Analysis: Looking back on the 2021 Provost election

After 429 years, Trinity is set to have a woman as provost for the first time

After 429 years, Trinity is set to have its first female provost. Linda Doyle, Professor of Engineering and the Arts, won 517 votes out of 791 votes cast in the second round of the elections. 

Doyle is to take office as provost on August 1.

Jane Ohlmeyer, who came second in the 2011 provost elections, was eliminated in the first round of voting. Ohlmeyer’s early elimination came as a surprise, as her campaign was highly visible on social media and she was considered by many to be the frontrunner in the election. Ohlmeyer had won student support with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) giving its six votes to her after a poll of members showed she was the union’s preferred choice. Among postgraduate students, Doyle was the favourite, and the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) gave its four votes to her.

As runner up with 270 votes, Hogan lost by 247 votes to Doyle, who received 517. This was a much more decisive win in a provost election than has been seen previously. For example, in the 2011 elections Jane Ohlmeyer was the runner up to the current provost, Patrick Prendergast, who won by just 70 votes. 

The all-female ballot was a first in Trinity’s history of provost elections, with women historically being under-represented in the race. In 2011, Ohlmeyer was the only woman running. In 2001, Professor Frances Ruane was the only woman to run. 

Another unusual aspect of this race is that all the candidates were senior academics from Trinity. Previous elections have seen outsiders contest the race, such as then-vice president of research in University College Dublin, Des Fitzgerald, running in 2011. 

An even clearer split between this election and previous ones was the format which it took. During the opening event of the campaign in February, Registrar Brendan Tangney pointed out that social media would play a far more significant role in this election compared to the last one ten years ago. He wasn’t wrong. The combination of the pandemic and enhanced digital media meant that this election played out almost exclusively in the online sphere.

The candidates were put through their paces during two months of campaigning. They faced staff from each of Trinity’s three faculties at open forums and students at hustings hosted by both students’ unions. Former President of Ireland and Adjunct Professor of Climate Justice Mary Robinson pushed the candidates on their climate plans, while the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) hosted a hustings that looked at workers’ rights. Most of the discussions were conducted over Zoom, but the candidates took to the stage of the Public Theatre in the Exam Hall twice during the campaign for debates hosted by journalists Sharon Ní Bheoláin and Shane Coleman.

There was some controversy during the race, with applicant Dr Sarah Alyn-Stacey’s elimination during the interview stage of the race generating opposition. Dr Alyn-Stacey, IFUT, and a group of PhD students called her exclusion undemocratic, and Senator David Norris spoke publicly against the decision. 

Women are significantly under-represented in senior higher education roles in Ireland. A 2018 report found that only 24% of professorships in Irish universities are held by women, despite more than 51% of lecturers in the university sector being female. Just last year, Kersten Mey’s appointment as Interim President of the University Limerick made history as she became the first woman to lead an Irish university. 

The statue of Reverend George Salmon, Trinity’s Provost from 1888 to 1904, sits in Front Square. Salmon’s statue looked on as Provost Elect Linda Doyle and TCDSU President Elect Leah Keogh posed in front of it for pictures with Salmon’s infamous words in mind: “Over my dead body will women enter this College.” In 2021, women will not only be in College; women will be running it. 

This article was updated on April 20 to correct an error which previously stated that the College Visitors described Dr Alyn-Stacey not passing the interview stage as undemocratic.

Kate Glen

Kate Glen is a News Analysis Editor for Trinity News. She is a Senior Sophister History and Political Science student.