Expert declines ‘mudflap’ role on gender equality taskforce

Article from Irish Times 5/5/15 by Lorna Siggins LINK

A University of Limerick (UL) expert on gender equality has turned down an invitation to advise an NUI Galway (NUIG) taskforce, saying she will not be used as a “corporate mudflap” by the institution.

Prof Pat O’Connor, who is professor of sociology and social policy at UL, had been invited to advise NUIG’s taskforce on gender equality several months after its establishment earlier this year.

The taskforce, chaired by former Trinity College Dublin vice-provost Prof Jane Grimson, was initiated by the Galway university in response to last year’s Equality Tribunal ruling which found botanist Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington had been discriminated against in a 2008-2009 promotion round.

However, Prof O’Connor said she had “serious reservations” about the taskforce’s composition. She said only one of its seven external members had any real expertise in gender.

“If the problem was an engineering one, and six of the seven externals were world-class hairdressers, it would similarly be difficult to have confidence in it,”she said in a statement to The Irish Times, which has also been posted on the university news website.

Prof O’Connor said until a political solution was found to a “road block” involving five female lecturers at NUIG who were unsuccessful in the “discredited” 2008-2009 competition, “any credible movement forward is virtually impossible”.

Four of the five lecturers are taking legal actions over the 2008-2009 and 2013-2014 promotion rounds, while the fifth is pursuing a Labour Court action.


Prof O’Connor told The Irish Times she had explained her views to NUIG president Dr Jim Browne last month after she was approached and asked to serve as adviser to the taskforce.

The invitation had been issued to her on April 9th and she emailed her response to four members of NUIG management on April 18th declining it.

In her email, she said if she could be “helpful” to the four individuals in terms of “bouncing ideas off” on gender, they should not hesitate to contact her.

She told The Irish Times this offer was made in a general way to the four members of management and was not in relation to advising the taskforce.

She said she was “very disappointed” her decision to turn down an advisory role with the taskforce had not been conveyed by NUIG senior management in a subsequent Irish Times interview published on May 5th.


She said that she did not wish to be used as “a corporate mudflap in an effort to give legitimacy to an initiative which NUIG’s own staff unions are already unhappy with”, and had conveyed this to NUIG management.

Prof O’Connor, author of Management and Gender in Higher Education, published last year, was the first woman to be appointed at full professorial level in UL in 1997.

NUIG said in a statement: “The university is not going to comment on a blog posting, but can confirm that an email had been received from Prof O’Connor indicating that she would not be participating/ advising the taskforce on April 18th.”

Siptu’s academic subcommittee at NUIG said it was delighted that Prof O’Connor had “responded publicly”, and had “drawn a red line in relation to the treatment of five female lecturers”.

Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington said if the NUIG president “really wanted the task force to tackle gender inequality . . . he’d have appointed a small body of truly independent people with full expertise”.

NUIG has repeatedly defended the taskforce composition, stating that 11 of the 16 taskforce members are female, and a number of members are “leading experts in the fields of equality and diversity”.

The taskforce will “establish its own terms of reference and carry out its work independently of the university in an open and transparent manner”, the university has said, and will produce a “comprehensive report of its recommendations by no later than spring 2016”.

UL Professor of Sociology and Social Policy Pat O’Connor     My interest in both the public and the private world was reflected in a study of women’s lives in the home and at work and that became Emerging Voices: Women in Contemporary Irish Society. I have become increasingly interested in the gendering of public power: in the state, in semi-state structures, in higher education and in the wider society. My own experiences as Dean of the Faculty (2000-2010) have been part of this context. My book on Management and Gender in Higher Education (2014 with MUP: distribution by Palgrave in the US)reflects some of these interests. I have published roughly 100 peer reviewed publications in these and other areas (see under Publications). In the area of higher education these include articles in Gender and Education; Higher Education Research and Development (Special Issue on Leadership);  Educational Management, Administration and Diversity; European Journal of Higher Education; Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal etc. LINK  for full details


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