NUI Galway is facing five more legal challenges from female lecturers who feel they were denied promotions based on their gender, with support coming from a campaign launched by Dr Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington.
In December 2014, an equality tribunal found NUI Galway (NUIG) guilty of having passed over Sheehy-Skeffington for promotion in 2009 in a case of gender discrimination.
The plant ecologist’s senior lectureship was back-dated to 2009 and she was awarded €70,000 in damages, which she has offered to assist court cases from five other women short-listed and deemed eligible for promotion but who were also overlooked.
Gender inequality at Irish universities
Following the equality tribunal ruling, a HEA report revealed damning statistics on the number of women in senior roles at universities across Ireland.
While women make up exactly half of all lecturers at Ireland’s seven universities, their numbers diminish at senior levels.
Among senior lecturers, 35pc are women, dropping to 26pc at associate professor level while less than one-fifth (19pc) of all professors at Irish universities are women.
NUI Galway was highlighted as having the lowest percentage of women in senior academic positions at 21pc.
Micheline’s Three Conditions
At the time of the university’s round of promotions in 2009, one woman was promoted and 16 men. In a subsequent round in 2014, nine of 28 people promoted were women, though Sheehy-Skeffington and five other women were once again denied promotion.
The equality tribunal deemed the university’s recruitment procedures “ramshackle”, though the university has not acknowledged that the ruling applies to any case other than that of Sheehy-Skeffington.
The university announced the establishment of a taskforce to address its apparent gender imbalance and stated Sheehy-Skeffington would form part of this group.
However, Sheehy-Skeffington – who is the granddaughter of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Ireland’s most famous suffragette – has laid out three conditions to be met for her to join the taskforce.
Sheehy-Skeffington’s conditions ask that the university promote the five women who believe they were discriminated against, acknowledge that the subsequent promotions in 2014 were equally discriminatory, and set clear targets to create gender balance at senior level throughout the university.
“Until the injustices of previous promotions are redressed, the university cannot set about reform for the future,” said Sheehy-Skeffington. “I also want to use the momentum that my case has created to make sure that reform actually changes things for women.”
A petition to accept Sheehy-Skeffington’s conditions has gained more than 2,600 signatures. The campaign was launched on Tuesday during the AGM of NUIG’s Feminist Society and was endorsed by 27 other student societies. The NUIG Students’ Union equality officer will also propose a motion to support the campaign at the next council meeting.