Posted tagged ‘Paddy Healy’

Academic freedom: response to IUA statement (Paddy Healy)

February 12, 2011

Last week the Irish Universities Association issued a statement on academic freedom, reproduced in this blog. Paddy Healy, Convenor of the Gathering for Academic Freedom, has now issued a response (below). There will also be a meeting on ‘academic freedom and campus dissent’, addressed by Paddy Healy and others, Tuesday, February 15 2011, in the William Jefferson Clinton Auditorium, UCD, Belfield.

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) issued a statement on February 4 in response to a call to defend the principle of tenure on which academic freedom is based. This call, signed by 160 academics, was published in the Irish Times on January 20.

We note that the IUA has no authority to speak on behalf of Irish universities. It is a private company of which the seven university presidents are directors.

In its response, the IUA could have given clear assurances that it was opposed to any changes to the relevant clauses in the Universities Act. As the law of the land trumps industrial relations processes, we would have taken considerable comfort from such a declaration.

As it is, however, the IUA makes no such declaration. Indeed,  the IUA statement is replete with ambiguity and dissimulation. Most remarkably, it suggests that the principle of tenure might be seen as protecting academics from dismissal for misconduct  though this is not the case.

The IUA statement is causing increased concern in the academic community.

Steve Hedley, Professor of Law at UCC and a signatory to the call, has given a detailed reply to the statement on the blog Ninth Level Ireland.

The IUA states:

‘What we must do as a foundation for that defence [of academic freedom-PH], is to distinguish between freedom and licence. This is what we are seeking to do in the proposed contractual provision which states that it is to be acknowledged that the freedoms which are contained in Section 14 of the Universities Act are to be exercised in the context of the framework of rights and obligations contained in the contract.’

It should be understood that the contract to which the IUA refers is not the existing contract but a new contract to be put in place pursuant to the Public Services Agreement (Croke Park Deal).

Stephen Hedley comments:

‘The other, and more pessimistic, interpretation [of the IUA statement-PH] is that academic contracts are to be read as limiting the guarantee in the Universities Act – in other words, that academic freedom should only exist to the extent that each academic’s contract allows for it. This is extremely worrying. Academic freedom is, in large part, freedom from university management – and so is not worth much if it can be removed by a simple clause in an employment contract, drafted by that same university management. I don’t know what is intended here; and I certainly hope that this reading is wrong. But if the object of the statement was to reassure, then it has failed in its object.’

On the question of tenure the IUA states:

‘Here, we are seeking to establish that tenure is consistent with the established corpus of employment law and, in that context, refers to the duration of contract … However, the concept of tenure dates from a time when employment law was much less well developed. We now have a national legal framework incorporating, inter alia, the Unfair Dismissals and Fixed Term Workers Acts which provide considerable protections to employees generally. We strongly support employment security for staff.’

Stephen Hedley comments:

‘With that introduction, the IUA statement gives a number of reasons why tenure is positively undesirable. Tenure is an “amorphous concept which somehow subsists in a parallel realm” to the rest of employment law; this “creates ambiguity, and at worst, creates the impression that tenure will be advanced to create an absolute prohibition on dismissal or sanction, even in the worst and thankfully extremely rare cases of misconduct”. … The solution is “to establish that tenure is consistent with the established corpus of employment law and, in that context, refers to the duration of contract”. This seems to mean that tenure, properly understood, should only mean that each academic’s contract lasts as long as it lasts – in other words, that “tenure” is to be all but meaningless, adding nothing to ordinary employment rights.’

To be clear: the signatories of the January 20 letter never suggested that tenure could or should preclude disciplinary procedures in cases of misconduct and/or breach of duty. Academics have never been ‘unsackable’ on foot of such allegations as some commentators and propagandists have claimed. Nor have they been absolutely free to exercise their academic freedom (or responsibility?) to defend academic values without fear or favour. As a number of documented Irish cases show, some of them have been subjected to harassment and intimidation for speaking out in defence of academic standards and intellectual integrity, even if they haven’t been subjected to the ultimate silencing, namely redundancy.

It is because tenure confers immunity from this ultimate abuse of power that it is internationally recognised as essential to academic freedom by UNESCO and by other international bodies such as Education International. And it is because academic freedom as currently protected by Irish law is such a fundamental principle of democracy that all repressive regimes have sought to eliminate or to limit that freedom.

