Last year, Professor Andrew Deeks announced his intention to resign as President of UCD to take up a new role in Australia. Deeks was elected President of the University in 2014 and ended his contract prematurely to become the vice-chancellor at Murdoch University in his hometown of Perth, Western Australia. 

Since his departure, Deputy President and Registrar, Mark Rogers, has been acting as President and will hold the role until the Governing Authority appoints a successor. The official search for a new President started earlier this month and the College Tribune investigated what steps have been taken to date, how long the recruitment process will take, what type of candidates are expected and what the role actually entails.

On the 5th of September, Maire O’Connor, Chair of the UCD Governing Authority, sent an email to the UCD community announcing the launch of a global advertising programme to search for Presidential candidates. In this email, O’Connor explained that a search committee was selected to commission independent market research with staff, students and alumni to identify priorities for the incoming President and the key leadership characteristics required. The committee also employed Perrett Laver, an international executive search company, to provide support in developing the advertising campaign.

The Market Research Results:

A 10-15 minute online survey was sent via UCD to staff, students and alumni. The survey was open from the 4th-29th May 2022. The committee received 1,568 responses in total. 764 responses were from staff members, 675 were from students, 95 were from university alumni and 34 responses were from the ‘other’ category. Participation was voluntary and no incentive was offered as a reward for taking part. The aim of the survey was to gain insights on performance and honest views on president priorities.

When asked about the importance of candidate skills and experience, 75% of respondents rated “Pursuit of Excellence” a 9 or 10. The other high-scoring options were “Advocate for student support’, “Commitment to the University as a public institution,” and “Commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.” Respondents felt that going forward there should be less focus on the “Ability to expand the impact of the University globally” and the “Commitment to history, traditions, and culture of the University.”

Respondents also identified the need for a President with strong “Staff Management” skills (21%) and “Soft Skills” such as empathy (20%). Only 3% of respondents felt that the new President should be Irish or be “eco-conscious” and only 1% believed that the candidates should “uphold academic quality.”

When asked about the most important personal characteristics, “integrity/honesty,” “good communicator” and “emotional intelligence” emerged as the top three. Alumni and students were recorded as most likely to reference financial considerations. They called for integrity with regard to financial planning and suggested that the future President should prioritise staff and student welfare before profit.

Ultimately, the survey concluded that the top three priorities for the incoming president should be the student experience, staff welfare and the housing crisis.

The Recruitment Process:

The recruitment process has two key stages: Search and Selection, each one is managed by a committee selected by the Governing Authority. The launch of the advertising campaign marked the end of the search phase. The closing date for applications is Friday, 21st October 2022. 

Then, the Search Committee will hand over to a separate Selection Committee whose job it will be to hold interviews and make a recommendation to the Governing Authority as to who should be appointed as the next President. It is understood that the selection process will continue for a number of months and that the university expects to have a new President in post by the start of the 2023/24 academic year. However, the UCD community should anticipate an employment announcement this coming Spring.

Members of the Search Committee include external members of the Governing Authority; Charles Coase (Chair of the Committee) and Anne-Marie Taylor (Deputy Chair of the Committee), internal members of the Governing Authority; Helen Kenny and Associate Professor Wolfgang Marx, student representative; Carla Gummerson (UCDSU Graduate Officer 2020-2022), Academic Council members; Professor Danielle Clarke and Associate Professor Paul Perry, and John-Mark McCafferty (CEO of Threshold, the National Housing Charity) and Julie Sinnamon (Former CEO of Enterprise Ireland) who are members external to the University.

The members of the Selection Committee have yet to be published.

Candidate Expectations:

The survey results have shown that the University is looking for someone honest and empathetic who will prioritise the welfare of staff and students. However, the College Tribune also spoke to UCDSU President, Molly Greenough, to understand what the Student’s Union wants the next president to prioritise.

Greenough explained that aside from improving staff and student welfare, “Affordable and adequate on-campus accommodation should be at the top of each candidate’s list of priorities, especially in light of the absolute breaking point we’ve reached in the student accommodation crisis. While the Government certainly has a significant role to play in delivering this, in terms of both funding and oversight, UCD has dug itself fairly deep by boasting the most expensive on-campus accommodation in the entire country. In our view, this elitist, luxurious style of accommodation is discriminatory in nature and deliberately locking students from lower socio-economic backgrounds out of UCD.”

When asked how the Union would like the candidates to differ from previous UCD Presidents, Greenough said, “Ideally candidates would view themselves as the potential leader of a university first and foremost, with a core focus on enhancing the experiences of staff and students across UCD; a highly commercialised mindset is dangerous and is an affront to students’ college experiences.”

The SU had a famously fractious relationship with the previous President, when asked what steps the Union will take to ensure a good relationship with the new President Greenough explained, “As with any relationship, I believe it’s important to enter in good faith. Equally, I think it’s important to be candid and transparent with the Union’s ambitions and stances on respective issues… I think disagreement between the Union and the President or wider University Management Team is natural and healthy, so long as it remains professional. I’d be shocked if any future President agreed with the Students’ Union at all times, or vice versa. I’m a firm believer that you can publicly protest Management in respect of an issue on Monday and still work collaboratively on a separate project on Tuesday.”

Greenough concluded that “since Deeks’ departure there has been a notable change in the relationship between the Students’ Union and the wider University Management Team. This is not to say there’s been ground-breaking movements or widespread agreement on the best ways to approach every issue, but there is a certain baseline level of respect and sense of empathy for student issues that I hadn’t experienced prior.”

The Role of President:

The President manages and directs the University in its academic, administrative, financial, personnel and other activities. The President also chairs a number of university committees and has delegated authority to some committees to other members of the University Management Team.

Andrew Deeks was the ninth President of UCD and was the first Australian and second non-Irish person to hold the presidency after co-founder John Henry Newman. Deeks stepped down in December 2021, eight years into his ten year term to take up a position at Murdoch University in Australia. A fixed-term statutory provision was adopted by the Governing Body in 1984 which requires UCD Presidents to serve for 10 years. Therefore, the next, tenth President of UCD will hold office until 2033.

Emma Hanrahan – Co-Lead of Investigations