UCC head to resign post after turbulent reign


In a surprise move, UCC president Prof Gerry Wrixon is to resign from his post next January, despite securing a controversial four-year extension from the Government last May.

Prof Wrixon won the unprecedented extension on his 65th birthday last year, despite vigorous opposition from many academics in the university.

He has decided to step down because the controversial restructuring programme which he pushed through in Cork is now in place. With the appointment of a fourth head of school recently, all of the key new posts are filled.

One senior source said: "Wrixon always saw himself as an agent of change. Now that this change has been achieved, he wants to see it bed down - and that is a task for someone else."

Prof Wrixon is arguably the most controversial figure in Irish education. He has earned plaudits from several Government Ministers, including Tánaiste Mary Harney and the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, for his restructuring efforts in Cork.

The Government and education policy-makers see Prof Wrixon as a new-style "pro-business" university chief, determined to accelerate the pace of change in the traditionally conservative college sector.

But his restructuring programme proved hugely divisive in Cork and unleashed a storm of protest and various legal actions.

The restructuring was opposed by the academic council at the university and led to an unprecedented protest by about 30 academics during an RTÉ News special last year.

Critics have questioned the university's accumulated debt of more than €40 million. Several property transactions have also been questioned.

Prof Wrixon secured the extension of service last May, despite fears that it could have a knock-on effect across the public service. Until yesterday's announcement it was widely assumed he would remain president until 2009.

Under the Wrixon plan, the seven faculties at UCC were reduced to four colleges, overseen by executive deans with full budget control. The Wrixon plan has served as a template for restructuring programmes at other universities, including UCD and Trinity College.

The bitter, often highly personalised divisions of the Wrixon era have tended to overshadow the success of UCC. The university has managed to eclipse both UCD and Trinity when it comes to securing research funding. It has also managed to buck the general trend by attracting increasing numbers of undergraduates.

In a letter to the chairman of UCC's governing body, Prof Enda McDonagh, Prof Wrixon said the university is entering "a new and exciting phase in its development. I believe that the next governing body, the university's management team and staff in general should be assured of a continuity of leadership throughout this critical period."

Reflecting on his period in office, he said one of his key objectives was to develop management and administrative structures and practices "commensurate with the ever-increasing size and complexity of the university".