Trinity’s gender equality efforts are being “hampered by the fragmented structure” in which many key stakeholders interact with each other, according to a confidential report obtained by The University Times.
The report, which was published in May, also highlighted the lack of visible information on equality, diversity and inclusion in Trinity.
Under the subheading “Structure Weaknesses”, the report – which praised some aspects of Trinity’s gender equality efforts, while criticising others – said that due to the “fragmented” nature of the various bodies, “it is not always clear where responsibilities lie”.
Trinity’s four main drivers of equality are scattered across the university, and all report to different bodies.
This fragmentation, the report said, “creates a lack of clarity and is not a good use of resources”.
In Trinity, the four main areas in which responsibility lies for equality, diversity and inclusion are the Equality Committee, the Equality Officer, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion and the Trinity Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership (TCGEL).
The report found that there is a lack of “targeted cooperation between HR and the Director of Diversity and Inclusion”, and stated that the “visibility of information on equality, diversity and inclusion is not clear enough within the University”.
Trinity’s greatest strength in the area of equality, the report said, is the “deep knowledge contained in TCGEL”, particularly the “exceptionally high methodological knowledge of the current Director”, Prof Eileen Drew. The report said that “Professor Eileen Drew brought Athena SWAN to Ireland in 2015, and provided the methodology based on strengths-weaknesses evaluation and action plans to steer progress”.
It also acknowledged the contributions of Prof Jane Grimson, the chair of Trinity’s Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team: “Professors Drew and Grimson are both nationally and internationally prominent researchers and have significantly contributed to Trinity’s high profile, especially in gender equality.”
The report recommended that this expert knowledge “needs to be transferred to a broader group of people within Trinity to reduce any overdependence on individuals”.
To combat the current issue of fragmentation, the report recommended the creation of a “clearly integrated equality structure that can support the equality agenda across the University”. At the top of the proposed “unit” is a senior academic “equality advocate” who reports to the Provost and represents Trinity on external matters.
The unit would include the Equality Office and the Diversity and Inclusion Office, and would have the new responsibility for the project management of Athena SWAN (which would be moved from TCGEL into the central equality function). The report argues that the proposed structure would “allow for clearer definition of responsibilities and for closer working relationships between the staff working in this area”.
Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) is a charter established and managed by the UK Equality Challenge Unit that recognises and celebrates good practices in higher education and research institutions towards the advancement of gender equality.
The charter was launched in Ireland in February 2015 by then-Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan. Trinity was among the first group of Irish applicants as part of the call for applications.
In response to the report’s findings, and with a deadline for a government gender equality initiative looming, Trinity rushed through the appointment of a top-ranking officer for gender equality without conducting discussion at College Board level, according to an internal College Board memorandum obtained by The University Times.
Trinity will introduce the position of associate vice-provost for equality, diversity and inclusion in time for its application for a new government equality initiative, despite Provost Patrick Prendergast admitting he “would not normally ask Board members to make a decision of this importance via the email approval process”.
Prendergast has proposed the appointment of Prof Clodagh Brook, an associate professor in Italian, to the position, in time for a submission to the first call of the government’s Senior Academic Leadership Initiative. Board members approved the appointment by email, with a handful of members registering their dissent that the appointment had not been discussed at Board.
In an email statement to The University Times, Trinity media relations officer Thomas Deane wrote: “There was an urgency in having this position in place in advance of the October Board meeting as the first call for applications for SALI, the prominent Senior Academic Leadership Initiative, launched by Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor to create 45 gender- specific chair professorships over the next three years, had an imminent closing date in advance of the Board meeting.”
Deane wrote that approving Brook’s appointment electronically “was in keeping with Section 10 of Schedule 2 to the Chapter on Board in the 2010 Consolidated Statutes”.
“Professor Brook”, he said, “will liaise and consult widely with colleagues across the university and especially with individuals with expertise and experience in the EDI area”.
“The Associate Vice-Provost will be supported by a restructured and strengthened Equality Office. The Associate Vice-Provost will be representing the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda in all its aspects at Executive Officers Group. She can attend at her discretion.”
The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative, which will see the creation of 45 new women-only senior professorships in Irish higher education, opened its call for applications on June 21st, giving Trinity almost three months to prepare a submission.