Prof Sarah Alyn-Stacey has been denied entry to this year’s Provost election, after a process that she says has “blurred” the distinction between an election and an appointment and given HR a “crucial role” in who will be the next Provost.
In a statement to her nominators – seen by The University Times – Alyn-Stacey alleged that the interview committee and HR “took it upon themselves to apply a different test from the statutorily-mandated prima facie test”.
The statutes state that “to go forward for election a candidate must have a prima facie case”, meaning that a candidate can only be rejected if they cannot provide evidence that they meet a certain set of criteria.
According to the statutes, the criteria are “significant academic standing”, “evidence of capacity for management and administration such as is required in an educational and equivalent institution” and “evidence of leadership skills and of the ability to represent the College externally”.
Alyn-Stacey said that the interview committee – a group of Board members and one external member who screen candidates before the nomination process – decided that she did not meet the latter two criteria.
Alyn-Stacey said that she was provided with a feedback form from the committee, which was “wholly silent on the principle of prima facie evidence and it reflects criteria which present an elaboration of the plain language of the Statutes set out above”.
She added that the new criteria were “very specific” and did not fit into the 12 functions of the Provost according to the statutes.
In an email statement to The University Times, Tom Molloy, Trinity’s director of public affairs and communications, said: “While it would be wrong to comment on any individual application, the University is completely satisfied that the process meets the necessary criteria.”
“The steering committee, appointed by the Board under the statutes and which is chaired by the Registrar, has closely scrutinised the process on behalf of college to ensure that the process is transparent, fair and fully compliant with the college statutes.”
“The process as laid down in the statutes includes an interview committee appointed by the Board. The interview committee conducted the process in accordance with the statutes. Candidates may appeal a decision of the interview committee to the appeals committee, also appointed by the Board.”
“Under the statutes, candidates may also take a case to the Visitors: the Chancellor Dr Mary McAleese and the Judicial Visitor, Judge George Birmingham.”
“Finally, HR’s expertise in managing senior appointments was naturally used in the process to ensure that the criteria listed in the statutes was reflected in the interview process.”
Alyn-Stacey subsequently brought the decision to the appeals committee, saying that the interview committee’s decision was wrong “in fact and in law”.
“I argued”, she said in the statement, “that it was wrong in fact because I had provided ‘a) evidence of capacity for management and administration such as is required in an educational and equivalent institution, and b) evidence of leadership skills and of the ability to represent the College externally’. This evidence demonstrated at the very least a prima facie case for eligibility”.
Furthermore, she said, “I argued that the decision was wrong in law because the ‘feedback’ form was entirely silent on the meaning and effect of the prima facie test set down in the Statutes. Indeed, the ‘feedback’ indicated that new criteria, not approved by Board and the electorate, had been substituted”.
On January 18th, the appeals committee invited Alyn-Stacey to an oral meeting to be held within hours of the invitation. She declined, saying to her nominators that “the short notice and the failure to point up the status of the hearing were not encouraging”.
The appeals committee said that it did not have the power to reverse the interview committee’s decision. The appeals committee added that it had found the “procedures and standards including the rating system and indicators of what is expected under each of the three criteria as outlined in the Interview Guide were fair, consistently applied and in accordance with the Statutes”.
The appeals committee, Alyn-Stacey said, sent her the new criteria, which was “not set down in the Statutes and which neither I, nor Board, nor the election’s Organising Committee or its Steering Committee had seen or approved”, and which did not reference the “prima facie test mandated by the Statutes”.
On Monday, Alyn-Stacey said that she made a submission to the Visitors – Trinity’s final decision makers on appeals – regarding the decision, and a hearing was convened on Wednesday. The Visitors, she said, rejected her appeal.
Alyn-Stacey said that it was her understanding that HR had been “instrumental in fashioning the rating criteria set down in the ‘Interview Guide’ sent to me by the Appeals Committee on 25 January and not approved by Board, the election’s Organising Committee, and Steering Committee”.
“The only inference I may draw”, she continued, “is that HR and the Interview Committee took it upon themselves to apply a different test from the statutorily-mandated prima facie test”.
Alyn-Stacey said that she was “surprised” that she didn’t meet the criteria laid out in the prima facie test.
“In the light of what has transpired”, she said, “it strikes me that the distinction between an election and an appointment has been blurred and that HR has played a crucial role in this process that I (and others) had not anticipated”.
“With the exception of HR and the Interview Committee, it seems no-one was aware of the rating criteria employed and of their determining and screening role in deciding the eligibility of candidates who would be allowed to proceed in the election.”
Alyn-Stacey is a member of the College Board, University Council and Finance Committee, and also holds a position on the Standing Committee of Fellows.
She is also an associate professor in the Department of French and the founding director of the Trinity Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She has been elected to the Académie de Savoie, and in 2017 the president of France bestowed a knighthood upon her for her services to her discipline.