University of Limerick facing academic revolt over restructuring

Letter signed by 50 professors said plan risks making college ‘unfit for purpose’

University of Limerick campus, plans will expand UL into city centre. Photograph: Press 22

University of Limerick campus, plans will expand UL into city centre. Photograph: Press 22

 

Management at University of Limerick (UL) is facing an academic revolt after 50 professors signed a letter calling for the suspension of restructuring at the college, which they said risks making it academically “not fit for purpose”.

The university, which is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary, has published a plan to develop a new campus in the heart of Limerick city. It is aiming to cater for an additional 4,000 mostly postgraduate or international students.

However, staff members at UL have complained about a lack of consultation, and members of the Unite union have been advised not to cooperate with the plans ahead of an expected ballot on industrial action.

Membership of the union is understood to have increased by 150 per cent in the past fortnight, taking it to about 60 per cent of the overall headcount. About 500 members met on Tuesday to discuss the plans.

In a letter dated November 27th to UL chancellor Mary Harney and members of the university’s governing authority, 50 academics – which the authors said represented a majority of those canvassed – argued the proposals had not been “justified adequately”.

“No evidence has been produced to show that reorganisation is the best way of dealing with the problems that the university faces,” they said.

The letter stated that reorganisation along the lines proposed will have a “major impact” on the university’s academic council, with “at least” 18 academics to lose their seats, while the disciplinary representation would “decrease dramatically”.

“The short implementation period will mean that new academic units will be able to do very little preparatory work for the changes,” they continued.

“Most of that work will have to be done next semester in addition to any planned teaching and research work that faculty have already committed to do, and on top of normal administrative tasks carried out by both faculty and staff.

“Preparatory work will be hampered by ongoing industrial action that will remove many key administrators and faculty members from the planning process for change. With the current timetable, we run the risk of entering a new academic year with academic structures that are only half-formed and not fit for purpose.”

Rationale

The academics pointed to the “brevity and inadequacy” of the consultation process, as well as the “lack of documentation arguing for its necessity”, and the “absence of any concrete rationale for change”.

“Scepticism that the rationale for change is administrative rather than academic has naturally taken hold since people cannot see how teaching and research will be improved,” they said.

“We wish to avoid the dangers of UL being caught up in [a] damaging cycle of reorganisation that does not address genuine need for changes. We do not believe that the university and its staff have the time or the resources to waste on major structural reform that is rushed and only leads to further rounds of time- and resource-consuming reorganisation.”

The academics concluded by calling on the governing authority to “pause” the plan and conduct a “thorough review” of academic structures.

A spokeswoman for UL said it had no comment to make at this time as university president Dr Des Fitzgerald is planning to respond directly to staff. Dr Fitzgerald is expected to address the matter in meetings with senior management on Thursday.