In Focus
Feb 11, 2021

Prof Linda Hogan: Election Interview Transcript

Prof Linda Hogan, former Vice-Provost and professor of ecumenics, will be up against Prof Linda Doyle and Prof Jane Ohlmeyer in this year’s Provost elections.

As part of our series of interviews with this year’s provostial candidates, we will be publishing the transcripts of our discussions with Prof Linda Doyle, Prof Linda Hogan and Prof Jane Ohlmeyer. This text has been lightly edited for the sake of length and clarity. The transcript for our interview with Hogan is around 4,000 words long.

For those who find reading this too herculean a task, we have also condensed the interview into a more digestible overview, as well as a “top five takeaways” piece. This interview was conducted by Emma Taggart, the newspaper’s Features Editor and the reporter assigned to Hogan’s race.

Taggart: Why are you running for the position of Provost?

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Hogan:Well, I’m running for the position of Provost because I believe that I really have a vision that will inspire the College community and also secure Trinity’s future. And because I believe that I have the leadership experience, and also the distinctive leadership style that is necessary for the next decade.

Taggart: What do you think the primary issues for students are at the moment? And what will you do to address these issues?

Hogan: I think that there are very many issues for students at the moment – in the current COVID crisis, the issues are magnified and amplified. But there are underlying issues that have been there for many, many years.

The first is about the funding of higher education and the costs for students. I believe in education for the public good and [a] publicly funded education system. I think there are challenges there for students. I really believe strongly in access to education. And so if there is a student contribution to be paid – I understand why that’s necessary at the moment – then I think there should be a much better and stronger grant system that will cover the needs and the costs of students. That’s the first thing, the cost of higher education for students.

I think the second thing that’s really a serious issue for students is issues of their welfare, stress, anxiety, all of those sorts of welfare-type issues. It’s clear that, over the last decade or more, those issues have really become very prominent for students. I think it’s part of a larger cultural challenge that students have. And I think that spills over into their educational world. This is really seen in the middle of the pandemic, where there’s a lot of a lot of stress and anxiety.

There are a lot of pressures on students. The isolation and the loss of community that has really been created for everybody, but especially for our students. Those I think are the big challenges.

In terms of addressing them, we need a properly well-funded higher education system. And for me, part of that is about ensuring that the students who need financial support to be in university get the level of financial support that they need.

Although we spoke last [Monday at hustings] about the opportunities that the establishment of the new ministry brings, I think we have to be clear about what we expect there. And I hope that it will deliver for our students and for the universities and for our young people. I think we have to wait and see whether it will or not. I think it’s a long term project.

I think in terms of the welfare issues, we definitely need more supports and more funding for student welfare, the senior tutor’s office. The postgraduate advisory service, the students’ union and all of the peer-to-peer networks that are part of the Trinity student experience now. It seems to me that those peer-to-peer organisations capture the way the students access those supports really well. They’re very in tune with what students want and need and the kinds of supports that they need. And so I think we will do our student body a great service if we support those and fund those more fully as well.

Taggart: We are entering another recession due to the coronavirus pandemic. And funding is obviously a big issue and so is the budget. Therefore, how do you envisage Trinity will manage its budget and have access to sufficient funding?

Hogan: We are heading into very challenging times financially. I think there are four avenues of funding for the university. The first is increased state funding: we have to make the case persuasively, in a strategic, long-term way to government, for the level of resources that the universities require to deliver the kind of education that people deserve. We must make progress on that.

I think, although there are huge pressures and going to be huge pressures on the state in terms of funding the recovery from the coronavirus-induced recession, part of the case is that education is part of the recovery. So investment in education, like investment in healthcare, like investment in the economy – those are all fundamental pillars of ensuring that we move out of the recession.

The second thing is: I really do believe that there are great opportunities for Trinity to partner with not only peer universities around the world, but also with major industry partners around the world to deliver research-led, high-quality, professional development for major scientific and other innovations. So I think that that is an aspect of our educational offering provision that we’ve never offered or strategised about properly, and we could make a huge impact, I think, and we could also generate significant funding from that.