Instead of allaying the concerns that we expressed in our original letter, the IUA response has heightened them.

Following persistent work by the IFUT Branch, the Board of Trinity College has already issued a declaration in support of academic freedom and tenure in December 2010

We therefore call now on the governing authorities of all academic institutions to dissociate themselves from the IUA statement and to issue a similar declaration.

Meeting of Irish academics ‘to defend academic freedom’

January 24, 2011

A meeting open to academic staff in Irish higher education institutions took place in Dublin on Saturday, January 22, with the aim of discussing what the organisers believe are potential assaults on academic freedom arising from the implementation of the public service agreement (the ‘Croke Park agreement’) of last year. What follows is a note on the meeting prepared by its convenor, Paddy Healy (former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland). The post below this one is the transcript of Paddy Healy’s own address to the meeting. I am hoping also in due course to publish the views on these matters of the universities and/or the Irish Universities Association.

The Academic Gathering to Defend Academic Freedom met at Gresham Hotel Dublin on Saturday January 22. There were  200 academics present from almost all third level institutions within the state.

Paddy Healy delivered an opening address which is carried below.

Prof Tom Garvin was highly critical of the “half-educated administrators” who had taken over our universities and on whom resources necessary for teaching and scholarly activity were being wasted.

Steven Hedley, Professor of Law, UCC warned that the Universities Act (1997), which provides for academic freedom and tenure, could be amended to weaken its provisions.

Dr Paddy O’Flynn,UCD, pointed out that it was essential that all academics join trade unions to effectively respond to current threats.

Apologies for inability to attend and expressions of support for the gathering were sent by Prof Jim McKernan, East Carolina University, Prof James Heffron (emeritus) UCC and Dr Tom Dooley, Dundalk IT

Many speakers explained why academic freedom and permanency to retirement age were necessary to maintain freedom of speech and information to the public, educational standards and fruitful scholarship including research. Speakers included Professor Peadar Kirby, UL;Professor Michael Cronin, DCU; Professor Mary Gallagher,UCD; Martin O’Grady, IT Tralee, Dr Kieran Allen, UCD, Dr Colman Etchingham, NUIM, Dr Kevin Farrell, IT Blanchardstown, Marnie Holborow, DCU, Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte, IT Carlow, Dr Paul O’Brien, NCAD; Prof Helena Sheehan (emeritus),DCU and many others.

Senator David Norris addressed those assembled and expressed solidarity with the Gathering.

Former Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald addressed the Gathering and pointed out the need for an association which addressed academic matters only.


It was agreed that a petition would be launched in each institution calling on the governing authority to make a declaration in favour of academic freedom and to remove all threats to tenure and permanency to retirement age.

Such a declaration has already been secured by IFUT President, Hugh Gibbons, and his colleagues in the IFUT Branch at TCD. A motion to the same effect would be tabled at all Academic Councils.

An ad-hoc steering committee was formed to co-ordinate the campaign.

It was suggested that a pledge in favour of academic freedom and permanency should be administered to all political parties in the forthcoming election. This will be considered by the steering committee.

It was agreed that the Gathering would be reconvened in the coming weeks to consider whether further organised work was necessary.

In defence of academic freedom

January 24, 2011

This is the opening speech by Paddy Healy (former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland) delivered to the meeting of Irish academics on January 22 in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin.

Academic freedom is a necessity in a healthy democracy. Citizens have a need for a diversity of expert opinions to enable them to take informed decisions and to direct their political representatives. The warnings of a possible banking collapse came from outside the banking industry and indeed from outside the regulatory and political system. The warnings of Professor Morgan Kelly and others went unheeded.

Analysis and criticism of social, economic, scientific and artistic policies by academics is the right of citizens. If academic freedom is restricted this flow of information and analysis is likely to be reduced or stopped.

Citizens have a right to objective information on the content of food products, the safety of structures and other engineering systems, on pollution of the environment, on aesthetic matters and on health issues. Academics must retain the unrestricted right to give this information.

Academic freedom and tenure is not just a ruse invented by academics to protect their employment as some letter writers have suggested.

