Untrumpable UCD

Though TCD probably has it on the Nobels, UCD must have edged ahead on the certified Saints with John Henry Newman’s canonization last October. We famously decided not to send a representative to our founder’s big day in Rome, before changing our mind after the snub broke in the national media. Even seasoned observers of the Belfield Beagle’s proofing lapses would have been surprised by this particular PR disaster. Yet again, our EDI wing must take full credit for the coup. To snatch one deafening defeat from the yawning jaws of historical victory is one thing. But two!  It’s hard to say which was worse. Announcing to the world that as a non-sectarian, secular University, we must disassociate ourselves from the Catholic in Newman? Or the graceless, invertebrate flip-flop on our ‘convictions’ after the (presumably also non-sectarian and secular) Irish government announced that it was sending the Education Minister to the ball? We didn’t need this fiasco to tell us that we have no time for has-beens who write books with the words ‘idea’ and ‘university’ in the title. Or to tell us that we have replaced such ‘ideas’ with our deeply unthinking commitment to the ‘ideals’ of EDI. The only surprise, then, is that UCD’s top people didn’t use even more of their friendly EDI firepower. Why didn’t they play the gender or the nationality card? Why didn’t they say we’d wait for a better fit with our KPIs? A suitably qualified UCD woman saint, preferably a UCD Irish woman saint. Well, that would be to draw attention to their own EDI scorecard. Neither UCD’s current Number 1, nor our Number 2, nor our EDI VP, is a woman. Nor are they Irish (as far as I can tell). They seem, rather, to belong to the 60% of men and 40% of International, better again, non-EU staff on UCD’s top management team. In fact, however, all three are, or appear to be, International and non-EU in precisely the same way. Like Newman and, as far as I can tell, like the other International UMT members, they are, or appear to be British, or at least Anglo. And none of this is, of course, optimal for the UMT’s overall EDI score. Worse, given that the entire UMT is pinky-blue in complexion, the only possible grounds for passing their own EDI test (by compensation) would be religion or class or maybe traveller status. Realistically, then, it has to be religion. I suppose that rejecting a ‘sectarian’ Vatican invitation seemed like a good idea at the time. But it only counts for EDI points if you can get people to believe that you will turn down all invitations to comparably ‘sectarian’ events. Invitations to Mecca, for example. Otherwise it just looks like uncouth secularist exclusionism. And another thing: surely owning Newman and his Catholicism would be good for a couple of EDI points in relation to his ‘trans-religious’ identity? Isn’t ‘non-binary’ our EDI joker? After all, ‘England’s first saint in three hundred years’ was a convert from Anglicanism. He thus transitioned into what was a minority religion in his home culture. Surely this might add a couple of bonus decimal points to our scorecard? Miraculously (it doesn’t happen often), the mental agility required to calculate all this intersectional diversity (not to mention equality and inclusion) must have failed us. And so this time we stopped digging. Instead, we gathered our dignity and dispatched our guaranteed Irish, guaranteed woman VP for Research to the ceremony. The rest of the ViP squad, International and Irish, women and men, all stayed at home. Certainly, any worries that other Irish universities might have had about us throwing even more of our weight around on the strength of our Lucky Streak in the Sanctity department are entirely unfounded. Our Newman blurb appears to date from circa. 2010. It’s located on the ‘Present and Past Presidents’ page and ends with the words ‘His writings are studied even more today than during his lifetime and there are strong prospects for his eventual beatification and sainthood’. Time also stopped around 2010 for UCD’s ‘Newman Studies’ webpage. On the national front, though, it’s good to know that DCU’s president-elect, a historian, has a crystal-clear understanding of Newman’s significance. All is not lost.

I have two personal connections with Newman. My parents had a copy of his autobiography in their library. My mother went to college in Glasgow and my father in Galway. The only reason that I can imagine for either of them owning this book is that they had married in University Church on Stephens Green. This Church, nestling next to present-day Newman House, is one of the three city-centre properties that Newman acquired for Dublin’s fragile fledgling Catholic university. The fledgling had its work cut out for it to grow and thrive, located as it was only minutes from the toffs of Tudor Trinity and half an hour from the vaults of Vatican Maynooth. As for my second connection, it’s a longer story. I suspect that Pádraic Conway, the UCD scholar (of Newman) who sadly died in 2012, penned the piece that graces the UCD website. Every word of that piece should be kept when the final sentence is updated. Two notes stand out. The first recalls how Newman felt he had failed the University that he masterminded, because the reality of his achievements fell so far short of his hopes for his baby. The second recalls how his intellect, vision and energy were not above carving meat for thirty hungry students in the fledgling university’s refectory. Pádraic Conway struck me as a person of intellect, vision and energy too, though I only met him once in my life. It was at a most improbable ‘Performance Management and Development’ training session led by a former salesperson from Joe Duffy Motors Ltd.. Conway’s own very funny and quite profane performance to the gallery outshone by some distance the Used Car salesman’s pitch for PMDS. He clearly belonged to UCD’s inner circle, informally known as the Brady Bunch. Anyway, some time after that session, the first major UCD Languages Turkey Shoot kicked off with a hostile Quality Review. It was April 2009 and my father was dying. Whatever the reason, and whatever the source of his intelligence, a week later Pádraic Conway sent me his sympathy. As I read that card, which completely mystified me of course, I had no idea that my future relationship with Official UCD was already burning in the toaster, nor that Pádraic Conway was about to become very ill. I now have a very strong suspicion that he was connected, perhaps related, to a different Conway, also from County Sligo, whose name often came up in my dad’s fond reminiscences…

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