Why was the 2008/9 Promotion Round to Senior Lecturer at NUI Galway so much worse for the promotion of women than any other, before or since?

President Jim Browne made a point during his questioning by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee ten days ago, that the 2008/9 round of promotion, which was so bad for women, was worse than those which had preceded it. This is true, as you can see from the table. It was shockingly bad, while the preceding two rounds were just very bad and the other only ‘bad’ (considering for all of them that the percentage of female Junior Lecturers in NUI Galway was over 50%).table4blogMicheline Sheehy Skeffington once told the campaign about the formal meeting she requested with the Registrar following her failure to be promoted in 2008/9 and how at that meeting she had asked him how many women had been promoted. As he scanned down the list before him the Registrar’s face fell, and then fell further. Eventually he mumbled “one”. Just hearing how he reacted tells you a lot about the NUI Galway’s management, doesn’t it: the Registrar, responsible for promotions, hadn’t even realised only one woman had been promoted against sixteen men, and that this women was ranked number 17 so that he had to scan down 16 men to get to her.

That was the third time Micheline had been rejected for promotion. Each time she was told she hadn’t been quite good enough and to apply again next time, and now she had had enough. But those previous rounds, although very poor for women, were nowhere near as bad as 2008/9. The 2008/9 promotion round was also significant for another reason. It was the first in the reign of the present President, Jim Browne. For the previous two bad, but not as bad, rounds, he’d been Registrar and Deputy President.

Having previously been in the role of Registrar, Jim Browne must have come to power in February 2008 knowing what he wanted to do and how he intended to do it. As everyone at NUI Galway knows, Jim Browne’s focus throughout his Presidency has been on NUI Galway’s ranking. He’s an engineer and it’s numbers that seem to matter, not people. He’s also someone, we are told, who likes to have subordinates around him who do what he wants, rather than working by consensus. The 2008/9 promotion round was his first opportunity to implement the promotion aspect of the master plan he had developed while Registrar.

Four of the men promoted in 2008/9 stand out for how short a time they’d spent as ‘Junior Lecturers above the bar’ (this is the name NUI Galway has for a position this if often called elsewhere ‘College Lecturer’). While Micheline had been promoted to College Lecturer eighteen years previously, all of these men had been a College Lecturer for less than four years by the application date. That is an exceptionally short time to have to wait for promotion at NUI Galway. We’ve already dealt with one of them, the male candidate who was ineligible to be promoted (see: Was it really an administrative error that allowed an ineligible man to apply and be promoted in 08/09?). Within two weeks of this man’s promotion to Senior Lecturer, he was given a senior management role at a specially convened meeting for which we have the minutes. It was a role in which he was potentially very helpful to the new President.

The other three men were all appointed to College Lecturer from outside the university, and all of them work in areas of research which involve large grants. In Ireland nearly all grant-aided scientific research happens in universities – in all those shiny new buildings on campuses. So Irish universities now compete for grant money and the researchers who receive it. How much grant money a university receives is a major factor in working out their rankings.

To attract such researchers NUI Galway would have wanted to offer them promotion, but the Irish Higher Education Authority limits the percentage of staff who can be Senior Lecturers in a University. However, what NUI Galway could do was appoint them to the top end of the College Lecturer pay scale and promote them at the next round. There may even have been a promise of promotion. If there was, it would have been given during Jim Browne’s time as Registrar, when one of his responsibilities was outside appointments. We have no way of finding that out, but what we can see is how Jim Browne went about changing the promotion system to facilitate their promotion once he was President. In the report of the Senior Lectureship Promotions Board of May 2008, which he, as the new President, chaired, there is a section on ‘Eligibility’ which reads as follows:

The Promotions Board recognises that there will, occasionally, be lecturers recruited at ‘above the bar’ level who will, as a result of previous experience elsewhere, be given advanced incremental placing and who will be confirmed in post within one year of their appointment, as is provided for under the Probations Scheme. The Board recommends that such appointees be deemed eligible to apply for promotion to Senior Lecturer considering that not to deem them eligible would act as a disincentive in seeking to recruit high-quality, experienced academics from other institutions. Accordingly, it now recommends that the existing provision be amended to read as follows:

‘A Lecturer who has attained the maximum point of the salary scale, above the bar at the closing date for receipt of applications, shall, provided he/she has been confirmed in post, be eligible to apply for promotion.’

That change to ‘above the bar’ Junior Lecturers, or College Lecturers, meant that a researcher promoted from outside to the top end of the College Lecturer pay scale could be promoted to Senior Lecturer a year after his appointment, instead of waiting two further years as previously. Jim went on to argue for this new eligibility criteria at the next meeting of the Academic Council on June 12th 2008.