The purpose of ‘tenure’ as protecting a university professor or lecturer against dismissal, as set out in the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel of 11 November 1997, is to provide protection for the independence of university academics in their teaching and research by ensuring that they cannot be dismissed for the expression of unpopular or novel ideas. Savage (Academic Tenure and its Functional Equivalent in post-secondary Education, ILO Working Paper June 2004) suggests that ‘tenure’ might also ensure that those among the academic staff teaching ‘highly technical but not popular subjects’ are also protected ‘so that such learning is not easily removed from the university milieu because of ephemeral undergraduate student demand’. As Savage goes on to point out: ‘dismissal procedures are the key’. Tenure exists in reality if academic staff can only be dismissed for ‘just cause’, such as professional incompetence, financial corruption, sexual or racial harassment or the abandonment of position, proved before a ‘fair and independent body’. One of the more ‘vexing’ questions in his opinion is the effect of ‘financial exigency and programme planning’ and whether these factors can override the guarantees of ‘tenure’.

At a large meeting of academics held in UCD on Thursday last, the representative of the Irish Federation of University Teachers informed us that as a matter of policy IFUT would be making no concessions on the issues of academic freedom and tenure. The President of the SIPTU Education Branch gave similar assurances.

My colleagues and I are encouraged by the declaration of the Board of Trinity College in favour of academic freedom and tenure. We must of course be careful of the meaning of those terms. We are also encouraged by the declared opposition to research by command from above. It would be most appropriate if the governing authorities of other third level institutions made similar declarations.

I would like to congratulate Dr Hugh Gibbons, IFUT President, and his colleagues in IFUT at TCD for their hard work and persistence in securing this declaration.

Academic staff in institutes of technology were believed to have effective tenure through the permanency of public servants until the emergence of the Croke Park Deal. Academic freedom is written into existing contracts. I call on the governing bodies of these institutions to unconditionally withdraw all threats of redundancy to academic staff.

It is important that third level institutions continue to produce graduates who combine a high level of professional expertise with a capacity for critical thought. That is necessary for a healthy democratic society and a successful economy.

The funding model of third level institutions penalises failure of students to progress by passing examinations. This has led to very unhealthy pressures in the direction of lowering criteria for progression. There have been incidences of administrative passing of students. Academics must retain the unfettered right subject to reasonable criteria to say that a student has not reached the required standard. Academic freedom based on permanence of employment is necessary in order that academics can resist unhealthy pressures. If ‘dumbing down’ becomes rampant, serious damage will be done to our society. The qualifications of existing graduates would be devalued. Authorities in many areas such as health, social services and education would be denied a reliable criterion in employing professional staff. Companies seeking to employ graduates would have similar problems. The reputation of Irish qualifications abroad would be destroyed.

Let us repeat here the concern expressed by Savage (above) lest highly specialised but not popular subjects be removed from third level institutions. I would add a concern that creative arts and sociological enquiry would be increasingly de-prioritised through funding mechanisms. I also echo the concern of Tom Garvin that open-ended or “blue sky research” would be deprived of funds in favour of focussed problem solving for commercial purposes. I am reliably informed that the next round of cuts under the HEA Employment Control Framework will necessitate redundancies in addition to non-replacement of staff in some institutions.  Areas of knowledge, inquiry and cultural endeavour must not be selectively deprived of resources. Nor should resources be squandered on a large management layer arising from the inappropriate replacement of collegiality with a command model of management to the detriment of teaching and other academic activity.

There are also serious concerns in the areas of science, engineering, computing, medicine and other health sciences.  There must be no drift towards allocation of academics to research projects outside their own research interest. Genuine research simply cannot be done on such a basis. Institute of Technology staff must not be prevented from engaging in scholarly activity by timetabling for 19 to 21 teaching  hours  per week.

We have no objection to having industrial research partners. But the co-operation must be on terms which do not affect the independence of academic staff. There must be no question of suppressing unwelcome research outcomes or impeding the development of knowledge as has happened in a number of cases abroad.

Academic freedom based on tenure and permanency is an indispensable prerequisite for a healthy democratic society, for the maintenance of academic standards and for the continued flourishing of genuine scholarship in Irish academic institutions.

“Public gathering” called on academic freedom

January 20, 2011

The Irish academic news resource website, 9thlevelireland, yesterday carried a letter signed by 160 academics calling for a meeting to discuss threats, as the signatories see it, to academic freedom across Irish higher education. This meeting, which is described as being ‘open to all academics’, is to be held on Saturday, January 22, at 2pm, in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin.

