UL becomes first Irish university to appoint woman as president

Professor Kerstin Mey is to take on UL’s presidency in September

Professor Kerstin Mey is to become the first woman to ever serve as president of an Irish university following her appointment by the University of Limerick (UL).

Mey cited strengthening UL’s local presence, national leadership and international reach among her priorities, as well as building on translational research and developing “challenge-based, work-integrated and engaged learning approaches to address pressing societal challenges”.

Chancellor of UL’s Governing Authority, Mary Harney, confirmed Mey’s appointment following the ratification of her appointment by the governing authority on Thursday.

Mey is to act as interim president from September 1 during an international recruitment process for a new president following the retirement of outgoing president Dr Des Fitzgerald, which is expected to take up to 18 months.

“We have faced very demanding months transitioning into the digital space, which was only possible because each and every one of our staff and students worked very hard to adapt to this challenging situation,” Mey said. 

“We will use the insights from that experience to advance our working practices, to transform how we teach and facilitate learning and how we engage in research and knowledge exchange.”

Mey, who is from Berlin, has served as UL’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Engagement, and is a professor of Visual Culture since she joined the university in April 2018. She holds an MA and PhD in art theory and aesthetics from the Humboldt University in Berlin.

She described the appointment of a woman president as a signal of “another step towards gender equality in higher education” and said that she was “proud and really humbled to lead the University of Limerick over the next period”.

In Ireland, women comprise around half of university lecturers, but just less than a quarter of professors. 

Former Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor introduced a plan to create 20 women-only professorships in higher education in fields with “clear evidence” of women’s under-representaiton, such as computer science, physics, and engineering, with Trinity and UL among institutions securing two posts under the plan.

Harney said that the college has “every faith” in Mey to “lead the University at a challenging time.”

“She has already demonstrated her capacity for leadership in her role as Vice President,” Harney described.

“There has long been a significant gender imbalance at the senior leadership level in Irish universities and it is fitting that UL now has the first female President given our consistent leading position on gender equality in higher education in Ireland,” she continued.

Mey previously worked in the University of Westminister in the UK, where she served as Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design, and a Professor of Contemporary Art and Theory.

She currently sits on the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) International Advisory Committee and on the Board of Directors of the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

Outgoing president Fitzgerald announced his resignation in May amid Covid-19 concerns, telling the Irish Independent at the time that the virus would “directly impact my ability to serve the university and limit my ability to fully engage once we get our community back onto the campus”.

Fitzgerald wished Mey his congratulations today and said she has “tackled the difficult task of the return to UL post-COVID and is well positioned to bring UL through this challenging period”.

“I think UL is very fortunate to have someone of this calibre lead the University,” he said. “She is an outstanding academic with a strong empathy for students and the academic mission of UL. She has a vision for UL that will place it in a leading position nationally and globally.”

Lauren Boland

Lauren Boland was the Editor of the 67th volume of Trinity News. She is an English Literature and Sociology graduate and previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.