Nearly halfway through the campaign period, the three candidates in the race to become Trinity’s next provost are setting out the plans, promises and priorities they would put in place if they secure the coveted position. If elected, Professor Linda Hogan plans to lower staff to student ratios, tackle the administration’s “broken systems”, and diversify Trinity.
Last week, Professor Linda Hogan sat down with Trinity News to discuss aspects of her campaign, the importance of students to the university and tackling underfunding in the university. A former vice-provost of Trinity, Hogan currently holds the role of Professor of Ecumenics.
Speaking to Trinity News, Hogan outlined her motivations for running for the position with a focus on what she would bring to the role. She explained that Trinity is a place of “extraordinary potential” and the college needs someone with the strategic skills to guide it, and someone who knows how to lead in a “decisive but inclusive way”.
“I think I have the unique skills to actually guide Trinity in this next decade,” Hogan explained.
Professor Hogan served as vice-provost of Trinity from 2011 to 2016, which were the first five years of the current Provost Patrick Prendergast’s term. When speaking about her appointment to the role, Hogan said that she was offered the position quite “unexpectedly” from her perspective. When she asked Prendergast why he would like her to be vice-provost, “he said that the university had been quite fractured” because of the previous provost campaign, and that “he wanted somebody who wasn’t particularly aligned with any group”. Hogan explained that Prendergast saw her as a “consensus builder” and a “bridge builder”.
Speaking about her time as vice-provost, Hogan explained that she was “very happy to do it”, and while it was “very exhilarating time”, it was also “a very challenging time”
“The whole administration was new,” Hogan added. “In the beginning, we were very optimistic and very confident that we would be able to withstand all of the cuts that were already beginning to bite.” Hogan explained that at the time, they were only beginning to feel what the “scale of the recession” was going to do for the university. She emphasized that her tenure was largely spent trying to protect certain academic areas, the schools and the student services from “the worst of the cuts”. As vice-provost, Hogan said that “very difficult decisions” often had to be made, and she was often “the bearer of bad news” to people across the university. However, she said that staff were “generally understanding” once you “explained the reasons and communicated fully”, even if it was a decision they “didn’t really like”.
“It was tough, but it was also really rewarding,” she added.
Hogan has large ambitions for her tenure as provost should she be elected, which she believes will “transform the quality of education” at Trinity, including reducing the ratio of staff to students to 16:1. She said that this re-education would “really develop various programs”, especially in courses where ratios of 30:1 are a problem. “We would have more staff, a great share of the workload, more people to supervise capstones and final year projects,” are all advantages Hogan laid out of having lower staff to student ratios. She said that it would “really develop” the programs Trinity already has. While Hogan would wish to achieve a staff to student ratio of 16:1 across the whole of the university, however, she would go about making “much faster” progress in the areas where the staff student ratio is an outlier, or particularly high.
Hogan identified underfunding and not tackling the administration’s “broken systems” as the two biggest problems facing College currently. Hogan expressed to Trinity News that underfunding and increased underfunding has had a “hugely negative impact” on Trinity, and any additional places introduced by government this year have to be “fully funded”, and not underfunded as they currently are. She stated that she would be “very concerned” about adding any additional spaces in the current underfunded way, and very concerned about maintaining them. Hogan also added that “our failure to deal with” the administrative burden on academic staff has “eroded academic time, research and teaching” and that has had a huge impact on people’s capacity to do research and publications.
Hogan’s manifesto also expresses the goal of “diversifying Trinity” in the years to come, something which Hogan identified as wanting to achieve “a lot” with her Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan. She said that the whole Trinity has made a lot of progress in some areas, there has been none at all in others. Hogan explained that over time, College needs to be “very focused on creating an environment where we have a population of staff and students who are diverse in terms of gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity etc.” and that “we know that diversity really enhances the quality of our university and our community”. Hogan also acknowledged that they must also create a “culture of inclusion” to foster the diversity being introduced. She added that it is partly about Ireland diversifying and Trinity needing to not only “follow the status quo”, but leading in the diversification of our country.
