At tonight’s council meeting, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Council passed a motion calling for a student-wide survey to determine the majority preference for provost candidate.
Six SU elected members sit on the committees of University Board and University Council and are thus entitled to a vote in the election to determine Trinity’s next provost.
As delegates for the student population, the six elected student members are now set to vote in line with the results of the student survey.
Additionally, Council discussed the issuing of a letter to prospective provostorial candidates regarding the necessity for a candidate who understands the severity of the environmental crisis.
As laid out in a statement made prior to tonight’s council meeting, the SU claimed that “a block vote of the student preference in this election is the most effective way to influence the result overall”.
JS Environmental Science Class Representative Dylan Krug, who proposed the motion, stated that there is an “intent” that the six student voters will vote in line with the student body majority, but the passing of this motion has “mandated” that this will be the case.
Deputy STEM Convenor Bev Genockey, who seconded the motion, continued that the motion is “pretty much word-for-word” the same as one which was proposed and passed ten years ago for the last provost election.
Because of the short-term nature of SU Council-passed motions, Education Officer Megan O’Connor proposed that Krug and Genockey bring forward the motion as a constitutional amendment so that the practise will be continued for all forthcoming provostorial elections.
Krug echoed this sentiment, stating that for the future, the goal should be to elect a provost who “truly represents students’ needs”.
In response to sceptical statement put forth by BESS Convenor Shore Oluborode, who questioned whether mandating all voters to vote for the same candidate would represent a diverse student voice, O’Connor responded that she “did not see another method” to go about voting.
President Eoin Hand continued by explaining the process of voting, in which provostorial candidates are “knocked out” following a single transferable vote process until there is a head-to-head vote between two candidates. “If the person we are voting for is knocked out of the race, we will vote for the second most popular,” he explained.
Midway through Council, the attendees were treated to an appearance by Trinity’s current provost, Patrick Prendergast.
He highlighted the fact that during his campaign season, he “didn’t get the student vote.
Therefore, as Hand referenced, although six student votes are not many, they are significant in a prospective provost’s campaign.
Prompted by the impending election season, Council held a discussion about petitioning for an environmental letter to the provostorial candidates.
The letter, presented by SU President Eoin Hand, was drafted prior to the council meeting and highlighted the fact that “the provostorial election of 2021 is the starting point” in the process for making lasting environmental change at a college level.
Hand stated that the upcoming elections “fall nothing short of a huge opportunity for us as students” in garnering traction for the candidates’ support of environmental issues.
He continued that he believes once one provost candidate agrees to accepting the student-proposed environmental agenda, the rest should follow suit in updating their campaigns in favour of the students’ wishes.
After acknowledging that scientists have made clear that within a decade, we will “pass a point of no return” regarding the environmental crisis, the letter stated that: “We, as students and members of the College community, want to look back in 10 years’ time and say we did everything we could to collectively tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.”
The letter, addressed to each of the provostorial candidates, underlined that a majority of staff and students at Trinity care about the environment but “are overwhelmed and unsure as to how they can translate this reality into their daily roles.” In response, the letter emphasised that this could be changed by the election of “a Provost who recognises the scale and scope of the changes required to respond at a level commensurate with scientific evidence.”
It continued by stating that the newly elected provost must also understand “that the environmental emergency is not just one of many other pressing issues, but an existential threat to humanity and intertwined with all the challenges we face”, and that, in order to combat the threat to the environment, the new provost must “translate our platform and intellectual capital into climate action and regeneration of our ecosystem.”
“Some might protest that a profound transition needs to be balanced against other imperatives such as our finances or our disciplinary investments. However, given the scale and urgency of the issue such trade-offs are moot,” continued the statement.
In response to possible protests that drastic change might further amplify financial and operational instabilities following the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, the letter also claimed that “such experimentation may be the best way to strengthen community and collegiality with a sense of profound purpose.”
Finally, the letter recognised that the continuing pandemic has “exposed the overdependence of third-level institutions on international mobility, flawed ranking systems and narrow promotion incentives which treat education and research as individualistic endeavours”, and that in recovering from the pandemic period, we may be provided with “a unique opportunity to reimagine an educational model which serves our planet.”
The SU called for a prospective provost who would “centre climate action and ecosystem in our Strategic Plan and actions”, “climate-proof and future-proof the College curriculum across all our faculties with a major fund to do so” and “set and achieve specific targets for true sustainability of College operations”, among other requests.
The letter concluded with a note to Trinity in general, stating that it could deal with the environmental crisis in two ways: to “continue with the status quo and further incorporate environmental sustainability…in an incremental manner” or to “become an institutional leader by taking ambitious and positive actions in a manner commensurate with climate and biodiversity science.”
SU emphasised that a greater focus on College’s attentiveness to the environment would attract increasing numbers of prospective students in the future.
“The shift needed to act commensurable is breath-taking but is well within the capacity of a world-leading university under the leadership of a strong visionary,” stated the author of the letter directed at the provostorial candidates.
Hand concluded his presentation of the letter by stating that his goal is to “collect as much clout and influence as possible”.
It is “incredibly important that our voices are heard now,” he said.
Additional reporting by Finn Purdy, Jack Kennedy, Bonnie Gill, Kate Henshaw and Connie Roughan.