Trinity professor criticises College for not rewarding merit among academic staff

Professor Malcolm MacLachlan spoke of a need for Trinity to abandon “arrogant and defensive rhetoric about being Ireland’s leading university”


A professor in Trinity’s school of psychology, professor Malcolm MacLachlan, has spoken out about internal issues in the College surrounding the promotion of staff, claiming that this has contributed to the College’s decline in international university rankings.

Writing in the Irish Times on October 8, MacLachlan said: “Nowhere are concerns with governance more apparent than in the university’s human resources function,” specifically its deliberate complication of the process of academic promotions, which results in a decline in “spirit, motivation and productivity of many talented staff.”

As an example of this, he cited a case that he took to Trinity’s internal court concerning an application in 2012 for promotion to personal chair, the most senior rank of professor, where, he believed, the highest-ranking professors were unfairly passed over. According to MacLachlan, the judges, consisting of the pro-chancellor and a high court judge, “could discern no relationship between independent ratings of applicants’ merit and whether they were promoted or not.” He also said that although the judges acknowledged a lack of transparency in the promotion procedure at the time, “15 months after the findings of the aforementioned appeal, no action has been taken to address such problems.” This, he argued, “is not an isolated incident” and is at the root of a larger credibility problem within the college. “We cannot expect others to take us seriously, if we don’t take ourselves seriously,” he said.

MacLachlan also spoke of a need for Trinity to abandon “arrogant and defensive rhetoric about being Ireland’s leading university” and to embrace the merit of the competition it faces both internationally and in Ireland.

Darryl Jones, dean of the faculty of arts, humanities and social sciences, dismissed MacLachlan’s claims in a letter to the Irish Times several days later.

According to Jones, “the promotion procedure resembles most of the public and indeed the private sector, where people have often found themselves over recent years having to work harder, for less, and frequently without any prospect of promotion.” Trinity is “no exception,” he said.

Furthermore, Jones said that his “concern in these difficult times is with protecting the younger and more vulnerable members of staff, those who do not have professorial status and salaries” and said that he could not see “how Prof MacLachlan’s intervention helps this in any way.”

MacLachlan responded in a second piece in the Irish Times on October 13, in which he claimed that Jones had misrepresented his central point. The problem is not that there have not been enough promotions, he said, but “that the university’s own oversight system has found the promotion process to be unfair, and nothing has been done to change it.”

“Prof Jones’s letter gives no comfort that there is a willingness to instil fairness and transparency in the governance of our university,” he claimed, adding that if the system is not willing to change, “our staff, particularly junior staff, will seek more equitable employment elsewhere and our standing will continue to decline.”