The Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative Begins

I was caught on the hop this morning by the formal announcement that twenty new professorships for women have been created in Ireland. I hadn’t expected this announcement to come so quickly since the idea was only floated in November 2018. There is a piece in the Irish Times about today’s announcement here.

I blogged about this scheme here when it was announced, a little over a year ago. The appointments are to be in areas where there is “clear evidence” of significant under-representation of women, such as physics, computer science and engineering.

I’m delighted that two of these new positions will be at Maynooth University, one in Computer Science and one in Physical Geography (in the area of Climate Science). These areas were selected as being of particularly high strategic priority.

The 20 new Chairs represent the first tranche of positions out of 45 planned under the Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative. I understand there will be two further rounds. I do hope that we might get a position in physics at Maynooth in a subsequent round. I note however that there will be a Professorship in Theoretical Physics at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. I’ll be sure to pass on the advertisement here when it appears.

Reactions to this scheme among people I know have been very varied, so it seems a good topic on which to have a simplistically binary poll:

For the record, I should state that although I had reservations when about this scheme when it was first announced, largely due to lack of detail about how it was to be implemented, I am now very enthusiastic about it and hope it is successful in its aims.

I will however also repeat that this initiative should not distract attention away from the need for Irish higher education institutions to have much better promotion procedures; see, e.g. here. There are plenty of female academics at lecturer level in Irish universities, but they seem to face serious difficulties getting promoted to Professorships.

7 Responses to “The Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative Begins”

  1. I think a simple binary poll is more likely to confuse the issue than anything else. Some people will take one look at “women-only professorships” and vote on whether they approve or disapprove of that. Others will look at the detail of the scheme and vote it up or down depending on whether there would be better way of doing it, and/or better uses for the same amount of money. Yet others will ask why disciplines that have failed to promote women are being rewarded with more funding. And other still will look at the way government policy is evolving towards increased performance-based funding – starving third-level of cash, and then using the power of the purse to push third-level in the policy direction government currently wants (which in this instance is towards gender equality, but in others will be about quite different things). I’m really not sure what you think the poll result will tell you.

  2. telescoper Says:

    From what I’ve seen of the way psychologists do their statistics I think some scepticism would be in order.

    • telescoper Says:

      There’s no link to an actual paper in the piece you included. I’d like to know how the sample was selected, what size it was, how confounding factors were eliminated, etc etc, before being convinced that there’s any correlation.

  3. I remember an Architect when asked to propose economies in the construction of a new Primary School suggested it be built, the children being small, with low ceilings; with only short teachers to be employed…

  4. Russian human spacecraft have traditionally been smaller than US ones – they felt that there was a sufficiently large pool of candidate cosmonauts that designing for a 6ft6″ crew member was unnecessary expenditure so a height limit would still provide excellent results – and certainly the ones I have met have been much shorter than the typical American astronaut…

  5. I am in favour. We should aim for parity and do so sooner rather than later. But there may be easier ways to achieve equality. The gender ratio varies dramatically per research area and funding scheme. A large fraction of new academic appointments in UK astronomy still comes in from STFC or ERC grants/fellowships. The STFC fellowship scheme became as biassed as 87% male at one point (it improved later). A way to move faster to parity is to stop accepting applicants from significantly biassed schemes. The second way is to limit growth in research areas where the gender balance is lacking. These two policies could help more than a single round of two professorships per institution.

    • If your diversity is negatively affected by one of the routes into academia, that route does not have equal opportunity (do note this was 7 years ago and things have improved since in that scheme). By using that route to fill academic position, you are party to discrimination. That should be recognized. I would also point out that you quote top scientists, of Nobel quality level. The problems are with the more typical scientists. We should be encouraging women who may not feel themselves to be at that level. The feeling persists that women have to perform better than men in order to get the same level of recognition. That is a discouragement.

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