By Aine Pennello
“What we have here is a situation where the lunatics have taken over the asylum.” So began Kevin Farrell, executive member of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, as he addressed academics at a public meeting in the Gresham Hotel on Saturday afternoon. The meeting, announced in a letter published in the Irish Times, was called to protect academic freedom and tenure in third-level institutions against proposed changes to the Croke Park agreement.
Following the opening address, in which academic freedom and tenure were described as a “healthy part of Irish democracy”, a man who identified himself as Brendan Moran spoke out against the audience saying he was “furious” to see the letter printed in the Irish Times.
Moran explained that his son, who had been educated in Ireland and MIT, had been unsuccessful in obtaining a union position within the third-level education sector. “I hope the next government will – although I doubt it – have the balls to take you on,” Moran stated before abruptly leaving the conference.
The incident sparked debate amongst audience speakers, who cited Moran as a prime example of the attitude to be faced in the “PR war”. Dr. Geraldine Moane, a UCD Senior Lecturer, said the idea of tenure needed to be corrected from one of “freedom to sit around” to “freedom of thought”, highlighting the difficulties of research for those with part-time or insecure contracts. “Money is the source of freedom,” another UCD lecturer argued.
Other educationalists defended their right to academic tenure by recalling the hardship encountered in becoming an educationalist in the first place: being the top of one’s undergraduate class, going to the best possible graduate school, writing a thesis and conducting research only to compete with hundreds of others for a handful of positions.
Associate Professor of French Studies at UCD Mary Gallagher said educationalists were entitled to the privileges, since the job of the academic is never finished. “I feel they need to pay me for every hour I breathe,” said Gallagher who argued the possibility of any material or interaction in daily life to generate academic research and thought.
Senator David Norris was also in attendance “to show solidarity, to show I am with you,” he said as he addressed the crowd. The conference was brought to a close as academics from various universities and institutes of technologies agreed to follow UCD’s example of petitioning against the changes to their respective governing bodies.