An internal university staff engagement survey has found satisfaction with college management and leadership is poor in UCD. 1,827 staff completed a college internal ‘UCD Culture & Engagement Survey’, at a comparatively large response rate of 51%. The identified weaknesses in the university were primarily ‘leadership’, ‘accountability and performance management’, and ‘professional and personal development’. The empowerment of staff and communication from management were also ranked poorly. The low leadership and management scores were significantly below the global university norms the survey was benchmarked against.

The survey was completed in early January 2017, with the results being leaked to the College Tribune. Overall 673 of UCD’s academic faculty responded and 965 of respondents were other teaching staff and those working within the college’s administration and management. The report noted ‘there is a clear trend for staff to respond more favourably than [academic] faculty’. The calculated scores for ‘leadership’ were 12 percentage points lower than global university norms. Similarly, ‘professional development’ was 17 points lower, and ‘accountability’ scored 22 points lower than the international global university norms.

In an internal email also leaked to the Tribune which President Deeks sent to all staff members he stated the responses ‘will help us identify areas that we can work together to improve’. President Deeks outlined that ‘areas where improvement is needed include leadership, clarity of career paths and development, and accountability and performance management’. The report itself concludes that ‘results indicate that certain leadership groups including the UMT [University Management Team] are not sufficiently understood’. 

UCD scored significantly lower than global university norms in nine out of the eleven compared rankings. The only area in which the college scored higher than the international norm was in the job satisfaction category. Workload and working conditions also scored quite close to the global rankings the UCD survey results were compared to.

Image: Results of the UCD Staff Culture & Engagement Survey compared to Global University Norms.

Inside ShotThe University Management Team met on January 9th to discuss and ‘review’ the university’s results, and to ‘agree and start developing an action plan to address key priorities’. Addressing the leadership deficit in UCD will be the number one priority for college management documentation outlines. The survey’s recommendations on how to improve university leadership said more ‘targeted development programmes for leaders and people managers’ should be implemented. It outlined that there was a need to highlight within management ‘the importance of leadership delivering clear direction and consistent communications’ to staff and faculty.

“There was a need to highlight within management ‘the importance of leadership delivering clear direction and consistent communications’ to staff and faculty”

The survey was commissioned by private firm Willis Towers Watson in April 2016, who began compiling staff responses from late September last year. The project is the first employee survey of UCD lecturers and staff in over a decade, and will now be conducted annually. The survey asked staff over 94 questions in calculating the various scores for each aspect of the university’s performance in the different areas. The highest percentage of response within the academic staff came from the Arts and Humanities, where 75% gave their feedback on the university’s performance. The lowest return rate at just 40% was in the colleges of Engineering and Architecture, and Health and Agricultural Sciences. The university administration all saw high levels of response, with over 70% of staff in the research and innovation, HR, and finance departments providing feedback.

The university scored highly in its inclusion and diversity rankings at 73 points. It can be revealed at the Governing Authority meeting on February 7th professor Colin Scott was appointed to a new university VP position, vice-President of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Prof Scot is the current principal of the college of social sciences and law, and has been working on a broad review of UCD’s dignity & respect and sexual harassment policies. Commenting on the appointment President Deeks stated that Scot’s ‘appointment to the new Vice Presidency recognises the role he has and will be playing, and will facilitate progress on equality, diversity and inclusion within UCD. In addition, the appointment will position us well to take a leadership role in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion issues on the national and international stages’.

Criticisms of President Deeks

A senior academic source who sits on the UMT stated they would not be in a position to openly comment on the survey’s poor leadership scores ‘as we are still working through the implications of the survey outcomes’. However other academic sources who wish to remain anonymous have outlined a growing dissatisfaction that exists with the current university leadership. President Andrew Deeks it is believed is unpopular, acutely so within the Arts and Humanities departments. One senior academic queried the current President’s vision for the college. And numerous faculty sources expressed there’s a widespread belief that Deeks is simply using UCD as a career stepping-stone to a more significant position in a UK university. As Deeks is the first non-internal university President to be appointed to UCD several academics outlined they find it difficult believing in his commitment to the college. The rising dissatisfaction among staff is represented in the low satisfaction survey scores for college ‘leadership’.

Another source said there was a circling criticism of President Deeks’ failure to deliver new capital projects when compared to his predecessor Hugh Brady. Prof Brady, who radically reorientated UCD’s priorities towards modernisation and staff research was also known for his ability to leverage philanthropy for campus projects. The new Student Centre, Sutherland Law School, and O’Brien Centre for Science were all built during the Brady term. President Deeks in comparison has overseen the development of the 320-bed Ashfield bloc of student residences, and the Confucius Centre; the cost of which overran substantially to €10.2 million. Tension have also been frayed between President Deeks and the academic lecturers over proposed changes that would remove Latin from UCD degree ceremonies. President Deeks at Academic Council last November pushed through changes to graduation ceremonies to remove Latin without a vote, in breach of the Council’s terms of reference to make decisions based on unanimity or the casting of votes. The much criticised decision by Deeks was raised at UCD’s Governing Authority in December, where a majority voted to put the decision back to UMT for a review.

The Tribune reported last month that the University Club, a private bar and restaurant for staff, alumni, and visiting guests is President Deeks’ ‘number one priority’. The VP for campus development Michael Monoghan revealed in a meeting Deeks’ list of favoured capital projects. The University Club, to be an extension onto O’Reilly Hall was his main priority.

The staff survey also found poor levels of university ‘accountability and performance management’. The report’s proposals to improve accountability included encouraging all colleagues and staff to be prepared ‘to confidently engage in regular, quality, developmental conversations with ongoing feedback that benefits both the individual and the university’. President Deeks concluded his email to staff by outlining he was looking ‘forward to working with you to address the areas for improvement identified by the survey to make UCD and even better place to work, learn and grow’.


Jack Power  |  Editor