Inside Trinity College Dublin

Sir, – As the dean of the faculty of which he is a member, I was surprised and disappointed to read my colleague Prof Mac MacLachlan's opinion piece ("Trinity has to first address its internal problems in order to improve its international standing", October 8th).

While I am now a member of Trinity’s Senior Promotions Committee, I should say that I had no part of any kind in assessing Prof MacLachlan’s promotion applications. I have no personal axe to grind here. It is in the nature of promotions that more people are likely to be disappointed than happy with the outcome, and this can inevitably lead to grievances.

Prof MacLachlan’s piece gestures towards one central truth, which is that there have been very few promotions in Trinity or in any other Irish university since the financial crisis began.

I am as unhappy with this situation as he is. But in this, we resemble most of the public and indeed the private sector, where people have often found themselves over recent years having to work harder, for less, and frequently without any prospect of promotion. Conditions such as these inevitably lead to frustration, and Trinity is no exception.


But Prof MacLachlan’s characterisation of “A university that apparently does not reward merit’” is unfair and highly partial. Speaking personally, I do not myself always agree with the decisions of the committee of which I am a member; but I can stand over them because I recognise that Trinity’s promotions are an honest attempt to work with very difficult circumstances.

A university is an extraordinarily complex organisation, and its promotions process necessarily ends up trying to compare the achievements of microbiologists and philosophers, haematologists and musicologists.

All universities, not just Trinity, face such challenges.

To meet those challenges, Trinity uses a set of promotion criteria similar to those of other comparable universities. If Prof MacLachlan expects any straightforward system of metrics to cover this diversity, then he has clearly not sat on any promotions committees of late.

The Senior Promotions Committee exercises its professional judgement as fairly as it can, knowing full well that its decisions are bound to leave disgruntled individuals in its wake.

One thing I have learned is that senior professors are generally well able to take care of themselves. My concern in these difficult times is with protecting the younger and more vulnerable members of staff, those who do not have professorial status and salaries. I do not see how Prof MacLachlan’s intervention helps this in any way. – Yours, etc,


Dean of the Faculty

of Arts, Humanities

and Social Sciences,

Trinity College,

Dublin 2.