Trinity has made significant changes to its proposed introduction of a tenure-track system for entry-level academics, The University Times has learned, following widespread criticism of the impact it would have on the careers of female academics.
At the last meeting of University Council, which took place on January 13th, the Vice-Provost brought forward a revised proposal for the tenure-track system. The changes to the original proposal, which will be raised at the next meeting of the College Board, include several revisions under the heading of “gender balancing measures”, according to a person familiar with the document, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the details. The most significant of changes are related to “addressing concerns about gender” and include measures that would build a “supportive culture”, make “expectations” of women clear and would incorporate mentoring into the process.
The revised proposal will also include College conducting “mid career evaluations” and will introduce measures to make the “review process equitable”.
In an email statement to The University Times, the Vice-Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Prof Linda Hogan, acknowledged that: “Issues and concerns have been raised during this consultative process”. Hogan stated that: “There has been an extensive process of engagement on the proposed Tenure Track system.”
Since the tenure-track system was first proposed, consultation has taken place internally at a number of levels, including at meetings of the Junior Academic Progressions Committee, the Human Resources Committee and the Equality Committee. Consultation also took place with the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) and the Department of Education and Skills.
Speaking to The University Times, IFUT General Secretary, Mike Jennings said: “I certainly would welcome the fact that it’s a recognition of deficiencies in the areas identified, and hope to see greater clarity coming from that process.”
However, Jennings said that he would wait until more details were revealed to comment fully on the revised proposals, stating that there was a lack of “real clarity” over the revised proposal at the minute, which will not be released before it is approved at Board.
The proposal to introduce a tenure-track system, which was first mooted at a meeting of University Council last May, had the initial aim of reforming an employment model that was described by the Vice-Provost as “complex and fragmented”. Indeed, the 2014–19 Strategic Plan commits Trinity to developing “a robust tenure-track system for academic staff that will incorporate probation, progression and promotion processes”.
Since The University Times revealed details of the proposal in September, it has been widely criticised due to the detrimental impact of tenure-track on women.
Prof Pat O’Connor, a member of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) panel on gender inequality in higher education and an expert in Gender Equality at the University of Limerick, described her reaction to the revised proposals as “underwhelmed”. O’Connor emphasised that: “The basic problem of timing and its gendered consequences has not been dealt with.”
Under the initially proposed tenure-track system, entry-level academics would be recruited on an annual basis. The head of their school would conduct performance reviews at the end of first and second year. Again, at the end of third year, their academic performance would be reviewed by a panel chaired by the Head of School and comprising other senior level academics in the school. This review system would culminate in an interview, held at the end of the fourth year, with a specially created tenure panel, chaired by the Vice-Provost and comprising of each Faculty Dean, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the Dean of Graduate Studies, three senior research leaders and representation from the Academic Staff Association, the Trinity branch of the IFUT.
In November, the then-incoming Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Louise Richardson, criticised the tenure-track system during a talk at Trinity. Richardson expressed concern that such a system “adversely affected” female academics, calling instead for an employment model that instead allows women to stay as a lecturer for long periods of time, gives them the freedom to balance the demands of academic work and raising a family.
In November, the Editorial Board of the The University Times, expressed concern that Trinity had moved “quickly ahead” with the proposals, “Seemingly without acknowledging the arguments on either side. This is to its detriment.”