The Provost of the Trinity Perspective on Fundraising, Freedom of Speech and a Solution to the Housing Crisis
Meghan Markle was walking through Trinity’s Long Room and getting ready to sign the guestbook when something caught her eye.
What is it, provost? she asked, turning to Patrick Prendergast. “Twenty busts of men on this side and 20 busts of men on this side?” Where are all the women? “
Sitting in the library of his house at No 1 Grafton Street, Prendergast, which took office in 2011, is reluctant to remember the moment. “What was I supposed to say?” I just said next time you come back we will have some women.
It’s a promise he kept, but he adds, “There’s no way she could have told at a glance that they were all men, someone must have. [prompted her]. “
The 55-year-old is preparing boxes, preparing to leave the bedroom of his successor, Linda Doyle, the first wife provost in the 429-year history of the university. the the provost is the chief officer, responsible for the performance of Trinity.
During her decade in the role, Prendergast saw the conversation on campus shift from climate change to gender equality, colonial legacies and ‘deplatform’ – a practice where students deny people the opportunity to share. controversial views.
However, unlike the United States and Britain, where there are plans to impose fines on universities that violate free speech, Prendergast favors a more passive approach.
He points to a case last year where the university’s debate society withdrew an invitation to scientist Richard Dawkins about his views on Islam.
“I am not a dictator. It was not for me to tell the students what to do. I respect their autonomy in their own society to make their own judgment, but I have advised them to think carefully about their decision.
A title change of the Trinity Library – named after the Philosopher and Slave owner George Berkeley – is also on the agenda, as are plans to “decolonize the curriculum”.
“Some people who are not involved in education laugh at that and say, ‘It’s just these academics who are awake,’ but they’re wrong, ‘Prendergast says. “It’s important to ask why we teach what we teach.
The university wants to examine, he says, “how we uproot things that many might see as challenges to our current values.” And let’s see if the current order made an impact. I’m really open to any outcome that comes with it, but what I’m not open to is that we don’t even study it ”.
If we are to “root out” people with dark pasts, who survives? Some of the greatest Irish, including Oscar Wilde, for example, who would have fraternized with underage boys, are then subject to debate.
“A lot of people survive,” says Prendergast. “Maybe even Berkeley. But let’s not bury our heads in the sand and say it doesn’t make a difference. It does. “
Aung San Suu Kyi received an honorary degree from Trinity in 2011. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has come under international criticism for her failure to condemn the atrocities committed by the country’s military against the Rohingya people, a situation which the UN has called “ethnic cleansing” ”.
She has since been stripped of the Freedom of Dublin, and former supporters Bob Geldof and U2 have publicly condemned the politician.
“I don’t know if it’s time to come back to it,” said the provost. “We thought about it at the time and it’s clear that a lot is happening in Myanmar. It’s a very complicated political situation, but I wonder how much we really know about it.
“In fact, Trinity has no mechanism to remove an honorary degree. Worth the debate, but not a priority on the agenda.
“Who are you or I sitting here to judge the difficulties that Aung San had to face?” Obviously Dublin City Council felt they knew enough to suppress freedom, and I’m not saying they were wrong, but we would think long and hard before we do. I’m not saying “never”, but that’s not under discussion at the moment.
One of the last areas we tackle is housing crisis that reached the levels of the Celtic Tiger. “We have always done our best in DBT to keep our costs low,” says Prendergast. “I think everyone agrees that we have a dysfunctional housing market. “
What can be done about it, however?
“Well, we could build cheaper student housing instead of building all these units that have en-suite showers, which are expensive. I was in Oxford recently and was accommodated in one of the colleges there and the shower was down the hall. You put on your dressing gown to wash in the hallway.
Likewise, could students share with other people? “Yes. So we could build housing much, much cheaper.
Does it mean co-living?
“Well, yes, for the students it works well. We have done our best to develop a cheaper construction project – and by that I mean “good value for money” – housing. “
“I shared in college and was happy to do so. We actually asked the students about it and they didn’t want to share a room even though it would be half the price.
This runs counter to universities abroad, he says, where students “share rooms and toilet blocks.” If Irish universities followed suit, “we would be able to hire them for 160 € per week against 250 €”.
So why don’t you do it?
“The students don’t want it.
He wonders aloud if the survey was designed to get the right answers and thinks the college should ask the students the question once more.
“I think it will come back to the agenda,” he concludes.
Finally, we discuss the highlight of his tenure: the fact that a campaign led by him attracted over € 400 million in significant Irish philanthropic donations. Most recently, Irish millionaire Eric Kinsella and his wife Barbara donated 30 million euros for the new Trinity East campus.
Before the interview, Prendergast jokes with some dismay: “I report that we have raised 30 million euros. and he gets four “likes” on Twitter. Someone posts a photo of the five baby foxes born in Trinity last April and it’s going viral. “
Later, he is more serious when he says, “I hope Eric and Barbara will get great satisfaction knowing that they are going to change the direction of a 429 year old university. It truly is a historic moment for Trinity. “
He remembers the moment he went cap in hand to Kinsella: “I asked him for some serious money and I remember he was very calm. He looked away from me for a moment and I thought, “Oh my God, I’ve asked for too much”.
“At the end, Eric said, ‘I’m going to do it. It was only a minute of my provost, but it was probably the longest minute in 10 years.