This week, The University Times reported on Trinity’s submission to the government on the proposed reforms of drafted legislation which would overhaul College’s governance structures.
In the submission, Trinity outlined a swathe of reasons as to why it should be exempt from the proposed legislation, including existing traditions and a “distinct context and legal heritage” that distinguishes it from other universities.
College’s submission also highlighted the shortcomings of the legislation, citing how new legislation could grant the Higher Education Authority the power to direct universities to comply with codes of practice, which could be seen as a “command-and-control mechanism that extinguishes autonomy”.
The legislation itself shows a fundamental lack of regard for how Trinity has successfully governed itself for hundreds of years. By reducing the size of College Board and appointing a majority of external members, one of Trinity’s highest authorities would no longer be properly representative of the staff or students – something it prides itself on.
This Editorial Board has already made clear where it stands on the proposed governance restructuring bill, as have 59 of Trinity’s Fellows, Fellows emeriti, non-Fellow academic staff, support staff and the Scholars’ Committee in an open letter published in this newspaper, which lambasted the proposed reforms. On top of this, the three provostial candidates are unanimous in their opposition to the bill.
Despite all this, however, the submission is pragmatic enough to acknowledge that Trinity is willing to be flexible.
And ultimately, there is precedent for an exemption – Trinity put forward a Private Bill for the Universities Act 1997 which ensured it could continue to run itself without government interference. It is difficult to see what has changed since then which would make the government less willing to grant an exemption.
In asking for an exemption to the proposed legislation, Trinity is making it clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to university governance will not work. There is a constructive way for the government and third-level institutions to best decide how the institutions should be run – but this bill is not it.