Women-only professorships


Sir, – I wonder how the young Mr Varadkar, while considering a career in medicine, would have reacted to a proposal by the Government of the day that some hospital consultancy posts in surgery were to be created for which men could not apply, while potential patients could not avoid being treated by the holders of such posts.

Indeed, what would be a future patient’s reaction if informed that proposed surgery would be carried out by someone who owed the job to her gender rather than to having demonstrated superior capability as a surgeon?

I understood that it was accepted by Mary Mitchell O’Connor that our universities should aspire to be first-tier institutions by world standards. To do that they must first of all pursue a strategy of hiring the best people for the job, and be colour, creed and gender blind. If the Government has funds to establish new third-level chairs this is great news. If it uses these funds to advance flavour of the month social objectives, or to indulge a Minister’s ill-informed opinions about discrimination, the money should be spent elsewhere rather than be used to undermine the universities’ pursuit of excellence. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Now, now. Toys back in the pram. Settle down. It’ll hurt a little for a while then all will be okay.

When consternation and indignation have yielded to mature reflection it must be acknowledged that statistics consistently show that the extent and duration of gender bias in higher education are incontestable. Those who benefit disproportionately from systemic bias are understandably averse to any measures taken to even partially alleviate it and their anguished arguments of unfairness echo throughout academia’s hallowed halls and well beyond. Throwing stones is not a good look; a sense of fairness is. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – As someone who has done his best over the years to advise and support fellow academics of all sexes and gender orientations, I am horrified by the proposal that special professorships will be allocated to women only. The notion that these will be perceived to be second-rate appointments has already been broadcast. There are also other reasons why it will seriously put back recent gains.

The following may appear to be a joke; it could not be more serious. Alongside the movement that has led to current proposals is another advocating, quite correctly, that we bring more complexity to out categories, rather than simply male and female. Thus, how will female be determined for these new positions? Will there be a biological sex test? And if so what will happen in the case of ambiguous results? And what of those who claim they are women trapped in men’s bodies – will they be excluded from applying? And will those who claim to be men trapped in women’s bodies be required to declare same when applying? If a man has a biological sex change will she then be eligible to apply? If a woman has a biological sex change will he be required to resign if already holding such a professorship? Will those who declare to be gender fluid have the opportunity to obtain half-time appointments?

Enough; there is a minefield ahead. The issue needs to be tackled more sensibly through the provision of appropriate support to all to compete on a level playing field. There is also a need to ensure that there is rigorous oversight during the appointment process to ensure that sex and gender bias has no place in the appointment process. – Yours, etc,


Graduate School

of Education,

The University

of Western Australia.

Sir, – It is reported in “State to tackle gender inequality with women-only professorships” (News, November 12th) that the Government is following the recommendations of a taskforce which says dramatic steps are needed to ensure more women occupy key leadership positions.

I find it astonishing that the Government has restricted its attention to this approach and has ignored another of the measures advocated by its own taskforce; “A gender balance in the final pool of candidates for all positions; where women do not apply in sufficient numbers, they may also be head-hunted”, as quoted in your report. This closely parallels a measure that seems to be working reasonably well for improving the representation of women among members of the Dáil and has not run foul of charges of discrimination (against males), as the Government’s preferred approach seems destined to do.

There, the political parties have a financial incentive to ensure that their final pools of party candidates include at least 30 per cent females (and at least 40 per cent from 1923 onwards). While there have been a few localised instances of selection conventions not toeing the line, the final outcome has been remarkably successful, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that most local party organisations actively seek out well-qualified women to stand for election, the end result being a substantial increase in female Dáil representation.

It is a poor reflection on our politicians’ gumption that they seem to be unable to draw on the successes of their own experience. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – The Government is to fund the setting up of new professorships, confined to female applicants, in third-level institutions where the ratio of female to male professors is low. This would appear to mean that “well-behaved” institutions, those with a relatively high proportion of female professors, will receive less funding than their less “well-behaved” counterparts? Is this fair? – Yours, etc,