WIT board refuses to extend term of president

 

THE BOARD of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) has refused to extend the term of its president Prof Kieran Byrne, amid growing controversy about expenses claimed by his office.

The move came after interventions from Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and chief executive of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Tom Boland. While neither can intervene directly in the appointments process, both signalled that Prof Byrne’s position had become untenable.

Yesterday’s unanimous decision by the board could be legally challenged by Prof Byrne whose 10- year term as president expires today. Earlier this year, he was nominated by a selection committee for a further term of office but the board refused to confirm the appointment at its meeting yesterday.

The €156,000-per-year post as president will be re-advertised and an interim president appointed.

In recent days, pressure has been exerted on Prof Byrne to withdraw his application for an extension after the revelations about the expenses incurred by his office. Sources say senior education figures asked him to reflect on his position at personal meetings and in phone conversations this week, but he refused to step down.

In any legal challenge, he could argue that he had a legitimate expectation to gain the post for a further term. He still has the option of accepting a €120,000 per year “step-back’’ post – available to retiring presidents in the institutes – but he is thought to have ruled out this option.

Prof Byrne – who was unavailable for comment last night – told The Irish Times earlier this week the expenses incurred by his office represented good value for money.

Last night, local Independent TD John Halligan described the spending as “extravagant and completely inappropriate’’ at a time when teachers and parents were struggling with education cutbacks.

The HEA has asked for a report on the expenses controversy. A separate report – commissioned by the institute last week from the consultants Deloitte – is also being finalised.

The expenses controversy is a setback for WIT, which has run a decade-long campaign for university status.

The high level of spending by the president’s office comes at a time when the college is running a deficit of over €3 million.