Prendergast elected as provost of Trinity College

 

PATRICK PRENDERGAST was elected provost of Trinity College Dublin after securing a comfortable victory in Saturday’s election.

Prof Prendergast , the long time favourite for the post secured over 330 votes in the final round of voting, about 70 ahead of the historian Prof Jane Ohlmeyer.

Prof Prendergast is professor of bio-engineering and vice-provost of TCD. He is regarded as a protege of current TCD provost, John Hegarty, who steps down in August.

Like Dr Hegarty a decade ago, Prof Prendergast had a strong support base among the science community in the college. Critically, he also drew support from most of the most senior figures across the college.

A key feature of his campaign was that Trinity – which has been losing ground to UCD – needed to assert itself more forcefully as the premier university in Ireland.

Unlike some other candidates, Prof Prendergast ran a low-key campaign which made little use of social networking sites. But his stature across the college – allied to his personal popularity – helped him ease to victory.

The post is the most prestigious in Irish higher education. Appropriately, it comes with a residence dating back to 1759 which boasts the best address in Ireland – number 1 Grafton Street. The provost’s house also boasts its own art collection, including works by Jack B Yeats.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education instructed TCD to cut the €200,000 provost’s salary by over €10,000 per year. Prof Prendergast will be the first university leader to take this pay cut which will apply to all new appointments.

About 570 out of 700 eligible voters gathered in Trinity’s dining hall on Saturday to elect the new provost in a Papal-like conclave.

While Prof Prendergast is widely seen as an excellent choice, the internal process which saw him elected – and not appointed – has been criticised in some quarters.

Despite its “blue-chip” status in higher education and its national importance, the contest attracted only two external candidates. One of these dropped out some weeks ago, claiming it was impossible to run an election from outside Dublin.

There were no applications from academics in any of the world’s top 25 universities; senior figures taking the view they had virtually no prospect of success. TCD has not appointed an external candidates since historian FSL Lyons secured the post in 1974.

One of the striking features of the election was the strong performance of Prof Ohlmeyer who was bidding to become the first female provost in Trinity’s 400-year history.

In the first round of voting Prof Prendergast secured about 250 votes with Prof Ohlmeyer on about 175. Among the other candidates, Prof Colm Kearney of the school of business and John Boland, director of the Crann Nanoscience Institute, secured 60-70 votes each, while Prof Des Fitzgerald, vice-president of research at UCD gained 35 votes.

Prof Prendergast, the 44th provost of the college, can look forward to a 10 year term. A key issue will be restoring morale in Trinity which has been undermined by management changes and what is seen as increasing micro management from central government.

The college also faces a potential debt crisis as it seek to provide services to more students with less resources.

Prof Prendergast says he is determined to use his experience and proven ability to stand up for Trinity’s interests and to protect the core mission of education and research.

In congratulating Prof Prendergast, Prof Fitzgerald of UCD said he had no doubt that “under the new provost, our two universities will continue to work together and collaborate on many levels.’’