The following is a Letter to the Editor written by Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, who submitted it this week to The Irish Times in response to NUI Galway Emeritus Professor of Microbiology Emer Colleran’s letter on April 23rd objecting to proposed gender quotas at the university.
I agree with Emer Colleran (letters I.T. 23.4.16) that an academic should be promoted on his or her merit alone and I too do not like the idea of quota systems favouring women. However the situation in Irish universities, and particularly at NUI Galway where we were both employed, is so extremely wrong that something like the proposed cascade quota system has to be adopted, temporarily, to put it right.
For Professor Colleran to justify her statement on the basis that she did not suffer any gender bias is to imply that those of us not promoted simply did not deserve it and that female academics at universities in those European countries where 50% of the professors are women are simply better than us Irish. At NUI Galway only 13% of the professors are female. According to EU figures Ireland has the second worst glass ceiling index for senior female academics in the whole of Europe, after Malta. Ireland’s record is so bad that it should take the lead in adopting something radical to put it right, as it did, for instance, with the smoking ban and the plastic bag tax. Once the bias is corrected there will be no need for a quota system.
Universities comprise a body of academics whose affairs, including promotions, are run by the senior academics. Once the proportion of women in senior positions is balanced, there will be a balance of views and quota systems will not be needed. But at present in NUI Galway 81% of the Academic Council and 83% of the University Management Team is male. We have to do something radical to put that right as quickly and fairly as possible. The cascade quota system is, to my mind, fair: no particular woman is promoted just because she is female and the proportion of women promoted matches that in the level from which they are being promoted. To assert that this is not fair is to assert that female academics deserve promotion less than men do.
Micheline Sheehy Skeffington