As former Tánaiste, Michael McDowell takes a position as a part-time law lecturer, Zelda Cunningham looks at the potential impact of possible high-profile guest lecturers.
Former Tánaiste, former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and former-Progressive Democrat, Michael McDowell, recently took up a lecturing position in the School of Law in UCD, which will see him address students on a part-time basis on the specialised subject of Politics and Law.
A former politician and a practicing Senior Counsell barrister becoming a lecturer in UCD is nothing surprising. In fact, it is almost a natural progression for a person with such qualifications; however, the controversy of such an appointment cannot be overlooked.
When Mr McDowell visited UCD just ahead of the 2007 General Election, the campus was littered with defaced posters of the then-Tánaiste. Slogans such as ‘Fascist’ and drawn-on Hitlerian moustaches were scrawled on the posters. Whilst making his through the Arts Block, the PD leader was accompanied by a host of Gardaí who were engaged to prevent what was then perceived as a likely attack.
The truth was that Mr McDowell sparked ferocious criticism with many factions of the UCD student body. He was accused of selling Ireland out to international companies with his corporate tax schemes and was blamed for reducing social benefits and welfare for those who needed it.
In his capacity as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he was seen to be arbitrarily Draconian in his punitive reforms, and yet conversely, he was criticised for being apathetic in terms of statute renewal. The latter negative appraisal was supported by his part in the infamous A Case scandal, where a man accused of statutory rape was acquitted and released from prison due to the unlawfulness of the statute that convicted him, something which Mr McDowell was believed to have had ample warning of.
It can be said that the initiative that the School of Law is taking could give it subject an advantage over others subjects in UCD
Mr McDowell was indeed a highly controversial figure, and, perhaps unfairly, bore the brunt of the blame of the inefficiencies in the then-Government. With the PD ministers holding difficult briefs of Health and Justice, it seemed that they could do no right. The General election was an unmitigated disaster for the PDs, and, with McDowell facing becoming a political pariah; he opted out of party politics and returned to his career in law.
Regardless of what any of Mr McDowell’s current students felt about his politics, or indeed his personality, the fact is, a spark has been lit in Roebuck. The normally selective lecture attendees will go to his classes, if, for nothing else, his unique insight into Law and Politics, having trudged in from the political trenches.
Having Mr McDowell as a part-time lecturer has a symbiotic relationship for both school and students.
Having a former-Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform address a class about reforms that he signed off on, cannot be anything but hugely influential and helpful to students, while the School of Law’s profile has been raised by the salubrious guest speaker.
The School of Law has expressed that Mr McDowell is not the only prominent figure that they hope will lecture students. The newly-appointed Dean of the School of Law, Prof. John Jackson explained that integrating the law modules with speakers “from higher walks of life’ was always an intention of the school.
Undoubtedly, the School of Law will succeed in enticing a wealth of prestigious speakers including judges, working solicitors and barristers to join the already acclaimed staff.
Speakers such as Mr McDowell and those working in the legal profession will add a practical element to students’ education, something that will breathe fresh air into the stale monotony of jurisprudence and statutes. It can also be said that the initiative that the School of Law is taking could give it an advantage over others subject in UCD. The rest of the university could, too, benefit from such practically-minded guest speakers of note.
It is fair to say that UCD is fortunate in their selection of academic staff that are highly accomplished in their respective fields. The ‘those who can do, those that can’t teach’ rule doesn’t seem to a statement of truth amongst UCD staff.
Bringing in new speakers, those who to which students have not become accustomed, acts to rejuvenate all subject programmes. This is especially true if the lecturer is notorious and controversial, such as Mr McDowell. It will attract the attention of students and help them to see behind the textbooks and directly into their field of study.
UCD societies are very well equipped to pull in esteemed and interesting guests. Authors, politicians and members of the media have all accepted invitations to speak and chair debates for societies. One would wonder why the various schools do not endeavour to do the same for their lectures?
On his recent visit to the university, the popularity of author Salman Rushdie illustrated that students have an interest in academic guests. However, would it not have also been hugely beneficial for Rushdie to speak to an English class who are studying his work? A more academic dissection of his work could be facilitated and students could have obtained an in-depth insight into his complicated writing.
Much of the content that is studied in UCD has been on module courses, in some form or another, for decades. With the aid of an infinite amount of journals and databases online, not to mention the physical resources in the Library, students can, with ease, recycle the same material that has been written again and again without adding anything original to the mix. In terms of standards as a whole, the various academic schools should strive to encourage a greater interactivity between students and their subjects.
Inviting guest lectures that will provoke a strong reaction in their students will almost certainly inspire and encourage students to think more originally and latterly with their topics. The schools will receive the dividend of this when a more creative research and thought pattern emerges, which would in turn, influence a greater degree of ground-breaking postgraduate work.
UCD is in a constant struggle to upgrade its world-ranking as a university and become an institution of global acclaim. By re-enacting the School of Law’s initiative by inviting guest speakers to lectures, an interest will be ignited in both current and prospective students. The benefits of more interactive study could raise the university’s calibre to the high standard that UCD aspires to.
Mr McDowell will undoubtedly have a great impact on students in his Law and Politics class, for whatever reasons. Perhaps UCD, on seeing this, will open up the lecture hall floor to new and exciting lecturers in future.