Proposals to reduce the membership of University College Dublin’s (UCD) largest academic committee will be considered later this week. On top of reducing numbers, the move will restructure the group in line with gender equality targets and more than double the student representation. 

Staff have also voiced worries to The College Tribune that many “rank-and-file academics” are being excluded from the group in favour of management figures. 

Numbers Slashed

This Thursday, UCD’s Academic Council (AC) will meet for its biannual session, although with an important proposal in front of them. Since 2018, plans have been underway to review the structure of the university’s academic governance group, culminating in the forthcoming meeting.

The primary reform will see the numbers slashed significantly. Legislative reforms proposed by the government will limit the membership to between 50 and 70 members. The current membership is over 350, made up of students, Professors, Heads of Schools, College Principals and inner management. 

Despite this, the proposals going before the university will give two options with a varying breakdown of membership: 119 members or 142 members. The options differ in relative representation for each college and the breakdown of student numbers. Neither is in line with the proposed legislation, with the latter option containing over double the proposals limit. 

The university group proposing these options decided it was “not possible” to achieve the targets being set and it “may be necessary to advocate for a larger Council.”

Gender Equality

When the Colleges elect members onto the AC, it now must be in line with the university’s gender equality goals. The Higher Education Authority (HEA) recommends all Academic Councils comprise a minimum of 40% men and 40% women by 2024. This unprecedented change to UCD’s AC will guarantee a reshuffle to reflect HEA guidelines. 

Both the Governing Authority (GA) and University Management Team (UMT) already comply with these recommendations, with these latest proposals hoping to further UCD’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy for 2025. 

Increased Student Representation

The new proposals will reduce the maximum number of students on the AC from 23 to 14 at most. Despite this drop, UCD Students’ Union’s relative membership will jump from 5% to at least 10%.

“Ultimately it means an increase in student representation,” says UCD Students’ Union President Conor Anderson. “So, we’re largely happy with that.” He believes this will likely pass by consensus, and doubts there will be any major objections made this late in the process.

This will be the first time the AC is conducted online, and Anderson worries about the functionality of a 350+ member meeting “[The AC] is already a really unmanageable meeting when it’s in person because it’s simply so large, and I have honestly no idea how they’re going to do it on Zoom. […] I have my fears that it’s going to be a little less manageable than we would like.”

Serious Concerns Raised

Some staff raised worries with The College Tribune about the proposals. Associate Professor Wolfgang Marx of the School of Music, who sits on UCD’s Governing Authority, is critical of some aspects of the changes. Although he praises the gender equality furthered by the proposals, Marx laments that this was “the last body on which non-office holders” or “rank-and-file academics” were “present in significant numbers and could have a say about university matters.”

Marx notes that the new AC would comprise between 50-60% ex officio members, who are mainly management at UCD. In his view, this doesn’t comply with the university’s goal of ensuring that “the AC represents an appropriate counterbalance to management”.

“The whole process is of course in line with a trend that has been ongoing for many years, namely the reduction of academic self-governance,” Marx says. “Academics are more and more excluded from decision-making processes while managers take over more and more…”

He also worries about the proposed legislative changes to university Governing Authorities. UCD’s GA currently has 40 members, with new legislation seeking to reduce this to between 10 and 15, composed mainly of members external to the university. Marx says these reforms are “at the expense of elected representatives from the University itself”.

“There is something to be said in favour of unbiased, external views, of course, but there is equally something to the said in favour of people with internal knowledge of how the university works and to what extent the views put forward by management represent what is actually happening on the ground.”

Conor Capplis, Senior Reporter