‘Fear [at NUI Galway] is widespread and tangible amongst staff. Staff in all employment spheres cannot speak out for fear of not being promoted next round, fear of reprimand, fear of not getting another contract.’ – Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, speaking at Monday’s launch of Secret Cartoonist art exhibition
Micheline Sheehy Skeffington gave an impassioned speech at Monday’s (April 11th, 2016) launch of the Secret Cartoonist exhibition at NUI Galway, photos of which appear above. The full text of her speech follows.
[Speech given in front of blank wall, 30 mins after SU President Phelim Kelly was told the exhibition could now again be hung on that wall]
On April 26th this year it will be the 100th anniversary of the death of my grandfather, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, at the hands of the British. Executed without cause or trial, he was murdered as an outspoken journalist, a pacifist and someone who campaigned for justice, peace and the truth throughout his life.
It is now 17 months since I won my gender equality case against NUIG for lack of promotion to Senior Lecturer (SL). Much has happened since….or has it?
The University set up a Task Force – with only one expert on gender equality on the hand-picked body of seventeen. Then the HEA set up an Equality body to investigate the problem in all Irish Universities. Both institution heads insisted it was purely coincidence that these actions happened straight after my win. There has also been much fanfare in NUIG about all they are doing to support women. The most recent has been about the filling of a new post – the VP for Equality & Diversity at €106K per annum.
‘But the most telling demonstration of NUIG’s real attitude to their female staff is their treatment of the five women who are taking the court cases.’ – Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, at Monday’s launch of the art exhibit held in support of the five women
What real change has occurred for female staff in NUIG? NUIG still has by far the lowest percentage of female academics in senior posts in Ireland, and Ireland is the second worst in all of Europe (EU and non EU) for this, after Malta. The last HEA figures published last autumn showed no change since the previous figures; 79% of NUIG academics at senior lecturer and above are men and 81% of its Academic Council are men.
But the most telling demonstration of NUIG’s real attitude to their female staff is their treatment of the five women who are taking the court cases. It would be a simple matter for NUIG to accept that my Equality Tribunal ruling (which at the time it accepted ‘unreservedly’) demonstrated widespread discrimination in the 2008/09 SL promotion round. Seven men are mentioned in the ruling in a total of twelve points that cumulatively established I had a prima facie case for discrimination. All but two of these points are not specific to me and could apply to the other shortlisted candidates not promoted. So why is my Tribunal win and its details misrepresented on the NUIG web site? Why is it implied that the only point the ruling made (and stretched to appear like five points on the NUIG web site) was the issues it could not uphold due to lack of data? Why? It is because the last thing NUIG seems to want to tell, is the truth about the failure of that 2008/09 promotion round and the strength of those women’s cases.
Follow Micheline and campaign updates on Twitter at @MichelineShSk
Instead, the court cases drag on. Why is the cost rising and rising (I have already paid out a substantial amount of my €70,000 award that I offered the women to support them)? Why is there still no word of a date for the High Court cases? These may not now be held until the end of this year. That is two full years after my win. Neither myself nor the campaign can be, or are involved in the cases, so I do not have the details. But we are supporting the women financially so we know the delay and the spiralling costs. And we can see the increasing stress on the women. Why put them through this???? With my Equality Tribunal case, the University fought me all the way, delaying it, attempting to have it thrown out and trying to prevent my access to the data I needed. Is this what they are doing again?? As I said – nothing has really changed in the university when it comes to the treatment of its female staff.
So now why the exhibition? Because the students need to be made aware of these cases. Because, when they think about it, most students will realise that they do not see, let alone get taught by a female professor throughout their time here. In the brief few hours the exhibition was up last week, lots of them were outraged to learn about the women’s fight for justice. One graduate who happened to be passing named one of the five women and asked ‘isn’t she now a Professor?’?? I howled back that she was not; that she was still a College Lecturer! While virtually all of the men promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2009 are now Professors, plus some of the men not promoted then. Yet these women, who have achieved excellence across the board, may never get beyond College Lecturer status in their careers– and remain part of the 53% cohort of women stuck below the thick, opaque glass ceiling.
I cannot disclose all the points I made, or details of the Tribunal other than those in the ruling, but from what I saw through my tribunal I know that those five women are as deserving as me to have been promoted in 2009. That is why I gave them my €70,000 award.
I want to refer now to this exhibition and the twists and turns of permission given and permission withdrawn (and now given again) that Phelim just described. My main sense was of the fear amongst staff here. I name no-one and no offices, as they are not to blame for what happened. But the fear is widespread and tangible amongst staff. Staff in all employment spheres cannot speak out for fear of not being promoted next round, fear of reprimand, fear of not getting another contract. I take my lead from our Irish President, Michael D Higgins, who, as usual, spoke with such eloquence in this very university only last Thursday April 7th: “Universities, need to be allowed to flourish as spaces with the intellectual courage to reject dominant ideologies and encourage the seeking of truth from fact. …..
Fostering the capacity to dissent is another core function of the university……
[Universities] must be allowed to flourish as spaces which develop that intellectual courage which allows the rejection of exclusive or excluding ideologies, and encourages the seeking of truth from fact and the production of alternative solutions and action”
I will end by going back to my three conditions which give the name to the web site address (https://michelinesthreeconditions.wordpress.com). When President Jimmy Browne told the press in November 2014 that I was on the proposed Task Force, it was untrue. So I came up with three conditions that I required before I would agree to be on the task force. That the University:
1) promote the 5 women;
2) redress the imbalance of the 2014 SL promotions where only 9 of the 29 shortlisted females were promoted compared to 19 of the 28 shortlisted men –by promoting all of those shortlisted and deemed eligible.
3) adopt a policy to ensure enough women are promoted in future. I suggest this be done in two ways.
3a) At each promotion round, promote women to attain the same percentage of women as currently obtains at the level below.
3b) When appointing senior academic staff from outside, to appoint, for each College, at least the percentage females as currently are Junior Lecturers in that College.
If NUIG does not do this second part and only adopts a change to the promotion rounds, then inevitably this will be circumvented by appointing more staff, mostly men, from outside, resulting in current staff not being promoted ‘due to job restrictions’.
Personally, I am wary of external appointments, since beefing up the numbers of senior staff inevitably blocks the promotion of current staff due to ‘job restrictions’ and this is very unfair on the current staff.
This policy should continue until we have gender parity in senior posts
This campaign will continue until those conditions are met.
 http://www.nuigalway.ie/genderequality/faqs/#Other_ET_decisions “What else did the Equality Tribunal decide?”
 see http://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/Cases/2014/November/DEC-E2014-078.html for full details of the ruling
 President Higgins’ full speech is reported in the Irish Times: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/president-higgins-universities-facing-intellectual-crisis-1.2602607
 Because there were 20 appeals to that round of promotions, external consultants were called in, calculation errors found and 3 more women were given promotion –but this was not until the following year –and probably only because so many appeals were lodged. The university persists in claiming it promoted 12 women in that round: not quite true.