Saturday, July 26, 2008

Academic Tenure Under Threat in Ireland

Higher Education in Ireland is provided by universities, institutes of technology and colleges of education. There are seven universities in Ireland. The institutions of higher education are publicly funded institutions with some institutional autonomy and receive about 90% of their income from state funds. Although they are autonomous institutions, the universities' duties and responsibilities are laid down by the Universities Act 1997. They are also monitored by a statutory body, the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which allocates the funding coming from the state.

About 80% of the academic staff in Ireland hold permanent tenured positions. All full time academic staff are officers of the state and tenured in the sense that they can not be fired without a serious cause, such as incompetence or outrageous conduct. In this sense, job security can be considered high (for instance, compared to the UK where only about 55% hold permanent contracts and there is no tenure). The academic staff who are not protected by tenure are primarily those who are in fixed term or temporary employment. In recent years, there has been an increase in the numbers of academics who are employed on non permanent conditions.

The first appointment to an academic position at an Irish university usually is at the level of lecturer. Lecturers need a PhD degree and preferably publications of high quality. Permanent positions of lecturer start with a probationary period of 12 months. At the end of this period, the promotion committee (invariably made up of senior officers of the university together with four elected academic staff representatives) decides on whether to award tenure or extend the probation period. A positive evaluation requires satisfactory performance of lecturing and other duties, evidence of interest in the pursuit of research and scholarship, and contribution and interest in the departmental development. Upon completion of satisfactory probation, the lecturer is granted tenure

Nowadays lectureships are often temporary - one, three or five years. Many new temporary jobs of one year have emerged because of government funding of temporary positions through the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS): they award funding which includes money to pay for replacement lecturers.

In February 2007, the HIGH COURT in Dublin, Ireland adjudicated on a case involving the interpretation of academic tenure and in particular, Article 5.1. of a controversial Statute of one of its seven Universities, Dublin City University (DCU). The DCU Statute 3 declared

“The tenure of officers of the university shall be such tenure as is conferred on each such officer in his or her individual contract with the university”.

As all DCU contracts of employment are legally constructed to allow the University to unilaterally terminate any contract by the giving of three months notice without cause or reason, the outgoing President of the University, Ferdinand Von Prondzynski, (an academic and employment lawyer by training) believed he could overcome the legal requirements of Universities Act, 1997 Section 25 (6) to "provide for academic tenure" by crafting this wording to stand up to legal scrutiny.

In the case, the Court addressed the question of the meaning of the word “tenure” as used in s. 25(6) of the University Act, 1997. The judge declared that the term as used must go further than a mere specification of the terms of employment. As pointed out a university already has (under subs. (3)) an entitlement to fix the terms and conditions of all employees (including officers). If the obligation to provide for tenure merely meant, as argued by DCU, an obligation to provide for the terms and conditions of employment so far as the length of that employment was concerned, then it would be a redundant obligation as that obligation is already covered by subs. (3). He concluded that the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) must have used the term “tenure” to mean something more than simply delineating terms and conditions as to the length of employment.

He was also satisfied that the term “tenure” brings with it an obligation to give a greater degree of permanency to the status of officers of a university, than would be the case in circumstances where, as a matter of contract, such officers could have their contract terminated on three months notice. He was also satisfied that the purported specification of tenure by a University Statute by reference to contracts of employment which, on the facts, provide for termination on three months notice, was an invalid exercise of the undoubted entitlement of the university to specify tenure.

The President of DCU appealed the judgement and the Case is now heading to the Supreme Court in Ireland for a further definitive ruling. The outcome of the Supreme Court hearing will have major implications for academic staff and academic tenure in all Irish universities but a hearing and judgment will take some time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Journals under Threat : A Joint Response from HSTM Editors

