Provost candidates agree on necessity to analyse staff contracts at IFUT hustings

In a hustings hosted by IFUT, the three candidates for provost were questioned on issues regarding precarious contracts, the representation of women and whether the process of electing a new provost is “democratic”

The three candidates for provost were questioned this evening by Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) Chairperson John Walsh, in a hustings hosted by the IFUT. This hustings allowed each candidate to speak more specifically about their policies regarding Trinity faculty. 

In their opening remarks, all three candidates spoke about the future of Trinity. Professor Linda Hogan spoke about fostering a “culture that values individuals and also promotes collaboration” and creating “education with conscience”. Professor Linda Doyle spoke about reimagining HR and precarious employment of teaching staff, adding that “ambition allows us to really soar”. Professor Jane Ohlmeyer answered similarly, stating that membership of a union is “very important”, and that the “wider mission of the university” should be “research and education” in order to “unlock the power of our people”.

To a question about how they would approach the issue of staff on precarious fixed-term contracts, Ohlmeyer responded by presenting her manifesto promise of lowering the staff-student ratio to 1:12 or 1:14. “To not have that ambition for Trinity is just to have more of the same,” she said. She stated also that she would look to the budgetary model, lobby the government for further support, and “ensure optimal employment for all staff” through multi-annual, strategic staff spending.

Responding to the same question, Doyle emphasised the importance of a “proper analysis of contracts”. Detailing the difference between permanent and non-permanent contracts, she stated that College “needs to really make sure those are well-delineated” and that College extends “a proper duty of care” to staff filling both roles. 

Hogan agreed with the sentiment laid out by both other candidates that the issue of fixed-term contracts is the “effect of austerity”, echoing Doyle’s statement that it was important to “make a distinction” between those on precarious contracts. She emphasised that the transition to fixed-term contracts was a legal obligation, and Trinity should “not be dragged kicking and screaming to those things they are legally obligated to do”. 

The candidates were then asked about gender inequality in terms of the disenfranchisement of the provost race and were questioned if women are fundamentally excluded from college decision-making as a result. 

Doyle began by saying that the electorate in the provostial elections “needs to be expanded” so that more people can “have a say” in College governance. She stated that there are “people who have given their life to Trinity”, and they should be “represented”. She pledged to “absolutely put this on the table” and “work totally differently” to foster  “collaboration” and “deep and meaningful consultation” if elected.

Hogan answered the question next, stating that a change regarding gender disparity “starts from the ground up and must ensure all have a voice and role in decision-making in the university”–not just in the provostial election but “also in all of the other elections”. She said “it does indeed” disenfranchise women, adding that “for me, there is a gender dimension”, and it is “the university that’s the loser in this, if they could only see it”. 

“I would absolutely commit to being an advocate for reform and a culture of inclusion”, she stated.

Ohlmeyer said it is “striking” how many women do not have the opportunity to vote in the election, and the election “has demonstrated the inequalities in decision-making” in College. She pledged to promote equality, diversity and inclusion if elected provost, saying that these issues are “at the absolute heart” of her manifesto. She also stated that she has a “real track record” of supporting women throughout her career.

Walsh raised the issue of having “casual staff”, asking if it is inappropriate or exploitative. Responding to the question, Hogan stated that she believes that it is “exploitative” and expressed that she wants to create a framework in which there would be “decent conditions” for part-time and adjunct staff. She explained that it creates a “power dynamic” wherein staff “can’t even ask for what they can even ask for this”. She stated that it is an example of how the university “abuses its disproportionate” power and asserted that it needs to change.

Responding to the same question, Ohlmeyer expressed that she was “shocked” to hear the report, saying “we have to address this”. She added that we need a more institutional framework, asserting that there is currently “no consistency of anything” in the practice of the university. Ohlmeyer continued that this is something that needs to be dealt with on a national level and that it is something she “cares hugely” about. 

Doyle, in response to the question stated that the situation is worse than the question implies. She expressed the need for the entire workload required to impact teaching demonstration to be enumerated “fully and appropriately”, stating there should be an hourly wage for every hour worked. She explained that “there’s pressure on our system” and that the college needs to “look at points to release that pressure.” 

When asked how they would tackle the current situation with research staff on precarious working contracts, Ohlmeyer said the issue goes “back to the staff to student ratio”. She said that it is “utterly essential” that we “inspire and empower our colleagues”. She advocated for a “holistic and integrated approach” which includes “lobbying at the national level” to “ensure the minimum is secured”. 

Doyle wants to “be more inclusive” and ensure “people working in those roles to get the utmost help possible”. Doyle added that she wants to “sort out issues of researchers not being allowed to teach” and emphasised that researchers “need to be paid for the work that [they] do”. 

Hogan plans to have a “pathway for promotions” to alleviate this issue. She highlighted the need for reform but cautioned “we have to make sure we don’t create another system of inequity”.

The provost candidates were then asked about recent discourse around the election, and whether it was undemocratic. Doyle answered by stating that the process was “properly followed”, but allowed that in future it “makes sense” to look at our processes to “look and see what needs to be improved”. Hogan answered similarly, stating that “it was fair”, but she could only speak to her own experience. Ohlmeyer drew on her experience in running for provost ten years ago, stating that “even with the Covid circumstances”, the processes were “very similar”. 

IFUT is the union responsible for representing teaching and research staff at Trinity. 

The provost election is set to take place on April 10, with an electorate of around 800 staff eligible to vote in the election.

Trinity College Dublin Students Union’s (TCDSU) six sabbatical officers are afforded a vote each. TCDSU is currently running a student-wide poll to determine which candidate officers will vote for in the election. 

The next provost is to take office on August 1 and hold the position for ten years. 

As all three candidates for the provostship are women, College is likely to elect a woman to its highest leadership role for the first time in its history.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown is a Senior Fresher English Studies student, and the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current News Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister Sociology and Social Policy student. She previously served as Assistant News Editor.

Bonnie Gill

Bonnie Gill is current News Analysis Editor for Trinity News and previously served as the College Correspondent. She is a Senior Sophister Film Studies and English Literature student.