The third thing is philanthropy. We know that philanthropy is the life blood of lots of universities – indeed, lots of higher-ranked universities. We have made significant progress on that already. I think that we need to continue to make progress there and also make another step change, as we’ve already done in terms of the level of philanthropy, But that, again, will take time, there is no magic bullet. We cannot be unrealistic in terms of what we can expect from philanthropy.

Philanthropy will be unlikely to fill a gap in state funding or in our recurrent budget. It is much more likely to be supportive of new initiatives. We have many great ideas that academics around the university want to promote. So I see it as an important source of income. But I think that it will not be what fills the hole in our current finances.

The fourth area is research income that allows us to do our excellent research. It doesn’t generate any more funding or overhead for the running of the organisation, but it is, nonetheless, a very important source of funding that gives us the capacity to do the kind of research that we want to do. I think we do need to make much more progress with the state in terms of the narrow definition or focus for research funding, which is partly blue-skies [research], of course, I accept that. But it is mostly applied and so we need to shift that balance again and [that] again is part of the engagement with the State.

Taggart: Keeping to the topic of funding and the budget, you have a lot of experience in handling budgetary decision-making, through your time as Vice-Provost. And that was, of course, in the fallout of the 2008 financial crash. Knowing in hindsight now that we are entering another recession, is there anything that you would do differently in your time as Vice-Provost in regard to those budgetary and financial decisions, or would you make the same financial decisions?

Hogan: In the last recession, we were implementing a response based on austerity – that was a response that the government insisted on, so we were very much constrained by that. I think in that context, we made very prudent but very difficult decisions about limiting the impact on students and on staff and on schools. But we were in freefall – we had lost about €40 million in a year.

So it was an austerity response. This time it’s got to be an investment-led response. And that’s part of the argument to the state about education being part of the investment that we must see from the government for the recovery. That the first thing – an investment response rather than an austerity response.

The second thing that I would say about the difference is that last time around, in the context of that austerity response, we were trying to do two things. We were trying to stabilise the current activity, and then also give some investment, give some money to new initiatives, like the global relations initiative, like the commercial initiative in order that we could stimulate new sources of revenue.

Of course, that was successful because we did generate new sources of revenue. I think that we got the balance not right or wrong – let’s call it what it was. We put too much investment in the new and too little in the current. I would change that balance if I had to do that again. I think that that issue won’t come up this time, because it’s going to be, at least in my opinion, and if I am leading the university, an investment-led recovery rather than an austerity response.

Taggart: Are you happy with the state that Trinity is in at the moment?

Hogan: Well, I think Trinity needs to change. I think every institution needs to change and every organisation needs to change. And I would certainly change it. So there are lots of things that I’m not happy with, and that I would want to make significant progress and change on.

Taggart: What are those main changes? And then conversely, what would you maintain?

Hogan: Let me premise all of this by saying: I think Trinity is a wonderful institution. I think it’s a wonderful place to work. It’s got amazing academics, professional staff and students. It is really a privilege to be part of this university. So my observations on what I would like to change really come from a deep-rooted conviction that we are an absolutely fantastic and brilliant university, and we can be better. So it’s about being better.

The things I would change are many, actually. I think there are huge problems for all staff, really, with workload and bureaucracy and decision-making very centralised. Therefore, very little capacity to innovate in schools. I would propose to, first of all, give more autonomy to schools, and more decision-making. I would give a different kind of voice to the heads of school committee, so that they would have more of a formal role in decision-making, rather than just as a consultative body. And I think that would make a big difference in terms of the role that schools would have in the university and make a better connection between the centre and the schools and departments. I would also ensure that there are far more fora for participation and voice – that I think is very important.

I think in terms of the kind of culture that we have, I think it’s really all about engendering a culture of enablement and trust, that I think is something I would really like to do. On the internationalisation issue, I think I made that clear last [Monday at hustings] as well. I think we have a tremendous educational experience to offer. Internationally, I would want us to continue to do that. And in two ways, first of all, by developing far more strategic partnerships, and creating a level of stability within our internationalisation programme.

And then secondly, to do it in a way that is about capacity building and giving back in low-income countries. And that again is a fundamental premise. So for me, as I think I said last [Monday], it’s all about living our values. It’s all about ensuring that if we are committed to the values of equality, dignity, respect, if we’re committed to democratic values, if we’re committed to environmental values, then we’ve got to live these in our organisation as well.

