years of the paper’s existence, the union’s comms officer also served as its editor. Following a constitutional review in 2014, the office of editor became a separate, paid sabbatical role.
In 2019, following controversy over UT staff covertly recording audio of a student apartment, a petition was circulated which would have severely restricted the newspaper’s funding. The petition received the required number of signatures, but the proposal was defeated at referendum. After the No side was sanctioned for receiving external endorsements for its campaign, UT threatened the TCDSU Electoral Commission with legal action.
The 2019 proposal was different to the one currently being circulated, and much more extensive. While the current proposal would merely change what the budget could include, the 2019 proposal would have placed a €3,000 ceiling on the paper’s budget. At the time, this would have represented a funding cut of more than 93%.
At time of writing, the current petition has not reached the number of signatures required to be voted on.