Maybe it’s to do with fighting fire with fire. But I must admit I find parts of Mary Daly & Brigid Laffan’s response in today’s Times to Tom Garvin’s piece a little, in their own words, ‘distant from the challenges we face’. Or at least from those that I do.
There is no doubting the sincerity and zeal with which the achievements of the past decade or so at UCD are extolled. What I find most interesting though are the metrics that are used to nail the argument — CAO first preferences up, exponential rise in doctoral students, 230% rise in research income and so on. There is talk of a radical transformation of academic structures and promotion systems overhauled to suit research excellence in scholarship and teaching. (I may be wrong but I seem to recall that the writers were among those at UCD who not all that long ago were most incensed that the ‘new’ system actively militated again promotions on anything other than a quasi-science worldview /model.) And I’m sure that there are merits in English literature students devising a marketing plan for the Globe in Shakespeare’s time. Even if I can’t, personally, even begin to think what these might be.
But I can’t help wondering a bit if this sanitized take on UCD and its life actually really offers anything other than an articulation of what the new order wants to see, rather than what it needs to see. To my mind it seems every bit as loaded as Tom Garvin’s view but towards an alternative reality.
There has been chaos associated with aspect of the move to Horizons. UCD Staff Association is on record as being concerned that morale at the university is at an all-time low. Pathways to professorships – and almost everything else – are gate-kept by the guardians of the new way and set within a performativity net of musts and shoulds that boggle the mind. And I seem to remember reading somewhere, now that I think of it, that there is a freeze on promotions in any event for the next lifetime or so, ‘unless you poison a (senior?) lecturer’. And on recruitment. Some schools here are running on vapour – with recently retired staff being practically begged to stay-on to plug the gaps.
Nevertheless, I’d have to say that their closing note – the bit about the reward for dedication to research and scholarship being knowledge and the transmission of that knowledge to the next generation – is both true and heartening. It sure as hell won’t mean advancement though; unless you do as both Professors Laffan and Daly have (each of whom I hold in high regard as academics) and, taking the zeitgeist of these days & time to heart, sing along to the corporate UCD line with gusto.
Tom Garvin may be wrong in parts of his Irish Times piece. But he is not wrong in anything like all of it.