Lecturers protest over Croke Park deal


MORE THAN 200 university and institute of technology lecturers met in Dublin on Saturday to protest against the implementation of the Croke Park agreement in third-level institutions.

The group, which met in the Gresham Hotel, is seeking to protect the right of academics to permanency and tenure until retirement age. They said this “bedrock on which academic freedom rests” was under threat.

The Croke Park deal, along with the Hunt report on higher education, proposes longer working hours and shorter holidays, tighter management control and performance-related pay.

They also open up the possibility that academics deemed to be substandard by management could be sacked.

Addressing the meeting, the organiser of the event, former president of the Teachers Union of Ireland and physics lecturer Paddy Healy, said academic freedom and tenure were not just “a ruse invented by academics to protect their employment” but were essential to ensuring that lecturers “cannot be dismissed for the expression of unpopular ideas”.

Mr Healy said that the right to permanency and tenure enabled academics to pursue “blue sky research” and the study of specialised subjects that would now be deprived of funds in favour of more commercially driven research.

Tom Garvin, emeritus professor of politics at UCD, was critical of what he described as the “thick layer of management” in third-level institutions. Prof Garvin said that in the past five years, Irish universities had been “enveloped in a great brown tide of nonsense on stilts, purveyed by overpaid and under-qualified presidents, provosts, registrars and vice-presidents” of everything, including football fields.

Ireland “went from a condition in which no connection was seen between education and economic development in 1950 to a condition in 2011 when it is believed that education has no other purpose than to further economic development”.

Former Trinity College lecturer Senator David Norris told the meeting that he was there “in solidarity to show that I am with you”.

Mr Norris said that while he agreed with “free universal education for those for whom it was appropriate . . . university education must be more than just a numbers game.”

In his address, former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald urged academics to “be concerned with the restoring of genuinely academic issues, leaving to the unions the business of pay and conditions”.

He added: “If we are to be successful in defending academic standards, it has to be done in a way that is visibly not self-interested, not concerned about pay and conditions but concerned about genuine academic freedom, about research standards and about the real academic issues.”

It is understood that the governing authorities of universities, including UCD, UCG, UCC, have already circulated implementation plans under the Croke Park deal and that a separate document has been issued to the institutes of technology.

Mr Healy said it was not clear whether the governing bodies of universities planned to consult unions but “the heads of schools in UCD have been told they have to implement the plans forthwith”.

The meeting agreed to launch a petition calling on the governing authorities of all academic institutions to make a declaration in favour of academic freedom and to remove all threats to tenure and permanency to retirement age.