By Gerald Morgan
The new campaign for a new Provost is now well under way. Aspiring candidates appear suddenly to relish the company of colleagues on High Table studiously avoided in the previous ten years and are eager to seek them out in the remotest parts of College. Suddenly the sense of the “College community” (a phrase beloved of remote administrators) begins to acquire some of its old vitality.
Such is the power of an election and the possibility of a real determination of events. This is a power that the electorate must be eager to grasp and to use, for it will disappear as soon as the votes have been counted.
As with a Cowen or a Cameron, we shall not truly know the quality of a Provost until he or she begins to exercise the authority normally associated with the resident of 1 Grafton Street (now obscured from view by the iconic Hub Building). It is imperative that the new Provost act decisively to put an end to the scandal of bonus payments and special allowances to superior academics with managerial skills. And we need to decide how much we ought to pay someone for the privilege of living in the Provost’s House. I suggest that we put a limit of €150,000 on the Provost’s salary and regulate all other salaries downwards from it accordingly.
The system of electing a Provost is unique to Trinity College, a relic, according to one correspondent in the Irish Examiner, of a gentleman’s club, and to the same correspondent in The Irish Times “archaic, obsolete and irrelevant”.
It is amusing in a way to see that the old perceptions of Trinity College have not been entirely abandoned in the public mind. How unfortunate it is that they are no longer true. A vote is a precious thing and no university manager will be entirely at ease with the idea of a collection of free-thinking individuals making up their own minds on the all-important question of their leader or boss. Hence attempts are bound to be made to restrict this power.
The system by which we elected F. S. L. Lyons in 1974 and his successors in 1981, 1991 and 2001 is no longer to be trusted. Thus there has been a change in procedure, that is, a change for the worse in the restriction of the power of nominators and electors.
We can no longer leave the selection of candidates to the good judgment of nominators, but we must interpose a committee of the wise and good to determine the names of those who are to be deemed worthy of nomination and election.
It is one more sign that Trinity’s liberal traditions are under threat, and I hope that the electorate will respond to this challenge by an assertion of its own power.
After all, who would want to appoint as Provost a person of “significant academic standing” (the College’s advertisement)? What we require is a great scholar. A very different thing.