The academic presidency

It may have been noticed by some observers that Ireland now appears to consider academic experience to be a requirement for the Head of State. Ever since Paddy Hillery’s rather quiet presidency came to an end in 1990, the President has been a former academic. Furthermore, the two candidates likely to be the frontrunners this time – David Norris and Michael D. Higgins – are also both former academics.

The role of the head of state, when it is not combined with that of head of government as it is in the United States and France for example, is largely about developing and sharing the national narrative, and it is at the very least arguable that good academics have the right background for this. It is also good – or so I think at any rate – that the academic profession is able in this way to demonstrate this important contribution to national welfare. So I say, let the tradition of having an academic head of state continue; and maybe let it spread.

Explore posts in the same categories: higher education

12 Comments on “The academic presidency”

  1. Treasa Lynch Says:

    I’m sorry Ferdinand, I strongly disagree with the idea that the Presidency should always been held by an academic. I think it should be held by someone who contributes greatly to Irish society; being a member of academia is no pre-requisite for that. To suggest that it might be, or that the President should always be an academic is elitist; and this sits uneasily for me.

  2. John Pettey Says:

    An academic may well be suited to the Presidency, but also someone who has some common sense, a sense of reality. I would say that career politicians are eminently unqualified for the role.


  3. If the Head of State’s role is, in fact, to develop and put forth a “national narrative” then I would suggest that an academic is not the best qualified person. At least in the US, academics tend to express themselves in ways that the “common person” finds incomprehensible! Perhaps someone whose experience and background is in a field related to framing and publicizing a narrative, such as a journalist or a novelist.

    • anna notaro Says:

      Eric, I don’t think that to put forth a national narrative is necessarily a matter of ‘qualifications’, academic or otherwise, in fact the ability to narrate and fully represent people’s needs and aspirations is not the prerogative of a particular profession, although one might reasonably expect politicians to be well versed in what is truly an ancient art.

      • Vincent Says:

        Except Anna, that the politicians have this horrible habit of mixing up their needs and aspirations with those of the People.

  4. Vincent Says:

    Well, whatever about it being an academic. It certainly shouldn’t be from the political profession.

  5. cormac Says:

    I think we have been well served by our recent presidents, and I think it does show that academics can make good presidents. Mary Robinson is a good example of how much good a good president can go on to do (unlike her Czech counterpart). Academics can make goor prome ministers too – de Valera and Fitzgearald were among the better ones. Would they have supervised the economic mess football tipster Bertie allowed happen? I doubt it

    • Conor Says:

      Mary Robinson is a bad example. She treated the presidency as a CV entry, a mere stepping stone instead of the culmination of a political career. Please remember that she was a career politician as well as an academic.

  6. cormac Says:

    Hah! I’ve ofen wondered at this story. I thought she did a lot of good as a president – so much so that people were sore to lose her. My point is that she was an academic who became a very good politican

  7. Don Says:

    The OED gives one definition of ‘academic’ as: OF NO PRACTICAL RELEVANCE. It makes no odds if the President of Ireland is an ‘academic’ or not – what the post holder most have is ‘relevance’, that is, to be closely connected (the people) and appropriate to the matters (of national importance) in hand. Becoming an ‘academic’ is a life choice, just a job, like a window cleaner, lab technician or judge. We just need a person with wisdom, tact, compassion, vision.


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