While NUI Galway announced over two weeks ago the establishment of a new task force to address gender imbalance at the university, both who will comprise the task force and its precise remit remain extraordinarily vague.
The university has said that it has filled some places on the task force and has appointed Dr. Jane Grimson to head it; however it has not said how other members will be appointed, what will be the parameters of its work and whether or not it will have any real powers to introduce change.
The timing of the task force announcement coincided with news that the Department of Education is requiring all Irish universities to make efforts to obtain the Athena Swan award for the advancement of women academics in the science and engineering field. However, whether the university intends to use the task force to simply fulfill this requirement or to seriously address the systemic discrimination revealed by recent equality cases remains uncertain.
It is both inconceivable and unacceptable to those who have struggled so hard for gender equality at the university over several decades, that this task force should be solely appointed by and have its remit set by a university management comprised largely of men, who have themselves reached positions of authority in an institution whose procedures were rife with endemic discrimination. To describe any appointments made by the university management itself to the task force or that any remit set could be ‘independent’ is simply ludicrous.
As a result, and in the best interests of the university, those who have campaigned for gender equality at the university are setting forward a number of conditions that are designed to determine whether the university is truly committed to empowering this task force to make change or whether it is simply another talking shop
Those conditions are as follows
- That 50% of the appointees to the task force be made directly through the nominations of independent bodies. Specifically, that 20% of appointees be made by the unions and that the remaining 30% be appointed by the Women’s Council of Ireland
- That the specific parameters of investigation be outlined very clearly before the task force begins its work and that it include all areas of academia and not solely those concerned with the obtaining of the Athena Swan award. Furthermore, it is evident that discrimination is prevalent in all areas of the university and therefore the task force should examine procedures in all appointments at the university including in administration and other departments.
- That the recommendations made by the independently appointed task force be considered legally binding and that a maximum of a 6 month period be allowed for the university to implement the recommendations made
- That an independent overseer be appointed to evaluate the university’s implementation of the procedures recommended by the task force.
The ultimate goal of the Campaign for Gender Equality in NUI Galway is fairness, transparency and clarity. If the university shares these aims then there should be no difficulty in appointing a truly independent task force, with the powers to make real and recognizable change and a process to insure that all recommendations are implemented fully.