The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative

I’ve been so busy over the last week or so that I forgot to mention that on Friday (21st June) the Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor announced a new scheme to improve the gender balance in senior academic roles in Irish universities.

While women make up more than half of university lecturers here in Ireland, just 24% are professors, and the new scheme plans to tackle that under-representation at senior levels by creating up to 45 academic leadership positions specifically for women over the next three years.

The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) is funded by the Department of Education and Skills and managed by the Higher Education Authority. More details of the scheme can be found here and the call for applications can be found here.

In summary: new and additional senior academic leadership posts will be funded in areas where

  • there is clear evidence of significant gender under-representation
  • where this appointment will have significant impact within the HEI and the relevant faculty/department/functional unit
  • where they would be a proportionate and effective means to achieve accelerated and sustainable change within an institution

Predictably there has been a bit of a backlash to this announcement from some quarters, but I think it’s an excellent idea and it has my full support. Note further that Legal advice from the Attorney General has confirmed that this policy approach is consistent with EU and national employment and equality law.

I hope a significant number of these positions go to outstanding female academics in STEM disciplines, where the under-representation is indeed significant – and hope we can also attract some here to Maynooth! We don’t have any female academics in the Department of Theoretical Physics….

It’s important, however, to bear in mind that this scheme addresses only one of the issues relating to gender discrimination in Irish higher education and there are many others, especially in STEM disciplines (such as recruitment of early-career level) which will require separate actions.





13 Responses to “The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative”

  1. Presumably those women appointed to such positions will have to live with the charge that they owe their job to reverse discrimination. I am sceptical as to whether this is the best way to address gender imbalance.

    There is often the unspoken assumption that all imbalance must be due to discrimination, but this is certainly not the case. It is also strange that programmes are brought into existence where women are underrepresented in fields deemed to be attractive, but not for any of the other three cases.

    Interestingly, the higher equality in general in a country, the fewer women there are in STEM: there are relatively few in, say, Iceland, and relatively many in, say, Iran. Some people claim that in countries where there is little equality women are usually financially less well off and hence STEM might be a way out, although it might not be what they really want do do. Similarly, in rich, egalitarian countries, the main emphasis is to do what one would prefer to do.

    Facts and figures:

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      When my dentist is drilling in my mouth, I want to know that he or she passed dental finals on merit, not as part of a tick-box exercise by social engineers having political power. It matters rather less immediately to me in academe but the principle is the same.

      • telescoper Says:

        And how do you know that the career structure for dentists has not led to the best ones leaving the profession?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Counterfactuals are unprovable either way; Hypotheses non fingo.

        It might be harder to think well of this scheme if you have just been passed over for a chair and not told why.

      • This is a fair point, but the evidence I linked to seems to contradict it in STEM, in the sense that in those countries where it is relatively easy to combine motherhood and career, there are fewer women in STEM.

        As a side note, I note that the 5 physicians I see regularly are all women. The last few I’ve seen just once or a few times (specialists for problems which were then solve) are split roughly half and half. The medical profession is relatively well paid, generally well respected in society, and, in many countries, there are more women than men working in it.

      • Just to be clear, it is of course blatantly obvious that there has been much discrimination against women in STEM and other areas in the past, and each case of discrimination is one too many. (I’m reminded of Planck telling Meitner that she couldn’t work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute because there were no female toilets; these days, in many places, while people might have various genders, toilets don’t. Times have changed. In objecting to those blocking Noether’s recruitment in Göttingen, Hilbert said “I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as privatdozent. After all, we are a university, not a bath house.” These days, it would be considered radically conservative not to have mixed bath houses. So even the progressives of yore would be seen as hidebound reactionaries today.) All the same, it is contraproductive to claim that all inequality is due to discrimination or lack of opportunity.

        No-one seems to care about fields where women are routinely paid much more than men (porn, modelling, etc), less prestigious fields where there are mostly men (rubbish disposal), other fields dominated by men (jazz, say).

        Someone once complained to me that it is patently obvious why women should be paid more than men in porn, while at the same time maintaining the position that all differences between men and women are merely social constructs. Go figure.

        Also, no-one seems to be worried about the fact that most criminals are men as are most mentally handicapped people. Obviously genetic and not due to discrimination.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I suspect that the GMVH has a bearing on your observations.

      • I didn’t recognize the acronym right off the bat but, yes, you are probably right. But it is well known enough to be the first hit on Google.

      • Daily dose of humour: I first googled GMHV and found: something which I admit goes beyond the bounds of even my experience:

        This is the act of an anorexic, a dwarf, and a loudmouth all having gay sex while receiving pleasure from numerous farm animals.

        One can’t make this stuff up.

  2. I mentioned Quillette in comments on another post; there is also an article there relevant to this topic. Actually, they have articles on many important topics, and often I find that the position presented is a “third way” which agrees with my own sentiments: decidedly liberal (in the sense of social freedom, not in the sense of economics) but without the bullshit which many so-called leftists have been spouting recently. I think that even Anton would agree with much of the stuff there. 🙂

    • telescoper Says:

      Quillette is not really any kind of `third way’. I haven’t read much of its content but it seems to me very right-wing, often blatantly attempting to legitimize the alt-right movement.

      • As I mentioned, I’m not a regular reader, but have stumbled across a few interesting things there in the last few months. Yes, it is often characterized as alt-right, but this is tantamount to putting Steve Bannon and Steven Pinker into the same category, which is, frankly, absurd.

        I think that Pinker is a good example of a left-wing person not afraid to criticize the exaggerations of the so-called woke crowd (long before “woke” was in the vocabulary), even if it means that some think of him as right-wing, because they see only themselves (on the left) and everyone else, across a huge spectrum, on the right.

        I would claim that I am progressive and leftist on essentially every issue, but because of this I think it is important to point out where so-called leftists become caricatures of themselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: