University College Dublin (UCD) has received an Athena SWAN Bronze institutional award for its work towards gender equality, despite recent criticism concerning sexual misconduct towards its female academics.

UCD first received the institutional award in 2017, which was renewed this month. The University states that this award is “given to higher education institutions that have analysed gender equality issues within their institution and have developed a detailed action plan to tackle them.”

The renewal of UCD’s award has been met with differing opinions, however; UCD Professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty had this to say:

“Although I have enormous respect for the hard work that went into the application, and believe in the good will of almost everyone who participated in the process, I believe that it would be entirely unethical of UCD, given what is now in the public domain, to trumpet this as evidence of the positive climate for women on campus at the present time.”

She also commented on the lack of input from female academics in developing new sexual harassment policies at UCD, stating that it demonstrated “a disheartening lack of respect for women, including for their scholarly expertise.” The Professor left UCD’s Gender Equality Action Group in late 2019, stating that she “was not satisfied that the university’s policies on sexual harassment and discrimination were being implemented.”

Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, a lecturer at UCD, recently spoke out about the sexual harassment she experienced there. She received a formal apology from UCD President Andrew Deeks after the story was published in the Irish Times.

This was followed by an Irish Times article written by fellow lecturer at UCD, Professor. Marie Keenan. She alleged that in 2015, she attempted to alert UCD’s senior management team to the problem of ongoing sexual violence and harassment at the University. Her concerns were repeatedly dismissed. 

Following the allegations of mistreatment at UCD being made public, Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, was appointed to UCD’s governing authority by Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris this month.

Blackwell spoke to the College Tribune about the award: “It is good to know that UCD is building a more equal gender equality base. It is also necessary to recognise how much support and sustained effort is needed in any institution to improve equality and to hope that I will be able to support those efforts. I truly believe that the universities which live the value of gender equality will get there – and will be places where people want to learn, study, work and live.”

UCD’s Gender Equality Action Plan focuses on gender equality in “recruitment, promotions, leaderships, work practices, organisation and culture.” According to the University, “many of the actions will also benefit professional support staff and will bring about cultural change that benefits students.”

Isobel Dunne – Reporter