The initiative for this was taken by Paddy Healy, a lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology and a former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland, which inter alia organises staff in the Institutes of Technology. In his blog he has expanded on the reasons for his fears concerning academic freedom. These are based principally on the agreement reached last year between the Irish government and the public sector trade unions (the Croke Park agreement), under which various changes in working practice and in contracts of employment are to be negotiated. In the blog Paddy Healy publishes a document said to have been issued by NUI Galway setting out proposed changes and reforms. As far as I am aware, the university has not made any public comment on this, so I cannot say whether the document represents its position, or what its aims are in any negotiations that may be taking place. But if we take the document at face value, it clearly envisages a very different kind of employment contract and higher levels of staff flexibility.

From what I can gather, the process of initiating the reform processes envisaged under the Croke Park agreement has been left by the Irish Universities Association to individual institutions, and there is no sector-wide position on what changes might be involved. This may be a risky approach, and it would be hard to imagine that very different contractual frameworks or terms of employment could be sustained between the Irish universities and colleges. Not having a common approach also makes it difficult to avoid rumours and fears circulating through the system. I cannot help feeling that a more open, nation-wide discussion process would make more sense.

On the other hand, it would also be a mistake for academics to resist all change, or to allow the impression to emerge that this is their position. There continue to be very good reasons for preserving intellectual autonomy and academic freedom, but academics must also be aware of, and show sensitivity to, the general movement towards greater accountability in society. The risk is always that accountability is seen as meaning bureaucratic control, and to avoid that being the result of current reforms academics, like the universities, need to engage in constructive discussions. As part of this process, resistance to measures such as measuring of full economic costs is hugely counter-productive and damaging to the staff position. A radicalisation of these discussions on either side can easily prompt wider public hostility towards higher education, an outcome that would put the entire system at risk.

All parties involved in this should proceed with some care, and with as much openness as possible. Rumour is the enemy of success.

The Croke Park challenge

January 4, 2011

In the spring of 2010 the government and public service trade unions in Ireland agreed on a framework agreement (the Croke Park agreement) intended to maintain industrial relations peace and promote public sector reform, and maybe reduce exchequer costs (the agreement on pay and conditions in the public service, after negotiations in the Croke Park stadium, hence the title). At the heart of the agreement, from a trade union perspective, was a government commitment not to cut public service pay any further until 2014. As the economy came under increasing stress, the government has so far stuck to the pay commitment.

But the pay elements of the agreement had a price, and this was an agreement by the unions to public service reform. In the case of the universities, these were the relevant provisions:

• With effect from the start of the 2010/11 academic year, the provision of an additional hour per week to be available to facilitate, at the discretion of management, teaching and learning in the university/institute.

• Co-operation with the introduction of academic workload management and full economic costing models and with the compilation of associated data to support these.

• Co-operation with redeployment/re-organisation/rationalisation arising from the review of Higher Education strategy and changing economic and social circumstances.

• A comprehensive review and revision of employment contracts to identify and remove any impediments to the development of an optimum teaching, learning and research environment. This review and revision to be completed in advance of the start of the 2010/11 academic year.

There are two references in these provisions to actions to be completed by the start of the 2010-11 academic year (i.e. by September 2010), and while I stepped down as President of DCU in July, I do not believe that either of these actions were undertaken in that timescale. However, over recent weeks there has been some speculation about discussions that may be under way regarding the agreement, and in a comment posted on this blog the former President of the Teachers Union of Ireland (which organises staff in the institutes of technology), Paddy Healy, suggested that the following reforms were being contemplated (with comments added in parentheses by Paddy Healy himself):

