University chief warns of ‘destructive’ populism

Dark forces at work who thrive by driving wedges between people, says Des Fitzgerald

University of Limerick president Dr Des Fitzgerald with Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor at today’s conferring. Photograph: Sean Curtin/True Media

University of Limerick president Dr Des Fitzgerald with Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor at today’s conferring. Photograph: Sean Curtin/True Media

 

A “malevolent concoction” of technology, intolerance and populism is poisoning debate and emboldening dark and destructive forces, president of the University of Limerick Des Fitzgerald has said.

Speaking at a conferring ceremony on Sunday, he said long-held views on what constitutes normal institutional and political behaviour are being tested in a way unimaginable a few years ago.

“Science, knowledge and expertise are increasingly mocked while ignorance is lauded. And a malevolent concoction of technology, intolerance and populism is increasingly poisoning debate and emboldening darker, destructive forces who thrive by driving wedges between communities and discouraging civility and optimism,” he told the first-ever graduates from the university’s postgraduate diploma in school leadership.

“I believe that in times like these there is a particular onus on those of us involved in education to re-examine what we can do to mitigate these developments.”

Educational institutions need to equip their students in how to better handle pressures of the modern world, distractions of technology, appeal of ignorance and the growth of intolerance, he told the 230 graduating students.

Proposed changes

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor was among the guests.

Dr Fitzgerald said the Government had to continue to support the university sector in a way that allowed it compete internationally in a rapidly changing world.

“What changes will be proposed to the legislation for the university sector and how they will impact on the hugely important principle of autonomy, a principle enshrined in the idea of a university since their establishment over 1,000 years ago ?” he asked.

Universities should manage their own affairs in order to protect the principle of intellectual freedom. So that unfettered they continue to shape and lead change in the country, he said.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said the Government continued to prioritise spending on education and that a good education was fundamental to enriching people’s lives.

The Postgraduate Diploma in School Leadership aims to develop leadership capacity in primary and post-primary schools.