Claims about an assault on academic freedom

Oireachtas Report
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This is the longer form version of a letter I sent to Madam last week in response to the calls for a public meeting about supposed challenges to academic freedom. It was and is a tad too long to publish, there again it would have taken up considerably less space  than the 150 names for the original letter linked above. I mean why not just sign it TUI Friends of the Paddy Healy’s Seanad campaign? And then it would have allowed other people on that day to get their letters published.


The letter whose signatories occupies most of today’s Jan 20th) letters page reads like a missive of special pleading on behalf of exclusively or predominately TUI members in 3rd level. They are seeking to add themselves to the ever expanding list of those who view themselves, though most others wouldn’t do so, as part Ireland’s list of the most vulnerable. This time they include Ireland’s democracy as one of their number.

Certainly there must continue to be the most robust protection for academic freedom and the right to publish well grounded insights that challenge the status quo and for those people who voice unpopular but rigorously researched opinions. However that same freedom must not simply serve to unendingly protect the continued employment at the public’s expense of the incompetent, the incapable or the ineffectual. Their minority presence hurts the quality of education of the very students who will make up the future academic community that those in positions of influence should be seeking to foster.

The letter, from Paddy Healy’s Seanad campaign supporters, says absolutely nothing about seeking to ensure, for example, that reviews of teaching quality by those to whom it is delivered must form part of the ongoing assessment of performance. Nor is there indicated any willingness by those who have tenure to endure any changes in their circumstances of employment to the lot of those in the merry go round of post-doc and other research & teaching positions. The mantra is “what we have we hold and the devil take the rest of ye.

What is referred to rather archly as “managerialist structures and business models” might be termed, in plain language as, making people accountable for their work and finding a practical means to buy for their efforts. Has there been a surfeit of form-filling and Dilbertesque petty management nonsense on Irish campuses? Yes! Yet so too has there been excessive molly-coddling and feather-bedding of elements of the 3rd level community when the public purse was fuller.

A reasonable middle ground can and must exist between the gold plated tenured track that some have enjoyed to date and the unremitting uncertainty of the contracts that most post-docs and other new academic staff find themselves stuck with. Seeking to protect the former at the expense of the latter is just the sort of misguided rallying cry for the cabal that has given trades unions a bad name. Most of those working in 3rd level don’t have tenure, yet they are used by those who do to protect the status quo. It is also the case that anyone employed on one of these contracts is unlikely to feel fully able to offer a contrary opinion for fear of what the consequences from the establishment, which includes the currently tenured, might be. Where is their protection for unpopular opinion?


Let’s be clear here, this campaign is a proxy for Paddy Healy’s campaign for the Seanad. With the departure of Sen. Joe O’Toole, Paddy sees an opening for him to be the teacher’s friend in the Oireachtas with this topic for him what the pro-life issue was for Sen. Ronan Mullen. And who knows he could be right. Scaremongering works in politics, that’s regrettable but true.

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