Originally published in Volume I, Issue 2 on 27th October 1994 by Roddy O’Sullivan.
UCD elected its first female registrar in its 140 year history last week when Dr Caroline Hussey defeated Professor Aidan Kelly in a vote for the College’s Governing Body.
Elected to the position by the unprecedentedly narrow margin of a single vote (16-15) her annual salary took a jump of 20,000 in the course of an hour. More importantly, as the registrar is effectively the vice-president of the college, she put herself in pole position to become the country’s first female university president when Professor Art Cosgrove steps down.
The result is also being seen by the college hierarchy as completing the establishment of a leadership whose first priority is the maintenance of academic standards. This process began with the election of Professor Art Cosgrove as President last year replacing Paddy Masterson, who was seen as prioritising the physical expansion of college and closer links with the business community. The departure of Professor John Kelly from the post of Registrar leaves the increasingly isolated College Secretary, Dr Gerry Wright as one of the last survivors of the Masterson old guard of college administrators.
The amount of influence wielded by the Students’ Union has also been substantially increased by the result of the election. Senior academic sources conceded to the University Observer that because the student vote was vital to Hussey’s one vote victory, academics and administrators will be inclined to take more seriously the opinion of the student representative on the Governing Body.
Welcoming the election of Dr Hussey, Students’ Union President, Aisling Ni Bhriain, said she was “delighted and optimistic” at the accession of Dr Hussey to the post of Registrar.
“Caroline’s track record on student issues proves that she is not only willing to take students views into account, but that she is also willing to a positive approach in ensuring that students’ input counts, particularly in relation to the management of the new Student Centre.”
Ms. Ni Bhriain rejected allegations that the method of deciding how the student vote was cast was undemocratic; “You’ve got to give three weeks notice of a referendum, and the Governing Body vote was in the first week of term. We organised a hustings where the students could interrogate the candidates and ascertain their views, and less than one hundred and fifty people showed up”.
“With a turnout like that for a hustings there’s no way you could justify the expense of an election. Maybe if the Governing Body vote was later in the year we could have organised a referendum to coincide with the class rep elections, but the timing of the Governing Body meeting was unfortunate.By not having a student referendum on how I should vote, we were being practical rather than patronising.”
Other Governing Body members who attended the meeting on Tuesday described the atmosphere in the boardroom at the start of the meeting as tense and anticipation filled. According to one elector “it was obvious that everyone in the room wanted to get to Item 6 on the agenda (the election of the Registrar) as quickly as possible.”
An extra edge was added to proceedings by the fact that Helen Burke, one of Caroline Hussey’s main supporters arrived late. The meeting was also informed that Professor Augustine Martin of the English Department would be unable to attend due to the fact he has fallen off his bike and broken his arm.
When Burke eventually arrived, Martin’s absence became more problematic. If President Cosgrove didn’t vote the election could be tied at fifteen votes apiece. This would leave Cosgrove in the embarrassing position of having to publicly choose one of the candidates with his casting vote with the risk of alienating whichever senior colleague he voted against.
One county councillor, on the Governing Body suggested that in the event of a tie, the future registrar’s name be picked out of a hat. The suggestion was quickly and bluntly dismissed by most of the meeting. It was then decided that President Cosgrove would cast his vote in the same fashion as the rest of the meeting, making for an uneven number of electors, and thereby averting the possibility of a tie.
Dr Hussey and Professor Kelly were asked to leave the room while their colleagues cast their votes. Professor Maurice Manning and Dr Enda Hession were appointed as tellers. The atmosphere in the Boardroom was understandibly tense while the votes were being counted, with the prevailing mood of apprehension being broken only by a few nervous jokes from the attending governors.
According to our sources, when the result was announced the reaction was a shocked silence followed by enthusiastic applause. A visibly shaken and “obviously overcome” newly elected Registrar then made speech paying tribute to her opponent, Professor Aidan Kelly, by saying he would have made an excellent Registrar and added her thanks for keeping the campaign within the college realm. She also thanked the student body for providing the only forum where the candidates could debate the issues in public.
In a surprisingly upbeat and jovial speech, Professor Aidan Kelly thanked the members of the Governing Body for their courteousness and wished he had persuaded more of them to vote for him. Our sources say Professor Kelly was very vocal during the rest of the meeting and didn’t seem in the least perturbed by the result.
Most of the county councillors on the Governing Body missed the second half of the meeting, leaving UCD after lunch. It would appear that most of them came for the excitement of the election, and had little interest in the rest of the proceedings.