Downer: UL bullish


A man who can spot bullshit at 50 paces - that's how a colleague describes Professor Roger Downer, UL's incoming president, who succeeds Dr Ed Walsh in August. "He has an impeccable record and is an absolutely fantastic guy," comments Bobby O'Connor, president of UL students' Union. "A total gentleman."

O'Connor should know. He has just made history by being the first student in Ireland to sit on a panel chosen to appoint a new university head. Padraig de Burca, president of UL's Postgraduate Students Association, is equally positive. He is impressed by the fact that Belfast-born and educated Downer is currently president of the Asian Institute of Technology - an international postgraduate university. "UL is committed to almost doubling its research capacity," he says. "It's great that Professor Downer has expertise in this area."

According to staff, the main issue facing the university in the coming years is its academic advancement - particularly in research. The new president is expected to focus on attracting academic high-fliers with top level research qualifications. Staff though, are surprised by Downer's age - he's 55. But with the new ruling on a 10-year tenure for university heads now in force, it's unlikely that anyone much younger would apply. The six short-listed candidates were all aged between 50 and 57 years.

Downer is the first head of an Irish university to be appointed by means of a selection process. In the past they have been elected to their posts.