This article has been updated in response to new information provided by the UCC SU president.
Yesterday, the UCC Students Union revealed a press release that marked the public announcement of the closure of the Old Bar, and the start of a campaign by UCCSU, the Societies Guild and the Clubs Executive, in opposition to the closure. The press release referred to an open letter sent to the UCC President, Michael Murphy, who also stands as chair of the University Management Team — Operations (UMTO), which made the decision to close the bar.
The student-managed organisations mentioned above are not represented on this team, and according to this letter were not consulted prior to this decision being made. The letter also notes that the decision to close the bar was omitted from the public minutes of the UMTO meeting. The SU President has access to these minutes as a member of UMTS (University Management Team – Strategy).
In a statement by UCCSU President Eolann Sheehan to Motley Magazine, we were told that the University has not yet even provided notice in writing to the SU of the closure. The SU became aware of the issue from rumour on campus, and received confirmation from the university president. The SU has not yet been provided with a reason for the closure. However, in a statement to Motley Magazine, Eolann noted “What we do know is that it was not financially motivated, KSG (the management company) pay rent for the space each year, which means the university is always benefiting financially from the bar being open.”
The letter notes “The Old College Bar provides Clubs, Societies and the Students’ Union with a venue for informal events that bring in hundreds of euro to better fund the student experience, as well as raising thousands of euro for very deserving charities”.
“We will not accept the Old College Bar being removed and will not stand by the loss of our student space and social history.” stands as the mission statement for the #SaveOurSpace campaign to protect the Old Bar. The Students’ Union has provided a Change.org petition allowing students to support this letter.
In the wake of this closure, the SU’s press release was picked up by on-campus organisations such as the UCC Express, as well as national media outlets including the Irish Examiner and Newstalk 106fm.
An official response was provided by the university to these media outlets:
“University College Cork confirms that a decision was taken by the Senior Management Team of the University to close one of the two bars on campus and to continue the on-campus sale of alcohol through one outlet only, in the New Bar. The space freed up will now be available for a range of other student facing services and activities including the option to use it for common room space for the wider student body, with the option also of helping to address the space needs of the Students’ Union, the Clubs Executive and the Societies Guild amongst other groupings, in advance of the opening of the nearby new Student Hub in 2018.”
However, in an email sent by the UCCSU President to all students, titled “URGENT: Closure of The Old College Bar — Help us #SaveOurSpace”, a different picture was painted:
“An initial statement from UCC to the Irish Examiner suggests that the space will be retained for ‘student facing services’ with the option of retaining it as a common room, however, a senior university source has already informed us that this would be ‘extremely unlikely’.”
At time of publishing the UCC President has not responded to requests for comment by Motley Magazine. The UMTO’s website is currently inaccessible. This article will continue to be updated as new information arrives.
However, perhaps the most important statement of all is nestled in the SU’s first message: recommending that the Students’ Union “would be happy to advise and assist in updating and changing the Old College Bar to meet the requirements of UCC students today”.
In an email sent to society chairpersons, Societies Guild President Pat McCarthy asked students to “Share your Old Bar Stories”. A former society chairperson, Evan Smith, declared “I get that it’s a part of history and a lot of people’s college experience but it’s not disability-friendly, it’s not all that well kept, there’s not been a clear chain/method of management (at least in the 3 years I’ve been in college) and as a venue it’s pretty sub-par all around.” He noted in particular “Having run and helped run more than a couple events in there now as part of a society, it’s really not adequately set up to accommodate any kind of event and that’s a shame.”
(full disclosure: the author of this piece has worked with Evan Smith in organising events)
The letter mentions “legendary student events” such as the Battle Of The Bands and the Clubs and Societies Table Quiz, as reasons to keep the Old Bar. The Battle of the Bands has been held in Cyprus Avenue for the last two years. The Clubs and Societies Table Quiz was held in The Rock this year, and The New Bar the preceding year.
Pat McCarthy stated in her email to society chairs:
“I know that last year was not the best in terms of management of the Old Bar. But regardless of this, plans for the year ahead would have seen this change.”
Ten days ago, the Old Bar announced on Facebook they were seeking new management. However, some problems with the Old Bar are simply hard and expensive to fix; some students have noted on Twitter [1, 2] that the Old Bar fails to meet the accessibility standards required by mandates to the SU.
In previous campus opinion pieces Motley Magazine has noted the many ways in which the university funding crisis impacts students. We have also noted the difficulty in locating creative spaces for students. This year, Motley Magazine and the UCC Express have had their offices moved to Lancaster Quay, off-campus.
If the Old Bar continues to use valuable campus space sub-optimally, the #SaveOurSpace campaign may be somewhat counter-productive to students. If the university does keep their word in providing a space for “other student facing services and activities”, while freeing up much-needed funding, the outcomes may be positive. UMTO’s lack of communication to date doesn’t paint a particularly optimistic picture, but the current state of the Old Bar fails to as well.
Though the SU’s campaign appears somewhat rushed, and has not taken into consideration many of the flaws or the potential other uses of the space, credit must be given to them for their rapid response in bringing the issue into the public eye.
UMTO’s decision to act without consulting students remains the greatest mistake made here. If this decision was truly made with the best interests of students in mind, a conversation should’ve developed between student organisations and UMTO prior to the announcement of the closure.
From here, it’s no holds barred.