We live in an age of metrics. All around us, things are being standardized, quantified, measured. Scholars concerned with the work of science and technology must regard this as a fascinating and crucial practical, cultural and intellectual phenomenon. Analysis of the roots and meaning of metrics and metrology has been a preoccupation of much of the best work in our field for the past quarter century at least. As practitioners of the interconnected disciplines that make up the field of science studies we understand how significant, contingent and uncertain can be the process of rendering nature and society in grades, classes and numbers. We now confront a situation in which our own research work is being subjected to putatively precise accountancy by arbitrary and unaccountable agencies. Some may already be aware of the proposed European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH), an initiative originating with the European Science Foundation. The ERIH is an attempt to grade journals in the humanities – including “history and philosophy of science”. The initiative proposes a league table of academic journals, with premier, second and third divisions. According to the European Science Foundation, ERIH “aims initially to identify, and gain more visibility for, top-quality European Humanities research published in academic journals in, potentially, all European languages”. It is hoped “that ERIH will form the backbone of a fully-fledged research information system for the Humanities”. What is meant, however, is that ERIH will provide funding bodies and other agencies in Europe and elsewhere with an allegedly exact measure of research quality. In short, if research is published in a premier league journal it will be recognized as first rate ; if it appears somewhere in the lower divisions, it will be rated (and not funded) accordingly.

This initiative is entirely defective in conception and execution. Consider the major issues of accountability and transparency. The process of producing the graded list of journals in science studies was overseen by a committee of four (the membership is currently listed at This committee cannot be considered representative. It was not selected in consultation with any of the various disciplinary organizations that currently represent our field such as BSHS, HSS, PSA, SHoT or SSSS. Only in June 2008 were journal editors belatedly informed of the process and its relevant criteria or asked to provide any information regarding their publications. No indication has been given of the means through which the list was compiled ; nor how it might be maintained in the future.

The ERIH depends on a fundamental misunderstanding of conduct and publication of research in our field, and in the humanities in general. Journals’ quality cannot be separated from their contents and their review processes. Great research may be published anywhere and in any language. Truly ground-breaking work may be more likely to appear from marginal, dissident or unexpected sources, rather than from a well-established and entrenched mainstream. Our journals are various, heterogeneous and distinct. Some are aimed at a broad, general and international readership, others are more specialized in their content and implied audience. Their scope and readership say nothing about the quality of their intellectual content. The ERIH, on the other hand, confuses internationality with quality in a way that is particularly prejudicial to specialist and non-English language journals. In a recent report, the British Academy, with judicious understatement, concludes that “the European Reference Index for the Humanities as presently conceived does not represent a reliable way in which metrics of peer-reviewed publications can be constructed.” Such exercises as ERIH can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If such measures as ERIH are adopted as metrics by funding and other agencies, then many in our field will conclude that they have little choice other than to limit their publications to journals in the premier division. We will sustain fewer journals, much less diversity and impoverish our discipline.

Along with many others in our field, this Journal has concluded that we want no part of this illegitimate and misguided exercise. This joint Editorial is being published in journals across the fields of history of science and science studies as an expression of our collective dissent and our refusal to allow our field to be managed and appraised in this fashion. We have asked the compilers of the ERIH to remove our journals’ titles from their lists.

Neil Barton (Transactions of the Newcomen Society)
Robert Fox (Notes & Records of the Royal Society)
Michael Hoskin (Journal for the History of Astronomy)
Nick Jardine (Studies in History and Philosophy of Science)
Trevor Levere (Annals of Science)
Bernie Lightman (Isis)
Michael Lynch (Social Studies of Science)
Peter Morris (Ambix)
Iwan Rhys Morus (History of Science)
Simon Schaffer (British Journal for the History of Science)

[editorial note: the protest can be read on this site: (as of July 16, 2008)]

Friday, July 11, 2008

Students around the world are struggling

Students around the world are struggling against neoliberal reforms and the privatisation of education right now.

In 2007 alone students in over 30 countries staged partly massive protests against exploding tuition fees and turning of universities into business and corporate entities.
Check out this list of protests:

A truly democratic society needs emancipated citizens. And for that we need emancipating - instead of privatised and commercialised - education!
The following Group is for Free and Emancipating education worldwide. Join the “International Students Movement for Free and Emancipating Education”:

If we unite in our struggle against the commercialisation of education, then we stand a chance!