The TCD Provost election: so how was it for you?

Tomorrow the lecturing staff of Trinity College Dublin will be locked into a secure building and will pretend to be Roman Catholic Cardinals electing a pope. Unlike previous election campaigns in the college, this one entered the public consciousness, at least a little. In part this was because, for the first time, the internet and social networking became major tools for at least some of the candidates. If you want to get an impression, for example, of how the candidates handled Twitter you can read the exchanges under the hashtag #tcdprovost here.

Will this have made a difference to the outcome? It is impossible to say now, but when the result is known I’ll offer an assessment. If for example Colm Kearney wins, my conclusion will be that his very savvy internet campaign helped to swing it for him. Or if Paddy Prendergast wins, then you can conclude that the TCD electorate is immune to the internet.

In the course of the past month or two all the candidates ran interesting campaigns. The two most professional ones, though very different in nature, were those conducted by Colm Kearney and UCD Vice-President Des Fitzgerald. The campaign that picked up most momentum towards the end was that by Jane Olhmeyer. The most inscrutable one was John Boland’s.

There are some conclusions to be drawn from all this. The first is that TCD will under this system never appoint an external Provost, ever. Des Fitzgerald ran a smart campaign, but he won’t win. The other external candidate, Robin Conyngham, exited when it became clear to him he couldn’t make it. The college may feel that the democratic nature of the exercise makes this a price worth paying, but its international reputation may take a hit. Secondly, if it does want to continue with this method of appointment, it must extend the franchise to non-academic staff, who have as much of a stake in the outcome as lecturers. Thirdly, the nature of the campaign and some of the views expressed in it will either lead to a very tense relationship between TCD and the Irish Universities Association or will create a quick sense of disenchantment by staff with the winning candidate – so there will be interesting times ahead. And finally, we must presume the TCD-UCD Innovation Alliance is dead: it did not feature in the campaign at all.

So let us wait and see how it all ends.

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7 Comments on “The TCD Provost election: so how was it for you?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Oh come now Ferdinand, in a country where the populous would follow the election to head of a Bee-hive, the elections at TCD hardly stir the dust below the canal and above the river. Even at that I’m over stating the catchment. And what the hell that lot needed a hashtag when a bigish brolly, a trestle table and a dozen bottles of decent wine would have been far more use.


  2. […] “Tomorrow the lecturing staff of Trinity College Dublin will be locked into a secure building and will pretend to be Roman Catholic Cardinals electing a pope …” (more) […]

  3. otto Says:

    A rather trivial post from FvP with one unconvincing claim piled on the other:

    “The first is that TCD will under this system never appoint an external Provost, ever.” Nonsense: an impressive candidate from outside Ireland might have done very well.

    “Des Fitzgerald ran a smart campaign, but he won’t win.” I hope that you do not really think that DF’s likely lack of success suggests that this system would “never, ever” appoint an external candidate.

    “The college may feel that the democratic nature of the exercise makes this a price worth paying, but its international reputation may take a hit.” There’s no evidence that the international reputation is likely to badly affected by this process of choosing the provost.

    “Secondly, if it does want to continue with this method of appointment, it must extend the franchise to non-academic staff, who have as much of a stake in the outcome as lecturers.” No, it must not. The central role of academic staff – above all the teaching staff – in defining, by election and by votes in faculty senate etc, the direction of any university is widely recognised and is a vital part of academic self-governance. Any major step towards your suggestion would indeed damage Trinity’s – or any university’s – reputation. Indeed, Irish universities reputations’ probably suffer already from the over-influence of non-academic staff in the running of universities and their lack of responsiveness to academic priorities, compared to US universities e.g.

    “Thirdly, the nature of the campaign and some of the views expressed in it will either lead to a very tense relationship between TCD and the Irish Universities Association or will create a quick sense of disenchantment by staff with the winning candidate – so there will be interesting times ahead.” – or option three, some tension and a new relationship with with IUA — a bit of tension not necessarily being a bad thing.

    “And finally, we must presume the TCD-UCD Innovation Alliance is dead: it did not feature in the campaign at all.” A bizarre statement! I’m sure the campaign focussed on much more bread-and-butter issues.


    • Trivial posts are the lifeblood of blogs, Otto – as well as trivial comments🙂

      You are of course entitled to your opinions, but I would take you up on two points. First, your rather bizarre view that administrative staff having a vote would ‘damage Trinity’s reputation’. I’m sure P.W. Botha thought the same about the extension of the franchise in South Africa, but a key principle of democracy is that those affected have a right to vote. No argument based on the special status of a group or caste can ever be acceptable, and universities are not an exception to this principle.

      Secondly, regarding the Innovation Alliance: this was a key initiative that was supposed to define the future of both institutions. It never got a mention in this campaign. That’s an important issue. I’m not saying it *should* have got a mention, just that it didn’t.

  4. otto Says:

    “First, your rather bizarre view that administrative staff having a vote would ‘damage Trinity’s reputation’. I’m sure P.W. Botha thought the same about the extension of the franchise in South Africa, but a key principle of democracy is that those affected have a right to vote. No argument based on the special status of a group or caste can ever be acceptable, and universities are not an exception to this principle.”
    Absurd! First, the unaccountable influence of administrative staff at Irish universities does, already today, damage Irish universities’ reputation. Academic staff who have previously taught in the United States sometimes leave Irish institutions because of it. Embedding further rights for non-academic staff in internal decision-making may therefore be unwise. Something for you to think about perhaps. Second, I think you are confusing democracy as political principle for the organization of the state (even there, with a thousand caveats) with the internal workings of all sorts of associations within civil society, where no such principle is accepted by any or all. Indeed, you don’t seem to accept it yourself, because you appear tempted by getting rid of the academic staff franchise (‘if it does want to continue with this method…’) which would likely produce a system vastly further away from the idea that ‘those affected have a right to vote’ than the current one at Trinity.

    “Secondly, regarding the Innovation Alliance: this was a key initiative that was supposed to define the future of both institutions. It never got a mention in this campaign. That’s an important issue. I’m not saying it *should* have got a mention, just that it didn’t.” What you said was that the Alliance was ‘dead’ because it was not discussed in the campaign. But there’s no reason to think that at all.

    Again, a rather trivial, causal, ill-supported set of comments on an important event for someone who usually advocates for more thoughtful and fact-based commentary on Irish higher ed. Not up to your usual standards, FvP.

  5. Paul Says:

    The cat is most definitely out of the bag !

    Couldn’t agree more with Otto.

    Congrats to Paddy Prendergast.. a worthy new Provost


  6. […] a comment » In a recent post on the TCD election FvP gave us this […]


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