Taking up Trinity’s top job in the middle of a pandemic, and with a recession looming over our heads, doesn’t exactly sound appealing. If the beginnings of the current Provost’s term were characterised by budgetary woes there can be no doubt that it will be a similar story for the next Provost.
Having held the position of Vice-Provost from 2011 to 2016, Prof Linda Hogan is no stranger to making difficult financial decisions. As the Book of Kells exhibition remains shut and the prospect of summer tourists visiting Trinity continues to look doubtful for the foreseeable future, questions about how the candidates can address the growing financial problems will no doubt be a recurring theme throughout the campaign period.
Handling the purse strings while College faced the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis has meant that Hogan has an astute knowledge of Trinity’s budget. When asked if she would make these same financial decisions if she knew we would be entering another recession in 2021, Hogan details the context of the previous financial crisis.
“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.”
If she were to lead Trinity, the College would take on ‘an investment-led recovery rather than an austerity response’.
The subject of finances will inevitably lead to tough decision and Hogan acknowledges that, in hindsight, things could have been done differently. “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.”
Hogan’s candour on this topic speaks to her vision that the upcoming recession can be managed differently. She says that if she were to lead Trinity, College would take on “an investment-led recovery rather than an austerity response”.
Indeed she doesn’t just aim to tackle financial problems. When addressing the issue of admin and bureaucracy, Hogan acknowledges how they are “a huge burden on academics”. Her analysis of the topic points to the major conundrum facing staff: “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.”
Hogan’s understanding of the issue will be important given that in a recent survey of 100 voters conducted by The University Times, 42 per cent cited administrative and bureaucratic difficulties as their top priority in the upcoming election. Explaining how she aims to tackle the problem, Hogan speaks of “a radical simplification process” aimed at addressing Trinity’s layers of reporting and communicating.
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
What is most striking about speaking to Hogan is how her expertise as an ethicist comes through in her language choice. Nowhere is this more clear than when she talks about the culture she wants to instil within the College: “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.”
The notion of “living our values” is often heard around Trinity, but Hogan really emphasises its importance. Throughout her 33-page manifesto, there are examples of the ethical viewpoint she aims to instil in the College’s culture if elected Provost.
In her manifesto, Hogan envisions Trinity as an “institution governed by an enlightened, accountable, and trusted leadership that acts through an ethical lens and promotes true equality and diversity”. Given that the next provost will be the first woman to hold the position in College’s 429-year history, this statement carries a lot of weight.
Hogan makes it clear that regarding gender equality she feels that “there is a long way to go”. While noting the impact of establishing the Athena SWAN program and the Centre for Gender Equality, both of which occurred during her time as Vice-Provost, Hogan seeks to reshape the conversation surrounding representation and inclusion. “It’s very important to extend the commitment to diversity and inclusion beyond the category of gender.”
What is most striking about speaking to Hogan is how her expertise as an ethicist comes through in her language choice.
This marks a significant shift in conversations about representation in academia which, on this island, have been limited to the subject of gender. Representation for ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities hasn’t received as much attention.
While cynics may say that this is typical election rhetoric, Hogan appears to be serious in her convictions, saying: “We have a broken promotion system for staff, academics and administrative staff. I would change that significantly.”
Indeed, this is the first policy decision Hogan hopes to make if elected Provost. She envisages that establishing clarity surrounding the criteria and level of achievement required to be promoted will allow the College to take a step forward. “I want to see us making faster and deeper progress on all of the issues to do with equality and diversity and inclusion.”
Speaking on the subject of student issues, Hogan points to the cost of higher education as one of the main problems. Hogan notes how she has strong beliefs regarding access to education as she states “I believe in education for the public good and a publicly funded education system.”
I want to see us making faster and deeper progress on all of the issues to do with equality and diversity and inclusion
Although Hogan welcomes the establishment of the new department of Higher Education, and the opportunities it brings, she exercises caution over what it will ultimately deliver in the sector. “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.”
It is evident Hogan is not impressed with current policy concerning the financing of higher-level education. “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.”
While noting that many student issues have become magnified and amplified due to the pandemic Hogan draws attention to the fact that “there are underlying issues that have been there for many, many years”.
This is perhaps most clear when Hogan underlines how student welfare is a key issue: “This is really seen in the middle of the pandemic, where there’s a lot of a lot of stress and anxiety.”
Her aim to address this problem lies in increasing both the supports and funding available: “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.”
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
Hogan’s ambitious plan to return Trinity to the top 50 universities in the world permeates the way in which she seeks to address many of the problems in Trinity: “Leading universities around the world are much better than we are at mentoring, supporting and sponsoring early career academics.”
While acknowledging that Trinity is “a wonderful institution”, Hogan points out that problems regarding centralised decision-making have meant there is “very little capacity to innovate in schools”. Proposing a shake-up of the structure and function of some committees, she hopes to promote better connections and more devolved governance of the College.
“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.”
Hogan’s vision for Trinity marks a change in many fixed and well-established structures throughout the College. Her observations “come from a deep-rooted conviction that we are an absolutely fantastic and brilliant University, and that we can be better”.