Wexford man seen as quintessential Trinity 'insider'
PADDY PRENDERGAST, as he is known around Trinity, is seen as the quintessential Trinity “insider” who has held several key posts including chief academic officer.
From Oulart near Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, he does not come from an academic family. His late father was a haulage contractor and a one-time president of the Irish Road Hauliers Association while his brother runs an art gallery in Dublin. On a personal basis, Prendergast is seen as friendly and approachable.
Aged 44, he is the youngest provost in more than 200 years.
Says one colleague: “You people in the media have this notion we are all austere academics in our ivory tower. Paddy is nothing like that. He is a modern, friendly guy . . . the kind of chief executive you will find in senior positions all over the country.’’
In appointing him, TCD has opted for a safe pair of hands to steer the college through some turbulent waters. In his election, Prendergast tapped into the sense that the college – for all its history and tradition – has lost some of its old lustre. During the campaign, he voiced frustration at how TCD was seen by policymakers as just another university when it remained the premier higher education institution in the State and one of the finest in these islands. TCD is the only Irish university rated among the top 50 colleges in the world.
During the campaign Prendergast told an associate: “If there was a world cup for universities, Trinity would always be chosen to represent Ireland. But we have been losing out and we need to be much more assertive.’’ He even raised the possibility that TCD would break links with the Irish University Association, the group representing the seven university presidents.
In his manifesto he wrote: “Leadership for me is all about morale.’’ He has promised to boost that morale by representing TCD in a more robust manner in discussions with policymakers.
Prendergast is well known and much admired figure for senior civil servants across several government departments and with the Higher Education Authority. He was a key mover in the secret discussions that led two years ago to the TCD/UCD research merger.
A prolific scholar, Prendergast has written more than 160 papers, edited numerous books and journals and picked up an assortment of awards. He has been a visiting professor in Spain and Poland and a founding member of the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering. He is closely associated with securing funding for Trinity’s longitudinal study on ageing (Tilda).