Dear Members of IFUT,
Invisibility is not a new affliction for those whom our Union represents, but it has certainly made itself acutely felt during the Covid era. The managements of our institutions have promised a scarcely diminished University experience to incoming students and have taken the credit when, against all the odds, it has been delivered. What is missing from the picture is those who delivered it! Government has tackled rises in demand for college places by announcing increases in the number of such places at almost no notice; it is as if higher education were a commodity whose supply could be increased or decreased at will. But who actually produces it? Again, Ireland’s proven and commendable ability to recover quickly and effectively from economic downturns is in no small part thanks to our “young and highly educated workforce”, a mantra that is used effectively and appropriately in many circumstances. But how is it that “mere Irish school leavers” get transformed over three or four years into such exemplary, highly educated young people, able to compete on the world stage? By going to University. And how do they acquire this wonderful education while they are there? That’s where the official thinking seems to stop; the implication is that they just pick it up somehow. No one has actually provided it: it’s just there!
Finding out new things by doing scholarly research is one of the most honourable occupations on the planet. So is the publication of those findings, and the passing on, by teaching, of both the findings and the skills for discovering yet more. The running of academic libraries as the storehouses of human knowledge is part of the same great undertaking, as is the provision of the technical support vital to all of these activities. All of these services to society are provided by yourselves, the members of IFUT. Without your work there would be no-one to teach those students and transform them into eager, well-equipped young employees, thinkers and innovators. Before long, and as a direct consequence, Ireland would have no indigenous, well-informed talent to contribute to an understanding of the island’s own past, or to the battle against climate change, or to the development of new medicines — all fields of understanding that are immediately relevant to today, but that depend ultimately upon the results of academic enquiry.
Our institutions ought to grasp these things and to speak up for their importance, but too often they have been eclipsed at leadership level by short-termism, valuing appearance over substance, and the bottom line (frequently treated as the only line). Respect for and appreciation of one’s co-workers and their objectives and efforts are deemed expendable, and the non-hierarchical collegiality that would support those virtues is considered undesirable, being subversive of authority.
The good news is that, within IFUT, such values are appreciated and nurtured within and across our Branches. Like an inter-institutional common room, our Union provides an environment of mutual encouragement. And with the best Head Office professional support anyone could wish for, the “solidarity of the trenches” brought about by our collective situation gets turned into active, prompt, practical and effective help for IFUT members just when they need it most. As we look back on two dire years I think we can be proud of what all of us have continued to achieve together, and as confident as anyone could reasonably be as we look forward to a challenging 2022. Have a rest first, though, if you can!
With kindest regards to all, and many thanks for everything that you do,