Meeting with Jim Browne

Below is an article written by Aine Treanor for Sin Newspaper describing a meeting with NUI Galway President Dr. Jim Browne

A Meeting with Jim Browne

On Gender Discrimination at NUI Galway

My experience of Jim Browne began in the corridor outside of the Aula Maxima where Micheline’s Three Conditions campaign had organised a demonstration outside of a Governing body meeting on the 30th of January. Myself and Micheline’s Post-grad student James stood leafleting the members of the Udarus as they entered the room and Jim Browne first rushed past us disgruntled and annoyed before returning calmer to discuss with us the campaign, gender discrimination at NUI Galway and his personal opinion of gender inequality.

Before this, I had not been greatly involved in the campaign and my head to head with him was adventitious to say the least.  I called him out on his archaic perception of gender discrimination which consisted mostly of ‘women have babies, they leave their jobs and they therefore miss out on career opportunities’ and I offered to compile a document on gender discrimination for him, to educate him on the many other manifestations of gender discrimination that exist in the workplace and specifically in Academia. The document was four pages long and covered the average gendered pay gap in the workplace in Ireland, the gendered bias when judging men and women’s professional work and ‘the boys club’ mentality that exists among senior faculty members, among others (all backed up, with reputable studies). The document also made specific references to studies and articles that focused on NUI Galway and it’s appalling record as the worst University in Ireland for gender equality at senior faculty positions. These included a study by Kelly Coate and Camille Kandiko Howson (2014) that found that NUI Galway had a well established ‘boys club’ and found that homosociability and male bonding among senior faculty members disadvantage women and could prevent them from progressing in their career, due to the informal nature of decision-making processes and the pervasive cronyism that exits at the University. One male faculty member quoted in the study, described this phenomenon;


‘I must go on the record and state explicitly that as a man I have benefited

enormously from being included in informal networks which are dominated

by other men […] too much happens in this university based on the 11

o’clock coffee break, the gathering of senior male colleagues who use bad

language, gossip, engage in character assassination – homosocial

bonding, in other words.’

Another study by Liz Doherty and Aoife Cooke (2011), which was commissioned by the University, found that the Senior Lecturer Promotional scheme was indeed flawed and disadvantaged female applicants based on the unequal importance that was placed on each of the three criteria (teaching, research and general contribution). The document concluded by calling on President Browne to act meaningfully to address gender discrimination at NUI Galway. In sending the document to President Browne, I also invited him to comment on it for this publication. Within a matter of days, I recieved an email inviting me to meet with the President for a second time.

The second meeting I had with Jim Browne was much more formal, he was defensive and less willing to engage. He used the document I had sent him to establish a hierarchy of teacher and pupil by ‘correcting’ the facts (his first correction was a fact I included from a study from Sweden that stated that women had to be 2.5 times more productive than men to be considered equally competent; this he thought was just too alarming, and it discredited the point which he initially agreed with). I argued that the whole situation was alarming so to censor alarming facts was quite ludicrous.

As the meeting went on, President Browne became less defensive and agitated. We discussed the new Gender Equality Task Force he had set up, we discussed the notorious Health Questionnaire, the Mary Dempsey case and the unpromoted five from the 2009 round. Although there were points that he seemed genuine in his desire to resolve, it appeared he was unwilling to take meaningful action to address the current lack of women in senior academic positions, such as promoting those who were initially shortlisted for promotion, like the five women from the 2008-09 round (among them was Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington who was promoted after she won her case at the Equality Tribunal).

I think it’s fair to say that the President is unnerved by the frequented negative publicity that the University has been at the receiving end of, recently. However, his recent attempts to address these issues of gender discrimination have only shed light on a need to control and orchestrate progress within the narrow remit of maintaining the status quo. To be truly genuine would require taking action that publicly accepts a wrong doing and taking immediate steps to make it right. For the immediate future, no change is visible with the current reforms. The University continues to appeal Mary Dempsey’s Equality Tribunal ruling, it will defend it’s flawed promotional process at the Equality Tribunal for the five unpromoted women from the 2009 round and continues to deny their involvement in the invasive health questionnaire  that has an NUI Galway logo and ‘return to HR’ instruction!


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