Just 100 years ago this year, back in 1918, Irving Berlin published what was to prove one of his most popular songs, “They were all out of step but Jim.” It humorously tells of a mother watching her soldier son in parade, who naively can’t grasp that he hasn’t quite mastered the art of keeping in step!
Have a listen to a bit of nostalgia here….
We tend to think nowadays that naivety and nostalgia are things of the past. We are so surrounded by genuine and fake news, updates, advisers, regulations, agreements, health warnings, equality directives, mission statements, alerts, e-mails and plain old common sense, that it is almost impossible for anyone in authority to be plain old stupid about anything.
In the University Sector, discrimination based on areas like age, gender, sexual orientation and race are no longer accepted as in any way tolerable. Universities are making increased efforts to address the long festering issue of gender discrimination through the Athena SWAN Charter, the Government has published a hard-hitting report on Gender Equality in Third-Level by former EU Commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, and we will shortly see a further action plan from Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor.
It’s quite staggering then that the top echelons in UCD seem determined to so quickly squander tens of thousands of tax payers’ and student fee money to appeal a discrimination case awarded against them by the Workplace Relations Commission for age discrimination against a long-time female Lecturer in the college and a member of IFUT.
Earlier this year the WRC ruled that age discrimination had occurred. It instructed UCD to appoint the woman retrospectively to Senior Lecturer position, make relevant adjustments to pay, pension and other relevant entitlements and a significant compensation payment.
UCD is, of course, fully entitled to hold its particular views on the matter. But they might at least have been expected to display some awareness of the widespread sensitivities around discrimination cases by notifying IFUT or the WRC of their unease in advance.
Instead…. we got an indignant newsletter from the President’s office stating “I can assure you that we do not accept this finding”
Instead…the college is refusing a request to meet IFUT to attempt to resolve the matter.
Instead… in place of some effort at diplomacy, the college described IFUT’s letter seeking a meeting and a negotiated way forward as ‘emotive’ and ‘therefore politely decline your offer of a meeting.’
UCD has previously proved that it is not big on emotion. During the WRC hearing, UCD coldly declined all attempts via FOI and by Order of the WRC to provide relevant data on the selection process. This included refusing to even supply anonymised copies of the other job applications, provided for under Data Protection Legislation, except, as stated by the WRC, ‘so extensively redacted as to be useless.’
UCD deliberately and coldly ignored and disregarded the Lecturer’s 20 years of experience, on grounds of a ‘five-year’ rule that dismissed work undertaken more than five years before her application for the post. This rule effectively discriminated hugely against any staff of longstanding in the college. It especially discriminated against female academics, who were more likely to take time out from their career to care for children or dependents and may have deferred promotion applications.
IFUT has of course dealt with discrimination cases in the past. Some have indeed proved difficult but, as in the case of the agreement last year with NUI Galway, a negotiated and reasonable understanding was reached between the two sides. It can be the same in UCD.
What is most startling in UCD is that, despite the lessons learned by everyone in recent years, despite a clear assertion of the need for equality and despite a pending action plan from the Department of Education, the college is so blatantly fighting against the tide.
Speaking of tides, this year also marks the 1,000th anniversary of the coronation of King Canute to the throne of Denmark, famously bringing together the Danish and British crowns in 1018.
Canute is far more famous, however, for getting muddled in his explanation of the forces of nature and the sea. He will instead be forever remembered as the king who demanded that the tides retreat on his instruction!
The UCD President’s recent newsletter also stated boldly “Our academic promotion process is merit-based and in line with international best practice.”
No doubt Canute thought he had got it right also!