News Analysis – No honeymoon without engagement

 
 
UCD President Andrew Deeks (right) with Prof. Paul Krugman as the Nobel Prize winning economist was presented the James Joyce Award by the L&H (Source: Ryan Kane Photography)

As he wonders what kind of president Professor Deeks will be, Killian Woods writes that it is time UCD students have a figure that engages with them

Professor Andrew Deeks starts his tenure as UCD president very much as an unknown quantity. The biography on the UCD website of the former Pro Vice-Chancellor in the Faculty of Science at Durham University sums up our limited knowledge of the former Western Australia resident, and while this gives us a rough timeline of his life, it reveals very little of what his short and long term plans are for this university.

While trying to unearth supplementary information about Prof. Deeks that isn’t solely sourced from his new biography on UCD.ie, it becomes apparent that there is very little information available about the new President. Therefore all we know is currently being channeled from the UCD Communications Office, which will be focused primarily on promoting and protecting the UCD brand.

Prof. Deeks’ maiden months as President of UCD will be interesting to observe. Will he continue Dr Hugh Brady’s standoffish trend and limit his involvement in student activity to the odd appearance at a UCD Rugby game and obligatory attendance of graduation ceremonies? Or perhaps he may engage with the student populace that are the backbone of the University, whether certain academics are willing to acknowledge it or not.

The early signs show that Prof. Deeks is keen to be a presence in UCD student life. His attendance at the L&H event that bestowed a James Joyce Award on Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, was welcomed by a crowd of mostly students who were pleased to have the head of this University making time to join them on a Monday evening outside of term time.

Hopefully Prof. Deeks doesn’t limit his engagement with students to simply showing his face around assorted student-related activities for the opening few months of his tenure. He shouldn’t resort to the attitude that his predecessor had over the course of his reign.

Dr Brady became too detached from UCD students over his ten-year stint as President and grew very much oblivious to the challenges they face on numerous fronts.

His detachment from UCD students was very much obvious in his passing comments he made during his final few days as UCD President. In an interview with the Irish Independent, Dr Brady stated that there is an immediate need for the reintroduction of third-level fees in Ireland.

This is a view that Dr Brady has clearly harboured for some time. The issue with funding third-level institutions in Ireland did not drastically change last December to such an extent that he would have been forced to reform his opinion on third-level fees overnight in order to proclaim that fees are urgently needed to maintain Irish university’s standings worldwide.

In that interview, Dr Brady had the option to call upon the state to increase their third-level funding and use his authority and experience as a president of a university for ten years to sway opinion towards putting this sort of reform on the agenda. Instead, he chose to suggest an alternative solution that would persecute against a portion Irish society that cannot afford to take the full brunt of third-level fees.

It is impossible to define when Dr Brady lost touch with the student populace he was meant to be representing, but it is clear that a lack of engagement on his part in student-related activities caused this disconnect.

This is why it is very important for students in all of Ireland that Prof. Deeks engages with UCD students from the start of his tenure. All current and future third-level students need figures like Prof. Deeks on our side if we are to avoid the reintroduction of third-level fees. His voice could possibly speak louder than any rally gathering by USI on Kildare Street and in the future, his allegiance could mean the difference between your friends, your siblings, or even your children attending college.

Broadly speaking about Prof. Deeks’ appointment, there is no doubt this is a progressive appointment in certain respects for UCD. Prof. Deeks is the first UCD President to have been appointed externally; meaning he wasn’t already on UCD payroll before he took seat in the President’s office.

Consistently selecting candidates for President of the University from within the academic clusters of Belfield may not necessarily have been the incorrect decision in the past. Promoting from within shows willingness to reward loyalty to experienced academics and also allows for a certain level of continuity to be maintained.

Although, when it is considered that UCD was established in 1884, it beggars belief that there hasn’t been a more suitable external candidate for president vying for the role in 130 years.

Student engagement is the key word that will define what kind of president Prof. Deeks will be. What UCD needs right now is a president that understands the future of this University may somewhat rely on the brand’s recognition worldwide, but that it also needs its students first and foremost.

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