1. That tenure be brought into Line with corporate industrial relations law. (This means that tenure until pensionable age with the individual university is being abolished and university academic staff can be made compulsorily redundant and/or redeployed to other parts of public service. This will require legislation PH)
2. Renegotiation of all existing contracts for implementation from September 2011
3. Contractual restrictions will be placed on Academic Freedom ( The restrictions are not yet clear but if the worst precedents abroad are followed they could include prevention of public criticism of government or the university authorities: they could also include forcing academics to carry out particular research projects or particular research outcomes could be suppressed due to commercial research agreements with private companies eg infamous heliobacter pylori case abroad- PH)
4. Staff must engage with workload monitoring and measurement.
5. Academic staff required to be in attendance at the university each day for twelve consecutive calendar months
6. Holidays to be at the discretion of the University. Staff member must apply and receive approval in advance for holiday leave (The effect of points 5 and 6 taken together is that holiday entitlements are to be set by The Holidays(Employees) ACT which sets minimum holidays for employees to protect them from predatory employers. If this were accepted it would reduce the holiday entitlements of academic staff below those of comparable public service employees and below those of trade unionised employees in the private sector—PH)
7. The current position under which the staff member automatically gets an increment unless management objects will be changed. Staff will only receive an increment following a satisfactory Performance Appraisal outcome. Failure to engage with Performance Appraisal System (PAS) will lead to a freezing of the incremental position and denial of access to promotion, sabbatical leave etc. The PAS system will include student evaluation of lecturers. (Performance appraisal will apply to all grades of academic staff including professors-PH)
8. Extra hour per week of teaching or administration to be implemented immediately
9. Staff may be redeployed to other Departments/duties within the University
10. Staff may be redeployed to other posts outside the university but within the wider public service (as set out in Croke Park Deal) with particular regard to HEA Proposals (eg Mergers to be recommended under Hunt Report PH)
11. Co-operation with Outsourcing (including teaching and research PH) in accordance with Croke Park Deal
12. New arrangements will apply to rewards for additional internal work and external consultancy work.

Some of these initiatives are most unlikely, and certainly would not secure agreement by the universities. Some would be unworkable (including that on academic redeployment to other parts of the public service). And some, I suspect, would not be contemplated  even by the government (such as restricting the right of academics to criticise the government). Others are meaningless (adding one hour per week of teaching or administration would have no substantive meaning in the university sector). But some of the proposed reforms may well be in discussion. It may be advantageous for the universities, sooner rather than later, to indicate to staff what discussions are taking place and what, if any, changes are being contemplated.

A more detailed commentary by Paddy Healy can be found in his blog, here.

Terms and conditions of employment in Irish higher education

December 19, 2010

One of the great uncertainties in higher education right now is how academic terms and conditions may change in the future. This is made more complicated by the fact that such terms are very loosely, if at all, defined in the universities, while they are regulated in some detail in the institutes of technology and some other colleges. In the universities there is an understanding that academic staff must be engaged in work that will provide proper teaching for students and will lead to high value research outputs (as well as administrative and external work); precise working time and conditions are not set out, but the principle of goodwill in fact produces workloads and a working week for many that is highly demanding and in terms of hours far greater than in most private sector employments. In the institutes workloads are included in an agreed and binding framework that sets teaching contact hours and provides for fixed holidays.

All of this is being called into question by recent comments on higher education and by the government’s agreement with the public service trade unions (the ‘Croke Park’ agreement). Under the education clauses of this agreement working hours are to be extended (easy when you have fixed hours, less easy when you don’t) and other contractual terms are to be reformed, in return for a commitment by the government not to cut pay any further.

The implementation of these terms was always going to be tricky, but one factor creating problems was the refusal by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which organises staff in the institutes of technology, to ratify the agreement or to be bound by it. The government’s threatened response to this was to suggest redundancies for the institutes. The union blinked, and has agreed to enter into discussions about the implementation of the Croke Park agreement.

But this will not be easy, as an email distributed by former TUI President and lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology, Paddy Healy, shows. In this email dated December 15, he lists concessions he thinks are being demanded of the union in relation to academic working conditions and suggests that institutes’ academic staff were being ‘bludgeoned into submission’, and that it would be ‘suicide to do a deal with a dying government’.

The Croke Park agreement in any case has an uncertain future, but it is unlikely that a tactic of militant opposition to reform of working conditions will play well with the public. Some of the more specific ‘protections’ enjoyed by institute of technology staff (such as long summer holidays) are hard to defend, or at any rate it would be unwise to defend them publicly. However, the fight (if that is what it is) on these issues could so collateral damage to the universities, whose capacity to extract commitment and additional work from academics would be seriously undermined if minimum (and thus inevitably maximum) workloads were imposed.

Both the universities and the institutes do however need to become much more sophisticated in recording and publicising actual staff workloads, to overcome the widespread perception that working conditions not onerous. Staff resistance to the collation of such information (and there is some, in some institutions) could come back to haunt them.

This entire process is a highly sensitive one and may easily go wrong.