Provost election: Linda Doyle has “something to give to the university”

Provost candidate Linda Doyle talks about her plans for Trinity and some of the biggest challenges for College over the next decade

When asked what made her want to run for Provost, Professor Linda Doyle gives two reasons. One: After her term as Dean of Research, she felt a “natural desire to step up to the next level”. Two: She feels she has “something to give” to College. “I think I have a way of leading that will allow us to be more.”

Linda Doyle is Professor of Engineering and the Arts, and recently completed her term as Dean of Research. Prior to this, Doyle was the Founding Director of CONNECT, a National Research Centre with over 250 researchers spread across 10 Higher Education Institutions around Irelandfocused primarily on telecommunications. 

Additionally, Doyle is a member of the National Broadband Steering Committee in Ireland and Chair of the Ofcom Spectrum Advisory Board in the UK. She has served on the Board of the Festival of Curiosity, as the Chair of the Board of the Douglas Hyde Gallery and a judge in the BT Young Scientist competition.

Doyle “absolutely loved” her time as Dean of Research, calling it “the most amazing job”. She highlighted her time as Professor of Engineering and the Arts, saying that it allowed her to bring “a real mix of understanding of the differences between different disciplines” into her role as Dean of Research. “That would have influenced hugely everything I did.”

As Dean of Research, Doyle had the opportunity to “do a lot of new things”. She worked on projects around Trinity’s first Research Charter, the first stand-alone Research Strategy, and open access to scholarship. She said that her “involvement nationally and internationally on research policy” during her term was “really exciting”.

“We’re going to have students coming into the university who’ve missed the best part of two years, they’re going to have holes in their education.”

We wanted to know what Doyle identifies as the three biggest challenges that College faces over the next decade. “Dealing with the aftermath of Covid in all its forms, whether that’s the financial implications or the personal implications” was first on her mind. “We’re going to have students coming into the university who’ve missed the best part of two years, they’re going to have holes in their education.” She continued by highlighting the issues staff face in the aftermath of Covid-19. “There are way less women submitting papers for publication over the Covid period, there’s lots of evidence showing that, or people who are in caring duties because they’ve been taken away they’re basically running to stand still to do the things that they have to do.” Looking at the long term effects, she said that it “doesn’t maybe affect you now but it might affect you down the road for your promotion, it might affect you for your next job”.

The second problem Doyle identified was investment saying; “I think getting the government to invest in the university is huge. “I would love the students to be working as a team with us on that, I think it’s really really key.” The third key challenge was “the obstacles we put in our own way,” things that “slow us down” and things that “stop us being our best selves”.

The electorate is composed predominantly of academic staff. Students cannot vote directly in the provost election, with their only representation being the six votes afforded to Trinity College Dublin’s Student’s Union (TCDSU) and four votes to the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU). Doyle said that this “has to be looked at” and “openly discussed” in the next decade. She said that there are “staff that feel very excluded” from this process “before we even get to the students”. 

“We should be able to use some of the creativity of students to solve the challenges that we face in the university.”

With regards to student involvement in other areas, Doyle believes we are “only tipping the ice-berg” currently. “There’s much further that we can delve into that.” She believes that we don’t use “our creativity” enough. “We should be able to use some of the creativity of students to solve the challenges that we face in the university.” Although she thinks “the students’ union does a great job”, we need to “make sure as well that we’re reaching a wider range” of students. “I would be the kind of person who would have a very open door and being regularly in contact and in communication would be really important for me.” 

A key promise that Doyle focused on in her manifesto and has returned to during the campaign is the idea of decentralising power in College. “There’s an awful lot of power in the center and the schools have less power,” she said. When asked how she plans to tackle this, one example she gave was using the Heads of School Forum. “Currently, it’s really kind of an after the fact forum.” She proposes involving people in this forum “from the beginning” in the future. She also plans to redistribute “some of the functionality that we have centrally to faculties and schools” to balance out power. 

At a forum with Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences staff, Doyle stated that one thing that she wouldn’t do as provost would be “have consultations that are called consultations when they are really not consultations” and that she would communicate with staff in a ‘real’ way. Speaking to Trinity News,, she expanded on this statement in the context of her plan for a “Re-energised Democracy” laid out in her Manifesto. She stated what she means by a “fake consultation” with staff is decisions are “already framed in a way that locks it down so tightly that the choice that people have is really limited.” She emphasised the importance of asking questions “in a robust way, that is unbiased,” proposing a “Citizen’s Assembly approach” to decision making and expressing her interest in “deliberative democracy practices”.

“Sometimes people think that because you are including diverse voices that you go round in circles and you won’t come to a conclusion and I’ve been involved in many situations myself and run many large entities where you can have that kind of consultation and you can draw it to a conclusion.”

