Report on the Academic Gathering, from Paddy Healy

The Academic Gathering to Defend Academic Freedom met at Gresham Hotel Dublin on Saturday January 22. There were 200 academics present from almost all third level institutions within the state.

Paddy Healy delivered an opening address which is carried below.

Prof Tom Garvin was highly critical of the “half-educated administrators” who had taken over our universities and on whom resources necessary for teaching and scholarly activity were being wasted.

Steve Hedley, Professor of Law, UCC warned that the Universities Act (1997) which provides for academic freedom and tenure could be amended to weaken its provisions.

Dr Paddy O’Flynn,UCD, pointed out that it was essential that all academics join trade unions to effectively respond to current threats.

Apologies for inability to attend and expressions of support for the gathering were sent by Prof Jim McKernan, East Carolina University, Prof James Heffron (emeritus) UCC and Dr Tom Dooley, Dundalk IT

Many speakers explained why academic freedom and permanency to retirement age were necessary to maintain freedom of speech and information to the public, educational standards and fruitful scholarship including research. Speakers included Professor Peadar Kirby, UL; Professor Michael Cronin, DCU; Professor Mary Gallagher, UCD; Martin O’Grady, IT Tralee; Dr Kieran Allen, UCD; Dr Colman Etchingham, NUIM; Dr Kevin Farrell, IT Blanchardstown; Marnie Holborow, DCU; Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte, IT Carlow; Dr Paul O’Brien, NCAD; Prof Helena Sheehan (emeritus), DCU; and many others.

Senator David Norris addressed those assembled and expressed solidarity with the Gathering.

Former Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald addressed the Gathering and pointed out the need for an association which addressed academic matters only.

 

Decisions

It was agreed that a petition would be launched in each institution calling on the governing authority to make a declaration in favour of academic freedom and to remove all threats to tenure and permanency to retirement age.

Such a declaration has already been secured by IFUT President, Hugh Gibbons and his colleagues in the IFUt Branch at TCD.

A motion to the same effect would be tabled at all Academic Councils.

An ad-hoc steering committee was formed to co-ordinate the campaign.

It was suggested that a pledge in favour of academic freedom and permanency should be administered to all political parties in the forthcoming election. This will be considered by the steering committee.

It was agreed that the Gathering would be reconvened in the coming weeks to consider whether further organised work was necessary.

Paddy Healy 086-4183732 paddy.healy@eircom.net

Opening Address – Paddy Healy

Academic freedom is a necessity in a healthy democracy. Citizens have a need for a diversity of expert opinions to enable them to take informed decisions and to direct their political representatives. The warnings of a possible banking collapse came from outside the banking industry and indeed from outside the regulatory and political system. The warnings of Professor Morgan Kelly and others went unheeded.

Analysis and criticism of social, economic, scientific and artistic policies by academics is the right of citizens. If academic freedom is restricted this flow of information and analysis is likely to be reduced or stopped.

Citizens have a right to objective information on the content of food products, the safety of structures and other engineering systems, on pollution of the environment, on aesthetic matters and on health issues. Academics must retain the unrestricted right to give this information.

Academic freedom and tenure is not just a ruse invented by academics to protect their employment as some letter writers have suggested.

The purpose of “tenure” as protecting a university professor or lecturer against dismissal, as set out in the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel of 11 November 1997, is to provide protection for the independence of university academics in their teaching and research by ensuring that they cannot be dismissed for the expression of unpopular or novel ideas. Savage (“Academic Tenure and its Functional Equivalent in post-secondary Education”, ILO Working Paper June 2004) suggests that “tenure” might also ensure that those among the academic staff teaching “highly technical but not popular subjects” are also protected “so that such learning is not easily removed from the university milieu because of ephemeral undergraduate student demand”. As Savage goes on to point out, “dismissal procedures are the key”. Tenure exists in reality if academic staff can only be dismissed for “just cause”, such as professional incompetence, financial corruption, sexual or racial harassment or the abandonment of position, proved before a “fair and independent body”. One of the more “vexing” questions in his opinion is the effect of “financial exigency and programme planning” and whether these factors can override the guarantees of “tenure”.

