This week, Maynooth University announced that Prof Eeva Leinonen will begin her term as president of the college next October, making her the third-ever female president of an Irish university. Despite its considerable importance in the context of higher education, it obtained comparatively little media attention.
This Editorial Board previously wrote that the University of Limerick’s appointment of a female interim president was a step in the right direction, but would not “shatter the glass ceiling”.
It was anticipated that without further concrete actions to engage with the predominantly male leadership in universities, this appointment would do little to tackle the gender imbalance across higher education. However, the fact that Trinity’s next provost will be female, and that the current president of Munster Technological University – Prof Maggie Cusack – is a woman, it appears that the upper echelons of university governance are becoming less and less male-dominated.
The upper echelons, however, are only one part of a wider conversation around gender balance that must happen. Much remains to be done in facilitating women across all ranks of higher education. For instance, this newspaper this week reported on the issues women face in the realm of climate research – a realm that is becoming more balanced, but still with sizable hurdles for women.
Although Trinity is making strides in improving women’s career prospects and making its leadership less male dominated, it is worth remembering its shortcomings and hiccups – take last year’s debacle surrounding Athena SWAN and Trinity’s projected shortcomings in its application for a silver award for example.
Moreover, amongst the myriad of issues that the pandemic has exposed, the dearth of significant support for academics who are parents has come to the fore as more people are working from home. Women are disproportionately affected by this, demonstrated by a study last year which found that the number of research articles published by women during the pandemic lagged behind men’s productivity.
So while this week’s news is undoubtedly welcome, these moves need to be replicated throughout the hierarchies of academia. Only then can we be certain that genuine change is afoot.