The President said that the main changes were the provision for eligibility for application on reaching the top of the scale, without having to spend two years thereon… 

In response to Dr. Lo Prete, he explained that the removal of the two-year wait would benefit the relatively small number of applicants who previously would have had to spend two years at the top of the scale.

It seems quite reasonable doesn’t it, and there’s nothing about grants and money, is there. Instead it is ‘high-quality, experienced academics’ who are to be favoured. And that is how it would have been, if NUI Galway’s own guidelines for accessing candidates for the next promotion round had been followed. Those guidelines defined what a ‘high-quality, experienced academic’ is. Amongst the various aspects listed are three for which a minimum was quantified. They were: hours of teaching (150 scheduled contact hours per year), number of post-graduate students supervised to completion (3 PhD’s or 5 Research Masters or 15 Taught Masters) and the number of research papers published (10).

We have researched the three men involved with a view to these three criteria. As far as we can see the three men do little teaching at NUI Galway – they were appointed for their research, after all. While all three supervise PhD students, none of those students could have completed their PhD by that promotion round as their supervisor wouldn’t have been there long enough. So these three men could only have satisfied one of the three quantified criteria, the number of publications. We’ve also had a look at their CVs online to check if they may have supervised PhD students at their previous posts, as NUI Galway might argue that these would count. But it seems highly unlikely for two of them, either because of the nature of the post and/or the institution, and for the third, there is no evidence he supervised PhD’s there.

So we can conclude that according to the guidelines for the 2008/9 round these three men did not deserve promotion. They may well have deserved promotion by the next round but instead they were fast tracked in 2008/9. This fast tracking excluded other candidates from promotion, such as Micheline. Micheline is a Plant Ecologist, whose research, and that of her many PhD students, is very important for our natural heritage. But that research doesn’t bring in big money. No shiny new buildings for Jim. That’s why the Equality Officer noted, in her ruling in favour of Micheline:

Significant marks seemed to be given under the research heading for attracting funding for which the complainant had a fair record. However, others who worked in the areas which attract funding easier, fared better. It is legitimate for a university to put an emphasis on candidates obtaining funding but this should be stated clearly in the guidelines.

The Equality Officer also spotted that there was another man who had been promoted against the guidelines, in addition to the three who were fast tracked:

…one candidate did not possess a PhD (which I would have thought was de rigeur for a Senior Lecturer in a leading University in the 21st century).

The guidelines state that a candidate should have a ‘PhD or equivalent’. So there is nothing wrong with the guidelines, they are a fair attempt at describing the minimum that would be expected in a ‘high-quality, experienced academic’. Management simply chose to ignore them in promoting these five men, the three who were fast tracked, the man without a PhD, and the man not even eligible to apply. Micheline says she found seven men through her Equality Tribunal case, who didn’t deserve to be ranked for promotion above her or the other five women shortlisted but not promoted in 2008/9. She can’t reveal their names and details as she was given access to their application forms on this understanding. We have now worked out who five of those seven men wrongly promoted in 2008/09, are.

So the reason why the 2008/9 Senior Lecturer promotion round was so much worse for women than men is because the Promotions Board, chaired by the new President, Jim Browne, ignored the promotion guidelines in pushing through his new agenda. There was probably no actual intention to favour men over women, it was simply that he and his male management team were blind to the abilities of women and only chose men to favour.

These salacious details are why there has never been any attempt by NUI Galway to investigate what went wrong in 2008/9, despite it being obvious there is an injustice and despite all the fuss that it has been made about it. It is also why NUI Galway sought a pre-hearing to contest the legal arguments for the High Court case instigated by the five un-promoted female lecturers. If NUIG win that pre-hearing they will prevent the reasons behind the promotion of sixteen men but only one woman in 2008/9 being exposed in open court.

It is this hypocrisy and mendacity by NUI Galway that we are demonstrating against on May 4th at 11.30 outside the Dublin High Court, which is the first day of the pre hearing. Please join us and help the fight against gender discrimination, of which this is such a blatant example. Bus tickets from Galway are available here.

If you can’t come perhaps you can make a Donation to help with the bus costs which the campaign are subsidising.

Notes.  We aren’t naming the male academics favoured in 2008/9, as we feel the injustice was purely the work of management. But anyone who wishes to check the claims in this blog can contact us at mich3c@gmail.com and we will supply the Academic Council minutes that list those promoted in 2008/9 so you can work out all of the above from the men’s online CVs, as we did. We intend returning to the case of the man who was not even eligible to apply, and what has happened to him since, in a future blog, where we will give further evidence.

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7 thoughts on “Why was the 2008/9 Promotion Round to Senior Lecturer at NUI Galway so much worse for the promotion of women than any other, before or since?

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