Monday, April 20, 2015

Propaganda on Campus

Today on social media, there was some excitement and indignation about this photo of a voter registration drive in University College Dublin (where I work), ahead of May's referendum to introduce same-sex marriage to Ireland, which apparently showed a member of the gardai giving out 'Vote Yes' badges. At least, she was sitting at a table littered with them.

So there may be some interest in this correspondence I had with the Welfare Officer of the Student's Union and the staff of UCD's 'Equality Unit', which is supposed to oversee equality on campus.

To understand my irritation, you should understand the extent of the UCD Student's Union Vote Yes campaign. There are scores of posters mounted all over campus, showing mugshots of various students with quotations supposedly (or, for all I know, actually) from them. The quotations are mostly platitudes, but some border on offensive to those of socially conservative views, as I mention in one of my emails.

I decided to drop the matter after the last email. I have also decided to omit the names of my correspondents, since I did not announce any intention to make the correspondence public. 

(I'm sorry about the formatting, I can't seem to fix it-- the lack of line breaks in my messages and the tiny font of the Equality Unit's reply. I've tried several times.)

Dear Equality Unit
A plasma screen has been erected on the stairway from the Student's Union shop to the ground floor of the library building. This plasma screen is being used entirely to promote the 'Yes' campaign in the upcoming marriage referendum, employing a variety of emotive slogans.
This is a stairway used by many students and by staff who work in the library and in UCD. Sometimes it is the only means of entrance to the library. I do not think it is fair that it should be the venue for such propaganda.
If a spirit of diversity and equality do not apply to beliefs-- such as the belief in traditional marriage-- then what meaning does it have? The UCD Equality & Diversity Unit's website says: "The Equality and Diversity Unit is a dedicated resource in the University to promote equality and diversity in its activities." Given that mission statement, can UCD sanction its buildings being used for one-sided political propaganda? UCD is already an unfriendly environment to anyone with traditional social beliefs.
I think that the plasma screen should be moved to a dedicated Student's Union space, or that it should give equal time to promotion of the 'No' campaign.
I am copying the Student's Union equality officer on this.
Many thanks
Maolsheachlann, Library


Reply from Equality Unit:

Dear Maolsheachlann

This particular plasma screen is controlled and operated by the Students Union and is part of their shop. I suggest that you follow up with them in relation to your query and they can discuss this with you.

Organisation Design, Diversity and Policy Specialist
UCD HR Strategy and Development
University College Dublin


Dear M

As my initial email made clear,  my complaint is that it is exhibited in a non-Student's Union space; that is, a staircase used to access the library and the Newman Building. It is not like the poster boards which contain posters for many different events and causes; its dedicated to one particular topic. So I do not in fact accept that the Student's Union have a right to broadcast propaganda here because they happen to own the screen.
However, I appreciate the reply.
Many thanks
From Student's Union Welfare Officer:
 Dear Maolsheachlann,

I hope this email finds you well. 

With regard to your complaint ,the Students' Union owns the screens in question and use them to promote events, campaigns and issues on which the Union has a mandate. On February 11th & 12th 2015 the Union received an overwhelming mandate of 97% in favour of the union campaigning in support of Marriage Equality.

The Union therefore uses all available channels to it to promote the campaign for Marriage Equality, this includes; postering, the use of social media and the screens that we own around the Students' Union shop.

If however, you wish to file a complaint, you may do so via the Independent Appeals and Disciplinary Board (IADB). This body deals with complaints on Union policy and activity. They may be contacted via email on . I hope this clarifies the process for you.


Reply from me:

Dear M---

Thank you for your reply. I am well, as I hope are you.

Thanks for directing me to the IADB, who I do intend to contact. As this seems to be mostly formed of ex-members of the SU, I have little confidence in their impartiality. I may pursue this issue through further university avenues, if time and energy permits.
I accept that the Student's Union owns the screen in question; my complaint regarding its positioning, facing a staircase used to access the library and Newman building. It is a trivial issue in itself but it is the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. The Student's Union has launched a massive publicity blitz on this subject; it seems wrong to me that a Student's Union that should be representing ALL students should take a political stance on a controversial matter that has nothing to do with the educational interest of students, but I am not a member of the Student's Union so I let that pass. When I visit the Student's Union centre or shop I realise I am entering Student's Union space and can't complain about being propagandised there. I may find the massive poster campaign around campus to be irksome; but, in theory, a 'No' campaign group could mount posters on campus, too. (If they dared.)
But I do object to being exposed to this propaganda on my way to and from my workplace, using a staircase which can hardly be SU property, and which is not a designated space for posters or publicity. One would think that, with such a massive campaign already in place, and having realized this was offensive to even one person, you would reposition the monitor somewhere else, or stop using it for political purposes, out of courtesy and respect for the views of other members of the UCD community.
Regarding the referendum in February that you mention, I would be very interested to know how many votes were actually cast. I am sure that there are many more than three per cent of UCD students who intend to vote 'No' in May. Do you feel it is respectful to those students, and indeed to UCD staff who disagree with you, to bombard them with slogans like, "It's a no-brainer" and "In twenty years we'lll be ashamed this was even an issue"? I find such slogans deeply patronising.
However, thank you for taking the time to respond.
(There was no reply.)


  1. Is there CCTV on that stairwell? Just asking :-)

  2. I don't see one...but I think I would be the prime suspect if anything happened to that screen!! I did think of hanging a "Vote No" sign on it....

  3. You might also want to send a copy of that photo with the gard to the garda commissioner ... that office is already looking into the 'yes equality' 'photo op' outside a station with members of the force ...

  4. Good for you for putting up the argument.