President of University College Dublin (UCD), Professor Andrew Deeks, has issued a personal apology to Assistant Professor Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin after she was repeatedly harassed by a fellow UCD professor over a two-year period. In a public statement, President Deeks said he was “greatly saddened” by Dr Ní Shúilleabháin’s experience and apologised to her and to “other colleagues and students who have suffered such experiences while in our care.” 

Following Dr Ní Shúilleabháin’s recent public telling of her harassment experience, President Deeks issued a public statement in the Sunday Independent apologising on behalf of UCD. Dr Ní Shúilleabháin later took to Twitter to reveal her “surprise” at this statement, saying she had never previously received “one or any communication from him on this matter.” President Deeks subsequently contacted Dr Ní Shúilleabháin with a personal apology.

Dr Ní Shúilleabháin, who is an Assistant Professor in the School of Mathematics & Statistics, was repeatedly harassed by former UCD Professor, Hans-Benjamin Braun, between May 9th 2015, and July 7th 2017. In late 2019, Professor Braun was charged with harassment and issued with an order barring him from contacting Dr Ní Shúilleabháin for five years.

Dr Ní Shúilleabháin told The Irish Times that she felt ‘dissuaded’ from making a formal complaint to UCD against the professor. Following repeated, detailed reports of the incidents to a UCD human resources department, it was suggested that the matter be taken to the Gardaí. According to Dr Ní Shúilleabháin, the harassment lasted for two years after her first bringing it to the attention of the University. The formal complaints process, she said, was ‘arduous’ and amounted to just one phone call from an external investigator.

The two-year period of harassment left Dr Ní Shúilleabháin ‘frightened’ of being alone on campus and forced her to contemplate leaving her career as an academic. During this time, Dr Ní Shúilleabháin faced frequent and sustained uninvited contact from Professor Braun despite there being no professional relationship between them. Incidents included persistent phone calls, unsolicited emails and Professor Braun arriving unannounced at her meetings. On one occasion Dr Ní Shúilleabháin received a phone call from a student informing her that Professor Braun was telling nurses in a hospital that he was in love with her.

Following Dr Ní Shúilleabháin’s experience, President Deeks has pledged to undertake a “core procedural shift” in how the university deals with such matters, giving the university the authority to instigate an investigation without having to receive a ‘formal complaint’.  “The university is committed to learning from the experience of both staff and students”, President Deeks said, and will strive to make UCD “a safe, respectful and inclusive place for all”.

Gemma Farrell – Assistant News Editor