Taggart: What is the first thing you would do if elected Provost?

Hogan: I think we have a broken promotion system for staff, academics and administrative staff. I would change that significantly. And that would actually be the first decision I would make if elected provost, policy-wise. I talked about that [on Monday] night as well. I would introduce discipline-sensitive promotions criteria. And I would also introduce a system whereby there was much more clarity about the criteria and the level of achievement expected in each of these areas. I want to see us making faster and deeper progress on all of the issues to do with equality and diversity and inclusion.

I think we’ve made some good progress there over the years and I would like to think that my role as Vice-Provost was instrumental in that by introducing the Athena SWAN and the Centre for Gender Equality and all of those initiatives – but there is a long way to go. And it’s very important to extend the commitment to diversity and inclusion beyond the category of gender, which is how we have tended to look at this issue. So again, I would want to make much greater progress on those issues.

The first thing I would do if elected provost would be: I would create a plan to allow us to create a community as we’re moving into some of the face to face. So what I would like to do in the first first few days is to begin to talk to people about: how do we create the environment in which we can move to recreating the community that we’ve lost? What are the kinds of things we need to do to recognise what we’ve lost, but also bring people together? Whether that’s a bit of face to face, a bit of virtual, I’m not quite sure. I’ve got some ideas about what we might do. But I think that’s the first thing we really have to do. Try to recreate the connections that we have lost and restore the sense of community that we’ve all missed and know we will get back, but we’ve still lost it. So that’s the first thing that I would want to do.

Taggart: What’s your opinion of the Trinity Education Project?

I was very involved in the early stages of TEP and the first two years really and I think that TEP has brought tremendous benefits to the College at least in principle. I think the implementation has been very problematic. The aspects that I was involved with were the consultation about the graduate attributes, the conversations about having far more diverse forms of assessment, the essential architecture of the programmes and then finally, the creation of the Trinity electives.

I think that all of those have been great ideas. They certainly weren’t all mine – they were garnered from colleagues around the university. I think that held great promise. I think the implementation has been challenging. I think it’s been challenging for a couple of different reasons.

First of all, our systems have not been able to deal with the changes that have come from the Trinity Education Project, and that has created a huge amount of work and chaos for staff and problems for students. So I think that’s been a problem. I think the pace of change has probably been too fast, as well. I think we should have had another year of planning and getting our systems ready. And staff enabled – administrative and academic – to make those changes. So I would say it holds great promise. I think there are aspects that do need to be modified. I think the implementation has been very challenging, and it’s been especially challenging in the first year that it’s gone live for many of the programmes in arts, humanities, social sciences. The new pathways caused a great deal of stress and anxiety. So a short summary: I think it’s been an important project. Key ideas have been really essential. And I think the implementation has been, you know, very challenging and problematic.

Taggart: You weren’t involved in the implementation of TEP?

Hogan: No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t involved at all in the decisions about the implementation. I do want to make clear that I understand the challenges. I’m certainly not saying, you know, I did a great job and then those following me didn’t. Not at all. I’m saying that we’re making that kind of change is hugely challenging and it was always going to be that.

Taggart: Referring back to something you brought up earlier, one of the things that you saw as a key issue that you wanted to change was the admin and bureaucracy side of things. This newspaper carried out a survey in which 42 per cent of the electorate said that was their main issue. You’ve already clarified that it’s one of the things you want to change – in what way? I’d like to hear your insights on that subject.

Hogan: Yes, bureaucracy and administrative tasks are a huge burden on academics. And there are other administrative tasks that are a huge burden on administrators. So my analysis actually is that academics are doing the job that administrators should be doing, and administrators are doing many of the jobs that our systems should be doing for us. Like gathering information, and like communicating the information, like gathering your lists of people going on Erasmus. These are issues that in other places, you have a central repository of information, you have systems that can speak to each other and exchange information. And you can do your academic management of your activity through the information and the systems you have. We have fragmented systems, we have, you know, bureaucracy as a result of that that’s just generated by multiple people asking for essentially the same information from the same people many times in a week or a month. I think that’s just all redundant. And it just really needs to be addressed, urgently. So that’s the first thing.