 

TCD Declaration on academic Freedom

At a large meeting of academics held in UCD on Thursday last, the representative of the Irish Federation of University Teachers informed us that as a matter of policy IFUT would be making no concessions on the issues of academic freedom and tenure. The President of SIPTU Education Branch gave similar assurances.

My colleagues and I are encouraged by the declaration of the Board of Trinity College in favour of academic freedom and tenure. We must of course be careful of the meaning of those terms. We are also encouraged by the declared opposition to research by command from above. It would be most appropriate if the governing authorities of other third level institutions made similar declarations.

I would like to congratulate Dr Hugh Gibbons, IFUT President, and his colleagues in IFUT at TCD for their hard work and persistence in securing this declaration.

Academic staff in institutes of technology were believed to have effective tenure through the permanency of public servants until the emergence of the Croke Park Deal. Academic freedom is written into existing contracts. I call on the governing bodies of these institutions to unconditionally withdraw all threats of redundancy to academic staff.

 

Educational Standards

It is important that third level institutions continue to produce graduates who combine a high level of professional expertise with a capacity for critical thought. That is necessary for a healthy democratic society and a successful economy.

The funding model of third level institutions penalises failure of students to progress by passing examinations. This has led to very unhealthy pressures in the direction of lowering criteria for progression. There have been incidences of administrative passing of students. Academics must retain the unfettered right subject to reasonable criteria to say that a student has not reached the required standard. Academic freedom based on permanence of employment is necessary in order that academics can resist unhealthy pressures. If “dumbing down” becomes rampant, serious damage will be done to our society. The qualifications of existing graduates would be devalued. Authorities in many areas such as health, social services and education would be denied a reliable criterion in employing professional staff. Companies seeking to employ graduates would have similar problems. The reputation of Irish qualifications abroad would be destroyed.

 

Scholarly Activity

Let us repeat here the concern expressed by Savage (above) lest highly specialised but not popular subjects be removed from third level institutions. I would add a concern that creative arts and sociological enquiry would be increasingly de-prioritised through funding mechanisms. I also echo the concern of Tom Garvin that open-ended or “blue sky research” would be deprived of funds in favour of focussed problem solving for commercial purposes. I am reliably informed that the next round of cuts under the HEA Employment Control Framework will necessitate redundancies in addition to non-replacement of staff in some institutions. Areas of knowledge, inquiry and cultural endeavour must not be selectively deprived of resources. Nor should resources be squandered on a large management layer arising from the inappropriate replacement of collegiality with a command model of management to the detriment of teaching and other academic activity.

There are also serious concerns in the areas of science, engineering, computing, medicine and other health sciences. There must be no drift towards allocation of academics to research projects outside their own research interest. Genuine research simply cannot be done on such a basis. Institute of Technology staff must not be prevented from engaging in scholarly activity by timetabling for 19 to 21 teaching hours per week.

We have no objection to having industrial research partners. But the co-operation must be on terms which do not affect the independence of academic staff. There must be no question of suppressing unwelcome research outcomes or impeding the development of knowledge as has happened in a number of cases abroad.

 

Academic freedom based on tenure and permanency is an indispensable prerequisite for a healthy democratic society, for the maintenance of academic standards and for the continued flourishing of genuine scholarship in Irish academic institutions.

 

Paddy Healy
086-4183732

2 Responses to “Report on the Academic Gathering, from Paddy Healy”

  1. Steve, have you considered publishing your own speech as well?

  2. Please note my previous comment about talk being assimilated to the state’s narrative; the infinitely polite request above for further debate is a paradigmatic example.

    Hopefully, the many academics involved can turn this into an election issue.

    The mechanism for getting rid of an academic is simple; remove him/her from the payroll and ban him/her from campus. No procedures of any sort need be followed. Should the academic go the industrial relations route, the fact that it is a “single” dismissal means that his/her colleagues can’t strike. (In fact, our experience is that SIPTU will in any case lie to its members rather than strike)

    The alternative; High Court injunction etc – involves the very real risk of personal bankruptcy that both Paul Cahill and Connell Fanning took.

    For the record, I believe that the war on tenure was politically driven, and only governmental support would allow DCU keep a flagrantly illegal statute on its books for a decade. The withdrawal from politics of Noel Ahern destroys DCU’s last major protection. It is hard to imagine the incoming government allowing illegality of this nature.

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