Peter Sutherland may have been quoted out of context, or inaccurately, in today’s Irish Times, where it is reported that
Yesterday, Mr Sutherland was also critical of Government moves to reduce the pay of university presidents and other senior academics. Mr O’Keeffe has written to university presidents seeking a voluntary pay cut, while the Higher Education Authority has reviewed procedures which allow universities make special payments to its top academics.
Mr Sutherland called for a new flexible approach, “necessary to retain talented but highly mobile staff”.
But presumably the academics here can all agree that in the entire history of higher education, there has never been a recorded case of a talented student saying “I must get my PhD at Harvard, they have a really exciting President”, or “Oxford is the place for me, their Head of Human Resources rocks”, or “what about that VP for Research at Stanford, there’s no other option as far as I’m concerned.”
Academics — even, or perhaps especially, the opinionated ones — make universities what they are. The best students go to places like Harvard because of faculty rosters like this. VPs, Presidents and all the rest are not ‘senior academics’. They are university bureaucrats, or administrators if you prefer. In the Irish context they sometimes come up through the ranks, while sometimes they are hired in from places like the HEA. I doubt that they are particularly mobile internationally. Paying them enormous salaries strikes me as a waste of money.
If Ireland wants to become a ‘smart economy’ it would be helpful if basic distinctions like this were kept in mind.