Provost election: Candidates cover student numbers, funding and staff contracts at first campaign event

Doyle, Hogan and Ohlmeyer pitched their campaign promises to staff over Zoom this evening

A policy to expand the number of students in Trinity appears unlikely in the next decade as all three candidates for provost agreed that student numbers should not rise at the first live event of the election campaign.

Professors Linda Doyle, Linda Hogan and Jane Ohlmeyer pitched themselves to staff this evening and fielded questions from viewers over Zoom in a kick-off event for the two month campaign period.

The three candidates were quizzed on student numbers in Trinity, how to finance College, and how they would support administrative staff, as well as presenting their priorities in an opening speech.

The professors agreed that student numbers in Trinity should not grow in the near future. Instead, each believes that student-staff ratios should be reduced to improve the quality of education for students.

“Trinity is at capacity. I certainly wouldn’t want any more students. We need to focus on ensuring the student experience for those who are at Trinity is improved,” Professor Jane Ohlmeyer said.“I also feel that if we are going to really excel as a research-intensive university, our staff-student ratio needs to improve dramatically.”

Professor Linda Hogan agreed that the face-to-face experience of studying at Trinity should not be extended to any more than 21,000 students, but added that there are opportunities for “hybrid programmes” that utilise technology to run courses with “peer universities” and could be made available to students around the world. 

Professor Linda Doyle said she agreed that the number of students shouldn’t grow any bigger, as Trinity is already due to grow to approximately 21,300 students in the next few years. Doyle said that there was a “running to standstill” when it came to trying to get more revenue by increasing student numbers, and College needs to  focus instead on improving student experience. 

All three candidates made an opening speech of six minutes that gave voters an insight into the key issues each professor is putting their focus on.

Doyle, whose manifesto is themed around “Imagine Trinity”, said that it is “really, really important we look forward and imagine the university that we want and take the actions to achieve that”.

Doyle was until recently Trinity’s Dean of Research, a role that she held since January of 2018. She is Professor of Engineering and the Arts, Computer Science and served as an elected member of the Board from 2001 to 2005.

Raising a subject that listed high on her manifesto, she said that she wants to “re-energise” democracy in Trinity by 2031 to rebalance power and hear a variety of voices. “The best decisions are made when the most diverse voices are brought to the table,” she said.

Doyle is proposing a new Trinity Research initiative that would focus on providing supports to research and researchers in College. She touched on the importance of celebrating “diverse modes of research”, as well as creating more time for teaching and research to reach an international standing.

“I have led large, complex organisations… I have represented Trinity on a global stage in the past… I care very, very much about our students,” Doyle said.

Touching on the climate in her opening speech, an issue that each candidate has raised in their manifesto, Professor Ohlmeyer said that climate action and biodiversity would be a “priority for my provostship”.

Professor Ohlmeyer is the current chair of the Irish Research Council, a role she has held since 2015. She was president of the Irish Historical Society from 2003 to 2005, and College’s vice-provost for global relations from 2011 to 2014.

“You will feel valued, respected and trusted,” Ohlmeyer promised staff. “You will have the time to do your job free from endless paperwork and unnecessary bureaucracy.”

Ohlmeyer wants to enshrine Trinity as a “serious player” on an international level. “I know not everyone thinks we should care about rankings, but I think it’s important that the quality of education and research is recognised around the world,” Ohlmeyer said. 

“We will be a university that educates our students to be creative and fearless leaders,” she said.

In the third opening speech of the evening, Professor Hogan said that she “will ensure that Trinity is a university that provides a progressive inclusive education for all our students”.

Professor Linda Hogan is a former Vice Provost of Trinity. She is the Chair of the Board of the Marino Institute of Education and was the Director of the Irish School of Ecumenics.

Hogan said she would create new structures to facilitate discussion, including a provost forum and a strengthened Heads of Schools committee. She promised that tackling discrimination, increasing diversity and promoting inclusion would be “fundamental” to her term as provost.

Hogan says she would commit as provost to making Trinity carbon neutral in the next ten years.

On a point that will be key to the next provost’s term, the candidates were challenged on how they will finance the university in light of Covid-19, Brexit, and other pressures. Doyle said that she would “redouble” efforts in philanthropy and securing commercial funding. Similarly, Hogan said she would seek to “unlock philanthropy” and look at opportunities for research income.

Ohlmeyer added that Trinity wastes funds on consultancy and does not always get the best value for money, saying that she would reconsider how Trinity spends its current money. “Commercialisation has become very important for the university and the tourists will come back, however I want to emphasise that we are a university and not a tourist attraction,” she said.

Ohlmeyer said that higher education institutions need to work collaboratively to be heard as one voice by the government to secure additional funding for the sector and that she has developed strong relationships with government departments.

The “essential” element, Hogan believes, is explaining to the government what it takes to fund a high-quality university. She said that the government and population does not fully understand the resources that are needed to run a higher education institution and that Trinity needs to communicate the value that a university brings to society to secure “long-term, sustainable funding for higher education” across the sector.

Doyle was the first to raise the Cassells Report, a report that was published in 2016 and detailed three options for the future of higher education funding in Ireland, in discussing the need for government investment. She says that the sector is “pushing an open door” with the newly-created higher education department and that it offers a “great opportunity” for Trinity.

The three candidates were asked how they would support administrative staff in terms of providing permanent contracts and promotions.

Doyle said that she wants to reverse “negative trends of precarious labour” and immediately stop a practice of only allowing professional staff to be appointed to positions in schools on temporary contracts. Instead, she said, full positions in schools should be offered on permanent contracts where they are available.

“The only way that we are going to succeed is if we work collectively as a team,” Doyle said.

Similarly, Ohlmeyer said that College needs to be more sensitive to ensuring “optimal work life balance” for professional staff.

She argued that College needs to “start again” on the issue of how promotions are handled for professional staff, and “morale is particularly low” in this regard. Ohlmeyer also added that “the university wouldn’t run without these colleagues”. 

Hogan suggested that there was a need to be careful that the “rhetoric around reducing administrative work for academic staff” does not “spill over into a narrative” that administrative staff are not valued within the university, adding that “we rely on administrative staff every day”.  She promised to reinstate promotions for administrative, support, technical, and library staff. 

The term of office for the current provost, Patrick Prendergast, expires at the end of this academic year on 31 July 2021.

The electorate is made up of full-time academic staff who have been in post for at least 12 months on the date of the election. Certain part-time members of academic staff are also eligible to be members of the electorate along with some student representatives. 

The election will take place on Saturday, 10 April 2021. 

The name of the elected candidate will then go to Board for approval and the new Provost will take up office on 1 August 2021. 

The provost is College’s chief officer and is responsible for academic, administrative, financial and personnel affairs.

They chair several governing bodies within Trinity, including Board, University Council, and the Finance Committee.

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.

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister English Studies student, and a former News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Editor-in-Chief of Trinity News, and a graduate of Sociology and Social Policy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.