Election!

In Ireland they are predicting that there will be election next spring, and that the outcome is entirely unpredictable. Quite so. Of course the election to which I am referring is that for the post of Provost of Trinity College Dublin. In early April 2011 the College’s academic staff (and members of the TCD Board and Council) will elect the new chief officer of TCD, who will succeed the present Provost, Dr John Hegarty.

However, this year there is a somewhat different process from the normal one. While the final decision will, as on previous occasions, be based on the outcome of the election, this is being preceded by a more ‘normal’ recruitment process, with an advertisement (appeared last Friday), nominations and interviews, and with the final shortlist then being out to the electorate after a brief campaign.

The College has also published a website for all of this, and this indicates that TCD is ‘committed to attracting a strong national and international field.’ In fact, they are very unlikely to get much of an international (or indeed domestic external) field: the requirement to make the candidacy public in the final stages will on the whole strongly deter external candidates, who will in any case be disadvantaged because they will have fewer connections and links with members of the electorate.

I know there is something attractive about a democratic process and an election, and many European universities also use this selection method. But whether it is an ideal way of finding a person to provide leadership in challenging times is perhaps debatable. Trinity College is a hugely important academic institution in Ireland, and the quality of its leadership is important. To secure that quality, the College needs a field of leading global academics to compete for the post, and its appointments process more more less rules that out. This ought to be the last time that this form of recruitment is used.

As a postscript, I should probably add that there had been much media and other speculation that I would be a candidate for the post, after I had stepped down as President of DCU. In fact I had never indicated to anyone that I would be, and of course I have accepted another appointment; but I might stress that the recruitment method is not the reason why I am not a candidate for the post of Provost of TCD. I say this solely so as to emphasise that my argument above is not based on any sense of personal interest in the matter.

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2 Comments on “Election!”

  1. copernicus Says:

    “However, this year there is a somewhat different process from the normal one. While the final decision will, as on previous occasions, be based on the outcome of the election, this is being preceded by a more ‘normal’ recruitment process, with an advertisement (appeared last Friday), nominations and interviews, and with the final shortlist then being out to the electorate after a brief campaign”

    Seems a bizarre way of getting a leader with the right credentials, as you say “the requirement to make the candidacy public in the final stages” will deter strong candidates from coming forward.

    Though I am British, but was educated in US, I see much merit in the US search committee approach. Having said this, my alma mater University of Cincinnati had an enviable reputation of having the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, educated at MIT, in its Aerospace Engineering Faculty as a professor of aerospace engineering with whom we students then took the elevator ride every morning. He was an outstanding professional in his field, and the university singularly failed to offer him the position of president when the position became vacant. He would have been an outstanding president as he had the leadership qualities unmatched at that time, and who would have been representing the university nationally and globally as the first astronaut on the moon. The respect and adoration he had would have been an immense asset. The university blew its chance.

    Recently, the same university embarked on the search of finding the president. The search committee narrowed down candidates and went for some one who was good in getting the funding and who was known by his biography: “Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black”. But then for us ,a few alumnus, we wondered whether it was the right appointment. UC has been a Tier3 institution, but moving up, but its centre of excellence has been its medical school, and its paediatric research achievements dating back from the discovery of Polio vaccine. Why the university did not play on its strength to find a leader in the area of medicine was any one’s guess. Hence when it came to appointing the provost-the Senior Vice President , I and perhaps others wrote to the search committee pointing out this gap. Fortuitously or by design, they got an excellent person who is known for his research in ophthalmology and who was at one time a dean at the world famous UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. The lesson is go for the best leader.

  2. copernicus Says:

    I should have said “alumni”. Sorry.


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