This week, Prof Jurgen Barkhoff officially took over as the College’s Vice-Provost, following Prof Chris Morash’s resignation in April after a turbulent three-year tenure.
In some ways, Barkhoff’s position is not an enviable one. Stepping into the role of Vice-Provost, and thus Chief Academic Officer, for the second year of the Trinity Education Project – when negative perceptions of it among students are already entrenched – is a brave move.
Both students and staff made it clear how unhappy they were with the way Trinity Education Project – a task at the heart of the Vice-Provost’s role since its conception in 2015 – was implemented last year. Throughout the year, student anger about heightened workloads and the disjointed nature of the project’s implementation was tangible, placing immense pressure on Morash’s project.
Despite his impressive vision for a less exam-focused, more academically diverse curriculum, Morash ultimately failed to address the real-life consequences of his ideas. His mantra – that the Trinity Education Project would improve students’ lives in the long run – meant little to those on the ground, who faced a slew of administrative issues and organisational gaffes that culminated in two of the most chaotic exam seasons in student memory.
In light of this chaotic first year, Barkhoff’s success will largely rest on rescuing perceptions of the project from the brink. Overhauling Trinity’s entire education system was never going to be a smooth process, but Barkhoff can’t afford to stumble at the same hurdles that tripped up Morash. He must also be more attuned to student opinion, and can’t afford to be seen to be shifting responsibility onto schools for the project’s failures.
Barkhoff has form when it comes to College politics, and students will be hoping he can provide an antidote to what this Editorial Board previously identified as Morash’s biggest flaw: his inability to navigate the tricky politics involved in implementing his commendable ideas.
In order to redeem the Trinity Education Project in the court of student opinion, Barkhoff must demonstrate that he is willing to listen and, above all, that he is capable of meeting students where they are – not where he wants them to be.