Renewing the Republic
Madam, – Like Tom Garvin (Opinion, May 1st) I have been dismayed by the politically driven revolution transforming Irish universities over the past decade. Prof Garvin is, famously, one of the most hard-nosed as well as most sophisticated political writers on the island, making the charge that he is simply nostalgic for a lost “golden age” (Ronan Fanning, May 5th; Mary Daly and Brigid Laffan, Opinion, May 6th) a foolish as well as a weak defence by supporters of the current regime at UCD. The core concern that many of us share is that the sense of an academic community, that should define a university, is now disappearing.
The 1997 Act may have given some protection to university autonomy, as Garret FitzGerald points out (Opinion, May 1st), but it also established a new business model of university governance, turning presidents into all-powerful chief executives. Contrary to what is now often asserted, there was a dynamic process of change and reform underway in Irish universities prior to the advent of the new “executive” presidents, but it was marked by consultation, debate and consensus, as I experienced it, as dean of my faculty in University College Cork. That ethos, and the institutions that supported it, are now gone, or made irrelevant.
University presidents were, until recently, primus inter pares, first among equals. They had to engage meaningfully with colleagues, even the most junior, at meetings of faculties and academic council. Faculties elected their own deans and had a say in appointments. The modern “executive” president appoints all other office-holders, the more important of whom comprise his “management team”, whose role, like that of governing authorities, is to support the president, not engage with him (it is always him), much less interrogate or criticise him.
Much to his disadvantage, the modern university president rarely has to hear a dissenting voice, or an uncomfortable truth, and when he does he can simply ignore it. Academics, meanwhile have retreated into the bunkers of their research and teaching, and feel powerless and disenfranchised. The modern university is less and less a community and more and more a soulless corporation. The negative consequences for teaching and research are immense, and are already all too apparent. – Yours, etc,
Madam, – Tom Garvin’s article on the intentional managerial destruction of the better qualities of Irish universities is timely (Opinion, May 1st). Of course we are told to think that this kind of critique is nonsense, since it is always ridiculed by highly paid academic managers, clad in the finest tailoring.
Yet, from the rubble of our economy today, we can perhaps recall when highly paid bankers and regulators, also in the finest tailoring, ridiculed any voice that dissented from their insane talking-up of a diseased financial sector.
Sometimes it is the philosopher who brings us the difficult truth, not the man who spouts the conventional claptrap emanating from the discredited management schools. – Yours, etc,
Madam, – As a recent graduate of UCD I would like to offer, from my own experience, a different perspective to that expressed by Prof Tom Garvin (Opinion, May 1st). My time at Belfield coincided with the 150th Anniversary of the Literary Historical Society (LH), a society with which I was particularly involved. Dr Brady and the president’s office were hugely supportive of the LH, and of its anniversary celebrations. There was at all times great encouragement as well as tangible support.
The lecturers in the Law School were committed, engaging, and most impressive to me, interested in their students and the welfare of their students. I owe a debt of gratitude to UCD, its societies, and the academic and administrative staff at the Law School. – Yours, etc,