In Doyle’s manifesto, she points out a need to “take back time” for teaching and research by relieving some of the administrative burdens that staff currently have. When asked about the redistribution of this work, Doyle said that “there’s an awful lot about getting rid of stuff as distinct from redistributing it.” “This notion of creating a culture of simplification, decluttering, removing, I think we just really need to do that.” 

“I do think that we have some of the worst online information you can have about how anything works” and people often “spend a lot of time wasting time trying to figure out how something works when they could just get on with doing it if they knew.”

Last year, it was reported by national newspapers that plans had been suggested within Trinity to continue online learning into future years and the sale of some non-central buildings. Speaking to Trinity News, Doyle refuted this idea, stating that “Trinity’s centre of gravity will remain a physical place to learn”. She emphasised the importance of this, saying that she “would love to figure out a way that we could celebrate the return, when we get back to the physical space” and that the pandemic has “reaffirmed the need for that physical space”. However, she said that “we should do more stuff online” and aims for online teaching to be an “enhancement” of the student experience driven by “pedagogical principles.” She hopes to once again use a Citizen’s Assembly approach here, bringing together student voices, internal and international experts to achieve this. 

On the topic of the QS world rankings Doyle simply stated that she “hasn’t set any targets in terms of rankings” and “our behaviour needs to drive the rankings, not our rankings drive our behaviour”.

One of the key ideas in Doyle’s manifesto is the need for a “deep-rooted fairness” in the College. Doyle elaborated on what this means for students in this interview saying that “an excellent university is a university here everyone gets a fair crack of the whip.” On this, she  mentions learning from students on processes regarding sexual harassment and access to wider college life for people with disabilities. 

She promised to lobby “really really hard for further investment” from the government.

When pressed on the issue of student fees, she said she believes “a public university is a really important entity” highlighting the contribution of the university throughout the pandemic as a “fantastic example of the public good of a university”. She promised to lobby “really really hard for further investment” from the government on this front.

Asked about the College’s response to the pandemic Doyle said that she thinks “we had to lock down” but “we could have been much better in terms of notice and certainty.” “The challenge for us is going to be to remember this.”

In her manifesto Doyle also puts forward plans for the creation of a sustainability office. She told Trinity News that she initially plans to fund this office from within the college. “We need a holistic approach.” 

Discussing the government’s response to the pandemic with regards to third level education, Doyle said that “patches” of the response had been “good”. She thinks that “if we had locked down harder, if we had locked our borders” then “maybe we could have come out of it quicker.” “Ultimately I feel the sorriest for the Leaving Cert cohort and the first years and second years who’s only experience of college is a mix of this.”

When asked her general opinion on the traditional Leaving Cert model, Doyle said she thinks “there are aspects of the Leaving Cert that are good” and she likes “that you get into college that way rather than countries that have interviews and ‘who you know’ matters.” However she believes the pandemic offers opportunities for change saying that the “learning by rote piece of the Leaving Cert has only gotten worse over the years.” 

Minister of Higher Education Simon Harris has stated that he plans to keep the extra places in Higher Education created in response to the pandemic. When asked if this is something she would be in favour for Doyle said that although she believes these places will stay “we don’t have the capacity to cope with all the growth that is asked of us.” “The numbers have to have the investment that goes with them because you’re not giving the student the experience that they should be getting if it doesn’t.” 

“It is really really important that universities have their autonomy.”

Doyle also discusses Trinity’s efforts in response to the pandemic in her manifesto, highlighting students who have worked on the front line. In this context Doyle was then asked to discuss her stance on the issue of paying the student nurses and midwives in first, second and third year for their mandatory placements. To this question she stated that “no one should be exploited” and “we need to make sure that people can fulfil the placements in comfort, in other words that they can afford to live in the place that they need to live in to do the placement.” She continued saying that she would be “totally in favour of a way of helping people to be able to fulfil the placements better.” However she expressed reservations about any formal employment contract saying “the paid employer relationship is something totally different and is something that takes away part of the educational say that we have” and “if you introduce a formal contract where they then become the employees of something else they are taken out of that role that we have envisaged for them.”

Finally, when asked about the issue of university autonomy Doyle expressed that she believes it is “really really important that universities have their autonomy.” She said that “you need independent neutral voices in a country for that state to thrive.” “The role of a university is an essential part of the democracy of a country.”

Professor Linda Doyle along with fellow candidates Linda Hogan and Jane Ohlmeyer are continuing their campaigns through to April 7, with voting due to take place on April 10.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is the Assistant News Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Fresh Sociology and Social Policy student.