Impasse over new plan to select staff to governing body

A plan to select rather than elect staff representatives for the new governing authority of Maynooth University in Ireland has angered trade union members who claim it is undemocratic and out of step with other higher education institutions.

The idea is that staff would put themselves forward, but instead of being elected by their peers as traditionally happened, they would be selected on the basis of skills, experience and competency criteria set out for membership of the authority.

Members of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) have threatened to withdraw from all committees unless the plan is dropped. This would seriously undermine the operation of the university which is trying to defuse the row before the next term begins.

Diversity and greater participation claims

The university claims the new policy would drive diversity and encourage a greater number of staff to put their names forward. It would ensure that uncontested elections would not happen in future.

A spokesperson said until now the elections had traditionally resulted in a small number of candidates standing, and in some categories of staff, elections had not been held at all because only one candidate had put their name forward. “Selecting the internal members would allow for a consistent approach in terms of how the internal as well as the external members and the chair will be appointed,” the spokesperson added.

The outcome is being watched by other universities, especially following legislation last year which reduced the size of governing authorities from up to 30 to 19. The number of staff representatives is being reduced from eight to five.

One interpretation of the legislation is that it allows for selection or election of staff representatives, with each university deciding its own approach.

’Moving away from democracy’

The union claims there was no consultation on the change planned by the Maynooth authorities. IFUT general secretary Frank Jones said that “we never suspected in all consultations on the legislation that we were going to be moving away from democracy. It is such a fundamental change”.

The row has split staff and governing authority members. One prominent academic who did not wish to be named told University World News she supported the idea of selecting governors on merit instead of electing them in a “popularity contest”.

The governing authority will meet on August 22 to discuss the impasse.

“The university is reflecting on the recent feedback from some staff about the process for establishing a new governing authority and will consider the most appropriate way forward on this issue”, the spokesperson told the Sunday Independent.

One possible compromise under consideration would see three elected staff representatives while the remaining two would be chosen through a selection process. IFUT has not given a formal response to this latest idea yet but is known to have asked Higher Education Minister Simon Harris to intervene.

Meanwhile, Maynooth will gain 103 academic posts out of a total of 1,500 new jobs across higher education institutions, announced by Harris. This will help improve student staff ratios which are currently 23:1 compared with a European norm of 15:1.