Campus building for Catholic institute opened despite opposition

College celebrated the opening of premises for a new institute dedicated to “education and research in theology in the Catholic tradition” last Monday, despite significant academic opposition to its presence on campus. The campus building shared by the new Loyola Institute and the Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE) since the beginning of this academic year is now to be known as the Loyola Institute – Irish School of Ecumenics Building.

The Loyola Institute was launched as a new department of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (FAHSS) in November 2012 after a merger with the Jesuit-run Milltown Institute. It currently offers a Moderatorship in Catholic Theological Studies, as well as a joint honours degree combined with other disciplines, and took its first intake of students at the beginning of this academic year.

However, a leaked copy of minutes from a meeting of FAHSS in October 2011 obtained last year by Trinity News indicated that a number of faculty members had objected to the founding of the institute. A ‘reserved item’ not present in the minutes published online revealed that senior academics felt that the introduction of faith-based teaching ran contrary to College’s equal opportunities policy, that it posed a “danger to academic freedom”, and that the endowment, which amounted to €15m, would not be able to cover the new department’s long-term costs. Senior academics felt that the process had been “deliberately opaque and noted that there had been no public announcement” and nine heads of Schools requested that the Dean specifically indicate “the procedure that has been followed in bringing this Institute into the University and into our Faculty”.

Opposition to the institute dates back as far as February 2011, when Michael Gleeson, former College Secretary, advised Board that the merger would result in College receiving a financial gift to support initiatives in the School of Religions and Theology and provide for the cost of a new building on campus. Minutes from the same Board meeting noted opposition to the move from Dr Sean Barrett and Dr Melaine Bouroche.

Milltown Institute’s incorporation into Trinity went on to be approved at a Board meeting in June 2011, where it was decided that the institute would be named Loyola as use of the word ‘Catholic’ would confer rights and obligations to the Catholic Church regarding academic work.  Trinity News understands that Milltown had originally approached UCD about a merger but that the University eventually rejected the proposal due to the objections of staff members.

Despite this opposition, College went ahead with an official opening for the controversial institute last week. Speaking at the event, Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, congratulated the Loyola Institute and ICE for enabling students to “address religious identity, human rights, and peace building”. “We live in a multicultural society in which the study and understanding of religions and diverse cultures are important,” he said. Quinn was joined by Professor Linda Hogan, Deputy President of College, who praised the opening of the building as “an important milestone for the study of religions and their interrelationships within Trinity.”

Catherine Healy

Editor of Trinity News. Interested in politics, history and all forms of media.