Freshers’ Week 2020 was nearly unrecognisable from previous years. The new cohort of students were welcomed to UCC in a virtual manner, in accordance with public health advice. However, as with every aspect of society, there were a minority of students that did not adhere to the current Government regulations relating to Covid-19 and the University’s plea to practise ‘good citizenship.’ As a result of this, eleven students were suspended from the University, pending disciplinary hearings.
When speaking with University Express, Naoise Crowley, President of UCC Students’ Union (UCCSU), said the increase in these fines came as a surprise. “There had been discussions over the past few weeks about increasing the fine to €75 from an original €50, however, we raised opposition to it consistently in various meetings. As such, it was frustrating to see this news for the first time reported in the Irish Examiner.” Mr. Crowley added, “The information provided regarding what would constitute a Campus Watch fine was very unclear, and to this point that question has not yet been answered.” According to the UCC student rules, the Campus Watch body decides whether complaints about student behaviour should be dealt with by the Campus Watch Committee, which hears less serious complaints, or by the Student Discipline Panel, dealing with the more serious cases.
According to UCCSU, the Students’ Union has been pushing towards an alternative approach to the Campus Watch fine, namely one that “encourages reflection and education as opposed to looking to penalise students financially” Mr. Crowley said. “The University has taken some of our insights on board in fairness, however, the changes made don’t go far enough, in my opinion. The fine has subsequently been reduced to €25 if the student accused of breaching the student rules, according to the Campus Watch committee, agrees to engage in the inhouse Alcohol Education Programme or the Bystander Intervention programme.” Mr. Crowley also said in conversation with University Express, that he believed these educational programmes are far more educational and productive as a repercussion of their actions, rather than paying an arbitrary fine, especially when students are faced with high levels of expenses such as fees and rent.
Mr Crowley concluded by highlighting the importance of students and their contribution within the University. “With the recent news about ‘potential expulsions’ and increasing fines, I think there has been a lot of reflection on the role of the University in the lives of students. I think UCC needs to focus to a greater extent on the needs of students and our concerns, to show some understanding and compassion at this very challenging and uncertain time. Without students, this institution would not exist – it’s important to remember that.” It is not yet known when the Campus Watch committee will hear the cases of the eleven students concerned.
Separately from the Campus Watch fines, the Students’ Union also came under fire from national media, for continuing with their online Freshers’ Week events, which aimed to integrate new students into the University community. All UCC students received an email from Interim President, Professor John O’Halloran, prior to the commencement of ‘Freshers’ Week,’ which explained that the University ‘could not support its operation.’ UCCSU proceeded with these events, as they were in line with public health advice, given that all the events occurred virtually. Mr. Crowley explained that Virtual Freshers’ Week was used as a means of promoting public health measures by providing “alternative entertainment to face-to-face contact.” UCCSU were able to confirm that no gathering reviewed by Campus Watch was associated with a virtual event staged as part of their virtual Freshers’ Week.