The final lap

I confess that it is a strange experience to see your post advertised in the media – a little bit like reading your own obituary,  except that the obituary writer seems only marginally interested in you. Well, the job of President of Dublin City University has now been advertised, and the search is on. Don’t get either too worried, or too excited in joyful anticipation: I have another 53 or so weeks to go in the post, and then I will have completed my ten years (the limit for a university president’s term of office set by the Universities Act 1997). With any luck, my successor will have been identified a little while before then to allow for a smooth handover.

I am a committed supporter of the concept of limited tenure for Presidents, and I believe that after ten years it is better for the institution to get some new leadership, so I am not at all complaining. But on the other hand, I know I shall miss the role, for this is a dream job which I have enjoyed and am enjoying immensely. Universities are unlike most other kinds of organisation, and generally don’t respond well to an authoritarian leadership style; on the other hand, they need to be purpose driven and focused in facing their challenges. And so leadership is about understanding the institutional culture, prompting strategic action and recognising excellence and dedication. Sometimes it is about taking tough decisions and feeling the heat. And it is about interpreting the university to its own community and to its external stakeholders. I may be good or bad at any of these things, but I feel it is a joy and a privilege to hold this post, and I believe I have at least one of the attributes that are needed to be a president: I admire and respect the institution, and feel a great pride in its achievements. I genuinely believe that DCU is the most exciting university in Ireland, with some of the most talented staff.

But now, before I start writing my own (rather biased) obituary, there is business still to be done. Nine years ago I might have expected that my final year would be a year of gradually easing out of the affairs of the university. That looks unlikely. As luck would have it, my final year at DCU is also going to be the most challenging year – arguably ever – for the university sector in Ireland (and probably globally). Most of the assumptions we were taking for granted a year or two ago are now forgotten or under severe threat: the idea of continuing long term expansion, further major capital investment in higher education infrastructure, the rapid commercialisation of research, growing staff numbers, institutional autonomy. The only assumption that many people now dare to hold is that however pessimistic you are, you are probably under-estimating the problems.

In relation to almost any issue that matters to the future of the higher education system, the die will be cast over the coming 12 months, prompted by the next government Budget, by the outcome of the strategic review of higher education, by the decision on tuition fees promised for later this year, by the results of what may be the last (for a while) major research infrastructure investment by the state, by the decisions about to be made affecting university autonomy and quality assurance, by discussions on strategic links and partnerships. When this coming academic year is over, the future of the sector may have been determined, perhaps for a generation. What I would like to see is that DCU moves decisively, and also with a sense of confidence, through this period. So for this last year of my term of office, the challenges will be huge; but DCU has in its short history been able to thrive on challenge. I expect it to stay that way, and I intend to do my bit very actively during this final lap.

PS. If you are interested in my job, you can find the details here.

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2 Comments on “The final lap”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Soooooo, no contradictions in that job description then. Still, hopefully they will not have to exhibit all requirements at the same time. All the same it might be nice to see if it could be done. Don’t see it myself though, I think a head-gasket would go and steam would emit.
    ‘balance the skills of a team player with the ability to take tough decisions’, was it an Irish person that linked those words.

    Just for the sake of it, were I putting that advert together, I would add an ability to think on the feet.

  2. pennybridged Says:

    Interesting and nicely written post.
    Best wishes for your final year and in the endeavours that come after it.

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