D. Joyce-Ahearne speaks with SU President Tom Lenihan and looks at the controversy surrounding revelations of his cheating in his summer exams.
On 28th May, Tom Lenihan released a statement to The University Times website saying that disciplinary action had been taken against him by College in relation to an incident whereby he was caught cheating in a third year exam. In this statement Lenihan said that “At this remove, it is not clear to me what I hoped to achieve by taking the note into the exam but I fully accept that any observer could only conclude that I was cheating.”
The punishment resulting from a disciplinary hearing with the Junior Dean was that Lenihan had to resit the exam in which he was caught cheating, with his grade capped at 40%.
On 13 August, Trinity News contacted Lenihan to request an interview to clarify the exact nature of his actions and the disciplinary action taken against him. Lenihan responded saying, “I released a statement in late May to address the speculation of the action you are referring to and I believe that has brought clarification to the issue.”
Given the interest in the issue among the student body and the brevity of the statement issued, Trinity News again requested that he assent to an interview, through a body independent of the SU. Lenihan responded with an email in which he said he appreciated the concerns for clarity and agreed to release a statement to Trinity News before the deadline of the first issue (12th September), of which he had been informed.
“With regards the nature of his position he said, “Student politics can be a murky field and it can get quite dirty, but I’m only in it for the year.”
He said he would specifically address the concerns that had been raised and whatever other concerns that there were regarding the issue. Lenihan said, “I don’t want there to be a perception of spin-doctoring on my part so it will be frank and will be sent directly to Trinity News first for your publication.”
In response, Trinity News again requested an interview in lieu of a statement, it being “a more open means of discussing the issue and would create an actual dialogue” between Lenihan and the students, as well as being a better way to “avoid perceptions of spin-doctoring”.
Lenihan did not respond to this email, nor to a second email, sent 1st September. No correspondence was received by Trinity News until the 10th September, the day after Lenihan appeared on RTE 2fm and the Six One News. Lenihan emailed Trinity News saying, “I have addressed the issues you outlined on 2fm yesterday and the Six One news and I think I have dealt with the matter in way that was independent from the SU.”
On RTE, Lenihan spoke extensively about mental health but spent very little time discussing his being caught cheating in May. Trinity News again emailed Lenihan, repeating that the interview was sought to discuss his position as SU President, and not mental health. It was iterated that though RTE was independent of the SU, it did not speak for the students of College.
On 11th September, Lenihan agreed to do a five minute interview on 13th September. Considering that he had done a 25 minute interview with Ryan Tubridy earlier in the week, Trinity News insisted on a full 30 minute interview to which Lenihan then agreed.
When asked in the interview why he seemed reluctant to speak with Trinity News and yet willingly spoke to RTE, an organisation with a high profile crossover from the SU (Mark Little, Joe Duffy) he responded ”because it was about mental health.”
“Although he said that he had considered resigning, the reason he ultimately decided not to was due to support within the SU. “I had a lot of support from my fellow sabbats that told me it would be unfair on them for me to leave…I would have felt guilty about leaving them with a lot of things that needed to be done.”
Lenihan’s interview with RTE had concentrated on mental health and Trinity News had made their position clear from the first email in August that we wanted to discuss the nature of his cheating. Trinity News asked how he thought it acceptable to say that “he had “addressed the issues” that we had raised, given that he had not discussed the subject in any depth on either 2fm or the SIx One News. Lenihan said that he wasn’t “given any clear implication of what kind of questions you wanted to ask me”, though we had specifically said, in the the first email, that we wished to speak with him “ in relation to disciplinary action taken against you by College last May.”
Lenihan, in his campaign literature last February, said that he wanted “A more accessible SU – From my very first day in office I want every Trinity student to know that the door to my office is always open and anyone with an issue can call in and work towards a solution with me. As well as that I plan to hold regular clinics for each faculty in their respective buildings where students who may not always be on campus have a chance to have their voice heard.”
A campaign has been launched, run by Eoin Silke, former LGBT Rights Officer and Labour Party member, to impeach Lenihan, who sees it as “unusual way to go about an impeachment.” When asked what he thought of the campaign he responded: “The crux of the matter is that someone who cheated in an exam can’t represent 12,000 undergrads.” When asked if he thought that fair, he responded “I don’t really, because it doesn’t really conflict with my job…It doesn’t affect my day to day work in the union.”
Lenihan went on to say that he didn’t think that his position was compromised in the eyes of the student’s, saying “I just haven’t had that exposure, no-one’s ever said it to me.” If he was not concerned how he was perceived by the students who elected him, he was, however, concerned with how College saw him. “In terms of stature with College I was worried about it because if I wasn’t going to be taken seriously on a College level then I shouldn’t be in the job.” When asked about the students not being more important he said “Both were equal concerns for me.” He went on to say that there were two factors in terms of his resigning, College’s reaction and that of his fellow sabbats.
In his initial statement in May, Lenihan had said that at the time it was unclear to him what he had “hoped to achieve by taking the note into the exam.” When asked if now, after over three months, it was clear to him what he had hoped to achieve, he said “No, I have to say. The statement stands.”
When asked if his position as SU President had been compromised by the revelations of his cheating, Lenihan said “The Student’s Union never has the full backing of the students. We have a voter turnout of 25%, 30% on a good day.” He went on to say that his position was “constrained by student apathy.”
Lenihan believes that despite having been caught cheating, his position hasn’t been compromised on any level. He sees his job to be “a spokesperson plus the student’s service end of it.” With regards the nature of his position he said, “Student politics can be a murky field and it can get quite dirty, but I’m only in it for the year.”
Although he has been elected to a public position that is answerable to the student body, Lenihan believes that “It’s very unfortunate that it’s in the public eye, for any student with academic disciplines [sic] with the Junior Dean.” He says that “the fact that I was Student’s Union President wasn’t brought up by the Junior Dean.”
Lenihan revealed that the news was broken due to an email that was sent to the papers, both national and student. When asked if he thought that the email came from within the College or from the student body, he replied “Both.”
Although he said that he had considered resigning, the reason he ultimately decided not to was due to support within the SU. “I had a lot of support from my fellow sabbats that told me it would be unfair on them for me to leave…I would have felt guilty about leaving them with a lot of things that needed to be done.”
When asked about whether or not he would run again if he was impeached he said that “it would be very unusual” but did not say no; it is still not clear what Lenihan “hoped to achieve by taking the note into the exam”
At the time of going to print, the “Impeach Tom Lenihan” campaign page on Facebook has 103 likes, 500 signatures are required to trigger a referendum asking for an impeachment and if passed, presidential elections will be held.