I think the second thing is that we need a radical simplification process. If I look at something like our HR systems, and I look at the amount of administration associated with that. Looking at something like probation and so staff members on probation, after a year they have to fill in a form that’s probably about eight pages long and the head of school or the head of department has to fill in two or three pages as well. Actually, all we need to know is: is this person doing well? Or are there challenges or difficulties? It doesn’t take eight, 10, 12 pages to ask that question.

The same is true of promotions of every single decision that we have to make, and then communicate to some part of the organisation. So there are things like that, that I really believe are of our own making, and really need to be addressed. I think there are other things that are just part of the way in which modern society has grown, like GDPR requirements or compliance, where there are things that we have to do. But again, we have created our own internal layers of reporting and communicating, that actually then creates more and more work for people. So I see very clearly what the issue is and I think there are things that we have to address really urgently.

Taggart: On your website it mentions how you created 40 Ussher professorships – in a interview I carried out with one staff member, they spoke about how the Ussher professorships were “a great idea” but they also said that they “failed in a number of ways”. There are those on the programme that found it difficult to get research going, they were virtually all given tenure and many of them were lumbered with heavy teaching loads.

I was just wondering if you could speak to how you felt about this – while those professorships obviously created a large number of staff members, do you feel that there were some problems with the way in which the Ussher professorships were implemented and then carried out?

Hogan: I think it’s fair to say that the Ussher professorships, the individuals had very different experiences in their different schools. And I think in a way, whether it’s Ussher professorships or early-career researchers, academics, it’s the same problem. We have to find ways to support them better, to get their research going, to ensure that they don’t have overwhelming teaching loads, etc.

Now, as I said, I think in the end, schools have to be able to allocate their teaching according to the curriculum, so I would never, ever interfere in a school’s capacity to allocate work and make sure that the curriculum is covered. But this goes to the fact that we don’t have enough staff, and the burden of work is carried across teaching, in particular. And so it’s very difficult for early career researchers to get their research going. So what I would say there is that Ussher professorships, assistant professorships like early-career, researchers, generally face the same challenges in Trinity. We have to do better in terms of access to research funding to get their startups going. And that’s about research funding policy, but it’s also about how we direct our own resources in terms of supporting early career research.

I also think that many other universities, leading universities around the world, are much better than we are at mentoring, supporting and sponsoring early-career academics. When I was VP, I did introduce a new mentoring scheme for early-career academics and I think that’s been quite successful. But again, it’s really only fledgling, I would say. It needs to be much stronger and rolled out far more fully. So it’s practical supports that early-career researchers, including Usshers, need, research funding, a decent balance of teaching and research, the kinds of access to information and communication that many of them say they don’t have from the College, which is another impediment to them feeling like they’re being supported.

Taggart: What do you think of the current Provost’s track record?

Hogan: I think it’s been a track record of achievement. I think he has introduced important initiatives in the university, not only in terms of supporting a lot of the research activity, but also in terms of supporting a lot of student activity and TAP, HEAR and DARE.. all have been hugely beneficial… And I think he has managed to do that in an environment, as we know his provostship is sort of sandwiched between two recessions. So that’s very challenging. I think it’s a record of achievement in terms of activity, in that context for sure.

Taggart: What is your relationship like with the current Provost? I heard a rumour – that would be good if I could get it clarified because I don’t know how much truth there is to it – that you two are related?

Hogan: [Laughs]. Oh, no. No, not at all. I would say that I came into the Vice-Provost role completely unexpectedly. I knew the current process when he was Dean of Graduate Studies, because I was head of school then. And also then he was Vice-Provost when I was head of school. So I had a professional relationship with him in that way. When he was elected Provost, he asked me to be Vice-Provost and I said to him, “why do you want me to do the job?” because it’s not something that I would expect. And he said, “it’s because you are not associated with any particular group in the college”. Having had a fairly bruising Provost campaign, he wanted his provostship to be one of building back the bridges that’s why he asked me and we’ve always had a very good professional relationship.


Mairead Maguire is the Societies Editor for The University Times, and a member of the reporting team covering the Provost election.

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