UCD ex-president tries his hand at campus novel

Fornicating students, professors who are full-time but not whole time, meddlesome managers – Patrick Masterson draws on a long academic career for his fiction debut

Patrick Masterson: in 1986 I was appointed President of UCD, where I exercised my only administrative skill of wise delegation!

Patrick Masterson: in 1986 I was appointed President of UCD, where I exercised my only administrative skill of wise delegation!

 

My comic novel Quality Time at Saint Chinian is situated in an imaginary French provincial university. Life is good at the young University of Saint Chinian in sunlit southwest France. All involved enjoy a happy time. The professors are fulltime but certainly not whole time! Some teaching is required of them but research is entirely optional. The students too are a joyful group. For a moderate amount of study, which does not greatly encroach upon their leisure time, they are assured of a fairly decent degree and a job – possibly even a pensionable one. They have plenty of free time to engage in the serious business of hanging around, drinking coffee, playing pinball and fornicating.

However, this blessed state of affairs is under threat. The authorities in Paris have imposed a visit from an external committee of international experts to compile a detailed report on the academic quality of the university. The cold wind of managerial intimidation, so common in other areas of contemporary life, is about to blow through the hallowed halls of academe. The serpent is insinuating itself into paradise.

I have been told that Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man was based on Desmond Williams, a remarkable colleague at UCD

The university assembles all its resources to counter and subvert the work of the Quality Appraisal Committee, which arrives to spend a week of searching investigation under the chairmanship of the formidable Prof Hans Kerstin from Hamburg. Professors and students rally under the leadership of their benign and tolerant President Guy Boulanger to meet the assault. This comic novel follows the hilarious events which unfold throughout the week of the committee’s visit. It culminates in an epic confrontation for the soul of the university between the proselytising commercial passion of Chairman Kerstin and the relaxed humanistic composure of President Boulanger.

My university experience qualified me to address the theme of my novel from the viewpoints of both poacher and gamekeeper
My university experience qualified me to address the theme of my novel from the viewpoints of both poacher and gamekeeper

This is my first novel. My previous books are of a more sober philosophical complexion. My beloved wife Frankie had unsuccessfully encouraged me to write a novel. Shortly after she died a few years ago my devoted but disrespectful children urged me to take a break from my “incomprehensible philosophical scribbling” and write something they could understand. Saint Chinian is the result.

The theme was probably inspired by the writings of two great campus novelists, Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge. I have been told that Bradbury’s The History Man was based on Desmond Williams, a remarkable colleague of mine at UCD. Others claim Williams as the inspiration for John Vaizey’s Barometer Man – I would not be surprised if both were true. I met Lodge, author of Changing Places, when we were both very junior academics with young children on a rainy holiday in Connemara.

I have had the pleasure of experiencing various phases of academic life beginning as a student in UCD and Louvain University. I moved from one side of the student bench to the other with a UCD staff appointment in 1963, enjoying the splendid title “Assistant Lecturer Grade 3”. I journeyed on through various stages as College Lecturer, Professor and Dean of Philosophy. In 1986 the relics were translated into administration and I was appointed President of UCD, where I exercised my only administrative skill of wise delegation!

Some years later, as I was preparing to return to my philosophical ruminations, I was invited to take the post of President of the European University Institute in Florence, where I spent eight most interesting years. It was while there that I had the lively experience of being a member or chair of university quality appraisal committees in several countries. This combined with my own university experience qualified me to address the theme of my novel from the viewpoints of both poacher and gamekeeper.

Patrick Masterson with his late wife Frankie, who had unsuccessfully encouraged him to write a novel, in their vineyard near St Chinian
Patrick Masterson with his late wife Frankie, who had unsuccessfully encouraged him to write a novel, in their vineyard near St Chinian

Since 2002 I spend much of the year in a small village in the Languedoc region of France close by Saint Chinian. Here I have my library and I try to do some, mainly philosophical, writing. Although of very meagre physical ability I also cultivate a small field of 500 vines. The great event each year is the delivery of a few hundred kilos of grapes to the local cooperatif. I believe that these are mixed with other dubious offerings and the product sold by hose from a petrol lorry!
Quality Time at Saint Chinian by Patrick Masterson is published by Liberties Press, € 14.99

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.