When speaking about her ambition to get Trinity back into the top 50 of the world rankings, Hogan explained that this is not an objective, but an outcome of what she would do as provost. She expressed that with investment, the reduction of staff to student ratios and enhancing the student experience, “a natural outcome is a rise in the rankings”. She acknowledged that this will not be easy and it “will be task”, but if Trinity can “securely and firmly” stay in the top 100 every single year for the next three or four years, then College will be able to make the next leap. She explained that “as you invest in success, you become better”. Hogan compared the ranking to a thermometer, they “tell you where you are”.
“They are not an objective, they are the consequence of doing all the right things.”
Hogan said that addressing climate change during her term as provost will be “integral” to her campaign. She said it is about Trinity “stepping up” and “making our contribution” to addressing the climate crisis. “Unless every single organization does it part, we won’t be able to achieve the level of carbon emissions that we need to,” Hogan stated. She added that in regards to climate change, students are ahead of the institutions, and part of it is about “learning from the students” as much as it is about teaching about it.
Hogan also discussed what is going to be needed to combat the challenges posed the College due to Covid-19. She expressed that there are “so many” things that need to be done to mitigate the damage done to College, particularly in relation to “rebuilding community” that has been disrupted by the pandemic. She stated that College needs to be intentional in their pursuit to “restore connections”, and that we “cannot just act as though this year hasn’t happened, and then get back to normal”.
When talking about the eventual return of students to campus, Hogan expressed that “did not agree at all” with a proposal last year to reduce student lectures post-pandemic to online lectures, in the “Trinity’s Futures” document. Hogan expressed that her position on online learning is that “there is a place for it”, but “each lecturer or module coordinator should be deciding for themselves what is appropriate” for their students. “I don’t agree with the idea that all lectures should go online, people have to decide for themselves if lectures online are the right thing for them,” she explained. Hogan added there is “something about the interaction even in a large lecture” that conveys the “opportunity to learn”, the fact that “you are in a community of learners” and the fact that “the lecturer is engaging with a large group” that is particularly “energizing”.
“I would say that my own experience teaching this year that although there are plenty of things that can be done effectively online, it doesn’t really replace the engagement of the face-to-face.”
Hogan spoke about the lasting effects of Covid-19 on the mental well-being of both students and staff, and that it is College’s responsibility to “make sure” the pandemic will not have lasting effects on the student experience. Hogan added that she foresees “a lot of work” being put into creating spaces and opportunities to connect people in a way that College “has never done before”. She believes that this will be a “very exciting and nurturing experience” for people. Hogan also stressed the importance of addressing the mental health problems people may be struggling with, as many people are likely to have anxiety, stress and other long term effects due to the impact of Covid-19 on all our lives. “We have to ensure we are doing our part to address these issues.”
“It is the job of the university to try and make sure that [the pandemic] doesn’t have lasting effects,” Hogan explained. She admitted that the crisis obviously has “immediate effects” and students will never “get back their year”. Hogan again emphasized the importance of community building once students and staff begin their return to campus, but that students should also acknowledge the resilience they have shown throughout the crisis.
“We will have gained a level of resilience that I think we should be celebrating,” Hogan expressed. “While it’s right to focus on the challenges, and try and mitigate all of those impacts, it is also important to recognize and celebrate the fact that we will have made it through this and we will have gained great resilience because this is a once in a hundred years experience.”
“This generation of young people will have phenomenal skills if they are nurtured and celebrated as well.”
Hogan acknowledged that while the election is set up to focus on the electorate, it is important to talk to the whole college community. “The provost is the provost for the whole college, not just the electorate,” she explained. Hogan added that Trinity employs approximately three and a half thousand staff and has 18,000 students, however, the electorate is made up of only 864.
“The issues that we are addressing are those that are important for the whole university.”
“More could be done to engage the student body in the election campaign,” Hogan added. “I would say that the role of provost is one that is not only vital for the electorate but for the student body and I think from my perspective, students are the lifeblood of the university; that is why we’re here.”
“As the campaign is unfolding, it is really important to me that the provost and the campaign is focused as much on the quality of the educational experience and the broader student experience as it is on the issues of concern to the electorate.”
The provost election, which sees campaigning run until April 7, is due to wrap up on April 10 when the electorate will have the chance to cast their votes.