Provost election swaps podiums for Zoom in highly unusual race

Trinity’s Registrar, who oversees the election, says its online format won’t stem collegiate spirit

For the first time since Trinity’s establishment by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592, the role of provost will go to a woman, whose ten-year term will commence on 1 August 2021. Professors Linda Doyle, Linda Hogan and Jane Ohlmeyer are vying for the spot after the three academics were officially confirmed as candidates on February 5.

In a less unusual move, no external candidates from universities other than Trinity will appear on the ballot, with all three candidates having spent much of their careers working and researching in Trinity. In the 2011 provost race, which featured one external candidate, then-Irish Times Education Editor Sean Flynn argued that College was holding itself back by not attracting more candidates from further afield. “By any standards, this is a ‘blue-chip’ educational appointment,” Flynn wrote. “It should draw the best and the brightest from Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and the rest.”

The process for appointing a new provost began last September, with applicants interviewed by a panel during December and January. Following the interviews, successful applicants were invited to seek nominations from twelve members of the electorate, which is composed primarily of full time academic staff members, along with six representatives from the Students’ Union and four representatives from the Graduate Students’ Union. Of the three candidates whose names have made it onto the ballot, no student representatives are among their twelve nominations.

The most drastic departure in the election from previous years, beyond the gender profile of the candidate pool, are the logistics of the election itself. Like much of life in 2021, the election is to be ran digitally, with campaign events and voting taking place online.

This appointment process is overseen by a steering committee, which is chaired by Registrar and Professor of Computer Science and Statistics Brendan Tangney. This year, in light of the pandemic, the electorate will meet over Zoom instead of in the Exam Hall, and the counting of ballots will be carried out online instead of in-person. 

It gives an opportunity for everybody to think and talk and discuss what they think are the important issues”

Speaking to Trinity News, Tangney said that the essence of electing a provost remains largely unchanged despite the lack of physical presence. “It’s hugely important because it gives an opportunity for everybody to think and talk and discuss what they think are the important issues,” he said. “It requires the candidates to articulate a vision for the university, and it gives the electorate an opportunity to interrogate the candidates and to generate new issues which the candidates may not have thought of.”

“It really is in the spirit of the collegiate nature of College that we do get together and reflect”

Though virtual formats can create a sense of alienation and disconnection, Tangney stressed the importance of maintaining the communal aspects of the Provost appointment process, perhaps now more than ever. “It’s an opportunity for everybody beyond the immediate electorate to raise issues and to have discussions,” he said. “It really is in the spirit of the collegiate nature of College that we do get together and reflect on where we’re coming from from the past 10 years and where we want to go for the next 10 years.” 

Professor Tangney stressed the importance of maintaining the communal aspects of the Provost appointment process, perhaps now more than ever”

All three of the candidates who successfully completed the interview process and subsequently secured 12 nominations from the electorate are senior professors who are well established in their respective fields and who have worked with international audiences. Professor Linda Doyle is a Professor of Engineering and the Arts who has raised over €70 million in funding for Trinity and who served as the Dean of Research at Trinity since 2018. Professor Linda Hogan is a Professor of Ecumenics in the School of Religion who previously served as the Vice Provost and Chief Academic Officer of College. Professor Jane Ohlmeyer is Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History and was the first Vice President for Global Relations, a position she held from 2011 to 2014. She ran for Provost once before in 2011, coming in second to the current Provost Patrick Prendergast. 

The formal campaign period commenced on 5 February and began with the “Kick-off Meeting” held February 8, where each candidate had the opportunity to address the College faculty in six minutes or less. Held over Zoom, viewers posed questions to the candidates on topics regarding student numbers in Trinity and College finances, among others. Notably, all three candidates were in agreement that Trinity should not look to increase its number of students in coming years, instead the time and resources to improve the quality of education of the existing student body. 

Though the candidates did lament that the online format of the event did not allow for the same engagement and camaraderie with each other and the audience that a typical session in the Ed Burke theatre might have, the event ran very smoothly, with each candidate able to highlight the issues they intend to focus on. Professor Linda Doyle emphasized the importance of promoting diversity and through bringing a wider variety of voices into Trinity discussions, claiming that, “The best decisions are made when the most diverse voices are brought to the table.” Professor Jane Ohlmeyer stressed that climate action would be a “priority” under her leadership, and also noted that she believes Trinity’s quality of education and research should be “recognised around the world.” Professor Linda Hogan also promised to focus on climate, pledging that as Provost, she would commit to making Trinity carbon neutral in the next decade. She also promised to improve discussions through the creation of a provost forum and an improved Head of Schools committee, and to combat discrimination, increase diversity and promote inclusion. 

The coming weeks will see these issues raised again through several forums: one with the faculties of the departments of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, one with the faculty of Health Sciences, and one with the faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, all of which will be held in the week from February 11 and 18.

Later, candidates will have the opportunity to engage in a debate focusing on climate change, which will begin on February 22 and which both students and staff are able to attend. A students’ union hustings will be held on March 29, followed by a GSU hustings on March 31. The election itself is due to take place on 10 April, and after being approved by the Board, the new provost will commence her term on 1 August 2021.  

Olivia Flaherty-Lovy

Olivia Flaherty-Lovy is the Features Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Fresh student of English Studies.