Yesterday’s Sunday Independent newspaper contained an opinion piece by Marc Coleman under the heading ‘Highest-paid academics of Europe get yet another rise’. Actually, if you Google the name Marc Coleman you’ll get a choice of either a ‘mixed martial arts fighter’, or a self-styled ‘media economist, author and event speaker.’ I’d like to think that this piece was by the kung fu guy, but I have a hunch it was the event speaker. So I think our Marc Coleman here is the economics editor of radio station Newstalk, who also has a regular newspaper column.
In this particular piece Coleman delivers himself of some astoundingly facile comments on the French Revolution (à propos of pretty well nothing), before settling in to a theme he has pursued before and which he clearly enjoys: the unacceptable ways of the academic community. This is what he offers us:
‘As for nobility, there are many, but last week the nobles in the news were our academic elites. And if they and their royal cousins – government politicians – don’t wake up, we could be in for political chaos and economic disaster… On Monday, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) raised the pay of lecturers by between €4,000 and €10,000. The result will be the loss of part-time lecturers – the proverbial peasants – who work far harder and earn far less.’
I guess it’s important to correct this in case somebody takes it at face value. Those reading Coleman’s article without knowing the facts might conclude that TCD had implemented a general pay rise for staff – indeed, that is the clear message we are supposed to take from the piece. In fact that’s nonsense. As we have noted in this blog, Trinity’s decision related to the completion of a promotions round initiated two years ago, as a result of which 27 (out of a total of maybe 700) lecturers get a promotion in status, but for now no pay rise. Even if and when the pay rise kicks in, the impact on TCD’s budget will be tiny, and certainly won’t cause a loss of jobs for Coleman’s ‘proverbial peasants.’ But unless he didn’t inform himself at all before rushing into print, Marc Coleman knows this. What he has done is put a wholly misleading slant on a news item in order to have a go at the academic community.
The problem with such commentary is that it actually frustrates genuine attempts to produce reform. It is clear enough that academic practice will need to change further, and that universities will have to reinvent themselves and find different and better ways of conducting their business. But this is made immeasurably more difficult when hostile and misleading comments are made by those who have every opportunity to know better.