UCD Governing Authority appoint Professor Orla Feely as University President

Incoming UCD President, Professor Orla Feely, is due to take her office on May 1st.

She is succeeding Professor Mark Rodgers, who has been Acting University President since Andrew Deeks vacated the position in March 2022. Her appointment was announced on February 21st.

Professor Feely, who is currently Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact, was appointed to the role in 2014, as well as being an Electrical Engineering professor. She has been on the University Management Team (UMT) since 2014. Outside of UCD, she is a board member of the Higher Education Authority, as well as a director of the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

Professor Feely began her academic career in UCD at age 16, graduating with a Bachelors of Education in 1986. She went on to complete her Masters and PhD in University of Berkeley, California, winning the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award during her time there. Her research focus is in nonlinear circuits and systems.

As a Vice-President for research, she has devoted much of her time to the uplift of women researchers, including the launch of two gender equity schemes, which won the university two Bronze Athena SWAN awards. She has also overseen the increase of research space at NovaUCD and the development of the AgTech Innovation Centre at UCD Lyons Farm.

Professor Feely’s academic history places her at a deeply interesting point between two competing aspects of university function - teaching and research. While her early academic career includes a Bachelors of Education and an award for postgraduate instruction from a prestigious university, her more recent work in UCD has been heavily research focused. While one would hope that this would lead to a balanced approach with regards allocation of funds and hiring priorities across the two disciplines, some have expressed concern that due to Professor Feely’s recent research focused work, and the increased economic return of research in comparison to education, that educational pursuits may not be prioritised in the coming years in regards resource allocation.

Speaking on this concern to the University Observer following Professor Feely’s appointment, UCDSU Education Officer, Martha Ní Riada was quick to reassure students that “As VP for Research, Innovation and Impact Professor Feely has made great strides for the University. Although her background is in research this may not be determinant of what she will focus on going forward. In our preliminary discussions with the President elect she has emphasised her commitment to the student voice. Research is a key pillar of the University. A strong focus on research should only improve the quality of education within the University and have a positive impact on the wider community.”

This sentiment was echoed by UCDSU President, Molly Greenough, saying “I personally don't share those concerns; my impressions from our brief conversations with Professor Feely lead me to believe she will dive in headfirst during the first months of her term with students and staff across various units and pockets of UCD, building trust and genuinely hearing the problems from each of the core stakeholders in UCD, especially in areas where she might not have as much first-hand knowledge. It will be an important task for the Students' Union, especially next year's team, to set the tone of the working relationship and ensure student issues are prioritised.”

Greenough went on to say “We hope Professor Feely will bring forward innovative solutions to help lead UCD in doing its part to tackle the monumental issues facing students at the moment, for example the housing crisis, cost of living crisis, the climate crisis, barriers of access to education, and treatment of PhD workers. We'd hope that she will engage broadly with the Government in respect of student issues, and more broadly addressing the overall funding gaps that the Irish Higher Education sector is facing. We don't expect to always agree with Professor Feely at every venture, in fact, it would be incredibly odd if the SU and any member of the UMT, especially the President, saw completely eye-to-eye. However, we want to approach this new relationship, and new chapter of UCD, in good faith. We're hopeful that we'll be able to work in collaboration where possible, while still holding the university to account.”

Greenough is overall positive about the appointment of Professor Feely, saying “Our dealings with Professor Feely have been positive to-date, so we are hopeful she'll be able to lead UCD through an incredibly turbulent period and will work in tandem with the Students' Union to ensure that student issues are at the forefront of the University's agenda. She is extremely accomplished, well-connected, and future-orientated. Relations between the SU and the University Management Team (UMT) improved under Mark Rogers' leadership and we're optimistic that we can work constructively with the UMT under Orla's leadership. It's notably exciting that she is the first woman President of UCD; it's great to see more women stepping into leadership roles across the Irish Higher Education sector.”

Governing Authority Chair,  Marie O’Connor, also speaks positively of this appointment, saying in a press release on the UCD website “Professor Orla Feely is an outstanding university leader with a distinguished academic track record in research and teaching who has already greatly contributed to the reputation of University College Dublin as a centre of excellence for research and education for our students, faculty and staff. [...] I have every confidence that under Orla’s leadership, University College Dublin will continue to fulfil its ambitious role in Ireland and globally and play its part in tackling global challenges.”

Her predecessor, Professor Mark Rodgers, speaks highly of Professor Feely in the same release, saying “I have worked closely with Orla for many years and she is a great colleague whose pride, loyalty, support and ambition for UCD has always been evident, matched only by her ability. I believe the future holds great promise for UCD under her presidency.”

At the announcement of Professor Feely’s appointment, she is quoted as saying, “I am greatly honoured to be UCD’s next President and to lead the University into the next phase of its remarkable development. My own studies in UCD, starting at the age of sixteen, transformed my life, and I witness the University’s continuing transformative impact every day. I want to lead a UCD that makes a clear positive difference to the lives of our students through the educational experience we deliver. I want to grow our impact in Ireland and in the wider world through our work in areas such as sustainability, health and secure societies. My thanks to Professor Mark Rogers for his great leadership of UCD. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside Mark, and I am very grateful to have his continuing support during the transition to my taking up office on 1 May.”

Professor Feely, upon taking up the role of President this coming May, will be the first ever woman President of UCD.