In spite of the Higher Education Authority (HEA)’s key recommendation to introduce a Vice President for Gender Equality, Trinity has indicated that it will not create a specific, dedicated role. Speaking to The University Times, the Vice-Provost, Chris Morash, explained that he thinks “it would be odd to have a vice-president just for gender, when there are a lot of other areas we don’t have vice-presidents for”. If a new role isn’t appointed, Trinity will need to justify its decision over the next few years in its approach to gender equality.
The HEA recommendation comes as part of a report on gender inequality in higher education, which found extensive gender inequality across Irish third-level institutions. Both the report and legal claims over gender discrimination in NUI Galway have led that university to create the role of vice-president for gender equality, but it is the only Irish university to do so thus far. The legal threat may have led NUIG to feel it has no choice in the matter. For other universities, they may not consider themselves to be under the same pressure.
Morash believes that the responsibility for gender equality could be integrated into the role of vice-provost instead. However, while introducing a new role into the existing structure in Trinity would be atypical, adding extra tasks to another individual’s workload may result in the issue being unintentionally swept to the side, in favour of responsibilities more immediately relevant to an individual’s role. The pervasive nature of gender inequality suggests that the problem will not be simply resolved. Indeed, according to a 2016 Trinity report, the gender gap at the chair professorship level will not be closed until 2098, if we continue at the current rate of change.
Creating a unique role dedicated to gender equality might cause some disruption to Trinity’s existing administrative structure, and indeed may not be necessary if other measures are introduced instead. But foisting the responsibility onto an officer with an already packed workload may not allow for the sustained focus on the problem that is needed. Spreading responsibility among a number of very busy people, such as between the Equality Officer and the Vice-Provost, reduces incentives to act and makes new, more radical proposals, harder to focus on. If there are to be no vice-presidents, Irish universities must show they’re making a sustained and conscious effort to implement change.