Meeting of Irish academics ‘to defend academic freedom’

A meeting open to academic staff in Irish higher education institutions took place in Dublin on Saturday, January 22, with the aim of discussing what the organisers believe are potential assaults on academic freedom arising from the implementation of the public service agreement (the ‘Croke Park agreement’) of last year. What follows is a note on the meeting prepared by its convenor, Paddy Healy (former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland). The post below this one is the transcript of Paddy Healy’s own address to the meeting. I am hoping also in due course to publish the views on these matters of the universities and/or the Irish Universities Association.

The Academic Gathering to Defend Academic Freedom met at Gresham Hotel Dublin on Saturday January 22. There were  200 academics present from almost all third level institutions within the state.

Paddy Healy delivered an opening address which is carried below.

Prof Tom Garvin was highly critical of the “half-educated administrators” who had taken over our universities and on whom resources necessary for teaching and scholarly activity were being wasted.

Steven Hedley, Professor of Law, UCC warned that the Universities Act (1997), which provides for academic freedom and tenure, could be amended to weaken its provisions.

Dr Paddy O’Flynn,UCD, pointed out that it was essential that all academics join trade unions to effectively respond to current threats.

Apologies for inability to attend and expressions of support for the gathering were sent by Prof Jim McKernan, East Carolina University, Prof James Heffron (emeritus) UCC and Dr Tom Dooley, Dundalk IT

Many speakers explained why academic freedom and permanency to retirement age were necessary to maintain freedom of speech and information to the public, educational standards and fruitful scholarship including research. Speakers included Professor Peadar Kirby, UL;Professor Michael Cronin, DCU; Professor Mary Gallagher,UCD; Martin O’Grady, IT Tralee, Dr Kieran Allen, UCD, Dr Colman Etchingham, NUIM, Dr Kevin Farrell, IT Blanchardstown, Marnie Holborow, DCU, Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte, IT Carlow, Dr Paul O’Brien, NCAD; Prof Helena Sheehan (emeritus),DCU and many others.

Senator David Norris addressed those assembled and expressed solidarity with the Gathering.

Former Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald addressed the Gathering and pointed out the need for an association which addressed academic matters only.

Decisions

It was agreed that a petition would be launched in each institution calling on the governing authority to make a declaration in favour of academic freedom and to remove all threats to tenure and permanency to retirement age.

Such a declaration has already been secured by IFUT President, Hugh Gibbons, and his colleagues in the IFUT Branch at TCD. A motion to the same effect would be tabled at all Academic Councils.

An ad-hoc steering committee was formed to co-ordinate the campaign.

It was suggested that a pledge in favour of academic freedom and permanency should be administered to all political parties in the forthcoming election. This will be considered by the steering committee.

It was agreed that the Gathering would be reconvened in the coming weeks to consider whether further organised work was necessary.

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