SU set to “radicalise”: Lenihan refuses to rule out sit-in

Catherine Healy

News Editor

  • SU remains defiant after meeting vice-provost over cuts

  • Provost proposed cuts, capitated bodies now learn

  • GSU more cautious, reluctant to encourage “enmity”

The Students’ Union president, Tom Lenihan, has refused to rule out the possibility of an occupation in protest at funding cuts for capitated bodies.  The assertion follows a meeting on the issue held last Wednesday between the vice-provost, the treasurer, and representatives of the capitated bodies.

The meeting failed to result in an agreement on the reversal of funding cuts to Trinity College Students Union (TCDSU), the Central Societies Committee (CSC), the Graduate Students Union (GSU), Dublin University Central Athletic Club (DUCAC), and Trinity Publications. It is understood that representatives of the capitated bodies also declined an offer to reduce cuts from 5% to 3.75%. The offer was proposed by the vice-provost on the grounds that there had been a lack of communication in failing to inform student leaders of cuts until four months after the decision had been made.

Capitated bodies were informed on 21st November that their funding will be cut by 10% over the next two years, with two annual cuts of 5%. In real terms, TCDSU is to be reduced by ¤16,229, CSC reduced by ¤17,916, GSU cut by ¤2,998, DUCAC reduced by ¤17,690, and Publications cut by ¤2,423. This amounts to a reduction of nearly ¤60,000 in funding for student services.

The decision was reached in June at a meeting of the secretive College Planning Group, which has been tasked with rebranding Trinity and developing a strategic plan to attract more international students over the next five years. The group is composed of fourteen members – including the vice-provost, Prof Linda Hogan; the vice-president for Global Relations, Jane Ohlmeyer; the dean of Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, Prof Clive Williams; the dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof James Wickham; the dean of Health Sciences, Prof Mary McCarron, and the director of the Trinity Foundation, Nick Sparrow – but has no student representation in it. The minutes from the group’s June meeting note that College requires “further income to meet its expenditure,” and that Schools are being asked to “deliver more programmes with less resources.” They make no reference to cuts in funding for capitated bodies.

Trinity News understands that funding cuts to capitated bodies were initially proposed by Provost Patrick Prendergast, who is not a member of the Planning Group. The proposed cuts to student services were presented to the group in a memorandum prepared by Prendergast, along with the vice-provost and treasurer.

Speaking to Trinity News on Thursday, Lenihan said that the SU is likely to perform “some form of direct action” if cuts are not reversed. “We would have radicalise if they are imposed,” he said. “We would have to show that we are not taking this lying down.” If cuts are not reversed, he said, “I would have to put it students that if there was ever a time to care about student politics or the student experience, this is the time. This is the biggest decision this year to affect students.”

He is quietly confident that students will support any proposed direct action. “I think they would think we are right to protect their interests,” he said. “Their money is being spent less and less on student services. It’s being spent on something that will never affect them. It’s being put into a black hole.”

GSU president Ryan Kenny struck a more cautious note later that day as he distanced himself from the escalating conflict.

“I think direct action is a valuable tool but it is a last resort,” he told Trinity News. “I think we’re quite far away from those sorts of measures. The ideal solution is always to engage constructively and to reach an agreement that satisfies nobody but is acceptable to everybody. There is a lot to be lost in encouraging enmity on campus. One of the Trinity’s strength is its collegiality, the fact that students and staff identify as being a part of Trinity. One of the arguments we’re making against the cut is that this is sending out a message which is contrary to that idea. We shouldn’t push ourselves away until all other avenues are exhausted.”

The funding that is allocated every year to the capitated bodies comes from the annual student contribution charge, which is paid by all students. Before 2002, students paid a direct “capitation fee” which went straight to the capitated bodies for the provision of services and extra-curricular activities for students. This was incorporated into the overall registration fee in 2002.

The last student sit-in in Trinity took place in November 2009, when over 50 students occupied the Berkeley library in protest against library cuts.

Catherine Healy

Editor of Trinity News. Interested in politics, history and all forms of media.