First ever woman president of an Irish university appointed at University of Limerick

Professor Kerstin Mey has been named as interim president for the next 18 months

Interim president of the University of Limerick Kerstin Mey is the first woman to hold the presidency of an Irish university. Photograph: Sean Curtin/ True Media.

Interim president of the University of Limerick Kerstin Mey is the first woman to hold the presidency of an Irish university. Photograph: Sean Curtin/ True Media.


The first ever woman president of an Irish university in the 400-plus years of higher education has been appointed at University of Limerick.

Professor Kerstin Mey has been named as interim president of the university for the next 18 months.

She will replace outgoing president Dr Des Fitzgerald, who announced his intention to retire in May.

The interim president will serve as chief officer of the university until the appointment of a new president through an open international recruitment process.

UL’s governing authority ratified the appointment of Prof Mey following a special meeting on Thursday.

Chancellor of UL Mary Harney said Prof Mey would be a “great appointee and one in whom we have every faith in to lead the university at a challenging time. She has already demonstrated her capacity for leadership in her role as vice president.”

Ms Harney said there has long been a significant gender imbalance at senior leadership level in Irish universities.

“It is fitting that UL now has the first female president given our consistent leading position on gender equality in higher education in Ireland, ” she added.

Professor Mey, who was appointed vice president and professor of visual culture at UL in April 2018, previously held roles as pro-vice chancellor and dean of the Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design and as professor of contemporary art and theory at the University of Westminster, London.

She said she was “proud and really humbled to lead the University of Limerick over the next period”.

“It is a significant opportunity and also a huge challenge and I will be aiming to work with all staff, students, governing authority, the communities UL serves, our stakeholders in the city and the region and of course the government to underpin the role that universities will play in the economic recovery as we manage the pandemic,” she said.

She said the college will use the next 12-18 months to reassess its strategic plans.

“In the very short term, the focus has to be safeguarding the health and safety of our current and incoming students and our staff and the communities we serve and we are working very hard to prepare the campus for a full opening in September,” she said.

“UL is a young institution with a pioneering heritage - we aim to seize the opportunity to transform the educational model by working with industries, communities and government. We need to support our graduates to embrace complexity and develop resilience, stimulate their inquisitiveness, imagination and critical reflectiveness so that they are prepared to deal with the significant societal as well as personal challenges ahead,” she added.

UL has one of the best records in the higher education sector for gender equality among its senior leadership.

There are five female members out of eleven on the university’s executive committee.

It also has a female Chancellor, while two of UL’s three vice presidents and three of UL’s five deans are women.

Outgoing president Dr Fitzgerald who took up the role of UL president in 2017 announced his resignation from the position in May this year.

Dr Fitzgerald said the Covid -19 pandemic would directly impact his ability to serve the university and limit his ability to fully engage in the community upon a return to campus.

On his successor he said: “She is an outstanding academic with a strong empathy for students and the academic mission of UL. She has a vision for UL that will place it in a leading position nationally and globally.”

Prof Mey was born and raised in east Berlin and studied for an MA equivalent in art, and German language and literature at Humboldt University in Berlin.

She completed a PhD in art theory and aesthetics there and has held academic positions in universities in Germany and the UK.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris welcomed the appointment as a major step forward for gender equality.

“This is an historic appointment. I want to state my commitment to the roll-out of the senior academic leadership initiative in higher education set in place by the last Government, to increase the number of women at professor level in our universities,” he said.