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The Presidents Blog

You know, it takes courage to commit ones random thoughts to the immortality of a weblog. Many leaders of society hide behind armies of scriptwriters and spin-doctors or doctorettes. I believe I may be the only Irish University President at the present moment in time with the guts to let it all hang out, as they say. So here goes. I hope you will all find some inspiration in these pages, to live better, fuller and more productive lives.

Actually, since I first began "posting", as the young people say, another university-head has followed my lead. I claim no responsibility, and would be the last to say that I might have inspired emulation.

Aim for the top!

This revolutionary thought came to me suddenly the other other day when I was snooping around the back end of another Irish university, checking out the competition. Along a city street I came to this sign, hanging outside a humble grocery store

There's a lesson there for all of us. Not only do these people offer superb VFM (no, it's not a dirty word, Dorothy, it just means old-fashioned Value For Money), but they also simultaneously at the same time aspire to excellence. This grocery store offer a product that sets itself boldly apart from the ordinary run of luncheon snacks. Proudly advertising a "Luxary Muffin" is a kind of statement of who we are today, a sort of aspiration of how we too can be world-class -- if only we dare to try! I've shown this picture to my Top Management Squad, and asked them to pin it up on the inside of their lockers. In its own humble way, it says it all about what we're trying to do!

Irish Universities. Where Quality Counts.

King's College Dublin is not the only Irish university that's striving to constantly uptick it's quality enhancement. True, we are the only ones to have our very own Center for Academic Accountability, Efficiency, Effectiveness, Excellence and Entrepreneurialism (CAAEEEE), but other colleges too seem to have their quality offices and their centers for teaching and learning and what have you, and we don't grudge them their little successes, although one does wonder about the expense at a time when basic teaching services are being savagely slashed. KCD has the most streamlined and internationalized validation system of the lot, as our degree courses are assessed and validated by PUQIS, the Private Universities Quality Inspection System (Cayman Islands). The domestic universities, if I may call them that, have come together to form their own local quality body, the Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB). They publish a newsletter with, I must say, a number of very lovely color photographs. I'd get my own portrait redone in a more glamorous format, except that it wouldn't be cost-effective and I might be accused of vanity. Please note that the IUQB claims no link or credit for Kings College Dublin. Indeed they exclude us from their operations on the grounds that we are a fictional institution. Am I alone in finding that a somewhat narrow-minded attiutude?

The Celtic Tiger - What Have We Lost?

Y'know, I'm all in favour of progress. Always have been. So when I go down Grafton Street at Yuletide, I don't mind if the Christmas cribs in the big shop windows have moved with the times. In December 2006, this was one of the displays on offer from our premier luxury department store, Brown Thomas:

I must say, Saint Joseph in top hat and tails looks a lot more dapper than the traditional old down-and-out, while as for the Virgin Mary, I've never seen her so stylish. But y'know, I sometimes wonder - as Ireland changes and develops in the new milennium going forward, isn't there the danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

Taking pride in what we do

All too often we hear the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity, the trendy philosophers of the subsidized left, claim that there's some class of natural contradiction between the aesthetic and the commercial. Naturally, nothing could be further from the truth. Even CIE, Irelands national transport company, is striving to inculcate a sense of pride and a feeling of environmental awareness, among it's customers, by beautifying it's stations at the same time as bringing them bang up to date with present-day standards. A lick of paint, a sensitive planting program can make all the difference. Here's just one example, snapped at Tara Street DART station.

We all need a smidgen of Nature to uplift our spirits as we hasten about our daily duties. But each and every one of us must play our part. So my advice to the hurrying executive is: Enjoy your surroundings. Stop to smell the flowers. But if you want a blossom for your buttonhole, do me a favour, lads. Buy your own.

Littery masterpieces

Dublin City Council is after sticking a nice new caption on garbage receptacles all over our fair city: "Litter is disgusting. So are those responsible". Here's what the young eople call a "link": http://www.flickr.com/photos/stunoble/3396996756/

Well, I ask you. Am I along in finding that a tad off-putting? "Disgusting ... disgusting ... disgusting" -- what sort of impression is that gong to make on our tourists, I ask you? And all in black and white, too. Not a green shamrock in sight.

I myself ventured into Trinity College last year, incognito of course, to check out the competition. They have a grand old library in there, with a shop selling teddy bears and tie pins and other academic items. Here's two pictures of the building, before and after a slight improvement in the littery environment:

>>>>

Can you spot the difference? Yes indeed, they've invested in a better bin and cleared those students off the grass. A great improvement all around.

What do students learn in other universities?

Here's a little pic I snapped on a Departmental noticeboard in a rival institution. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Especially as a parent concerned with VFM and moral fibre. Here's the sort of stuff they study:

Irish Art Take's Off

Irish artists have been enjoying a Renaissance in recent times, as far as auction prices are concerned. In 2006 a painting by Louis Le Brocquy was purchased for the National Gallery of Ireland at a cost of 1.7 million pounds sterling - a record for an Irish living artist. And a rising tide lifts all boats, as this sign from a Dawson Street art dealer's window clearly demonstrates:

I have ordered a diligent search of all King's College Dublin premises in search of original paintings by these and other Irish artistes. My predecessor, President Cregan, patronized some local daubers, and although some of us doubted the wisdom of this policy during his lifetime, it's certainly worth having a root around the attics to see what treasures we may uncover. I urge my readers to do the same.

Presidents need a dig-out

In the Irish Independent (5 January 2007), John Walshe reports that Ireland's public-sector university presidents are claiming a pay rise to 320,000 euros a year, up from their current 187,000-205,000 salary range. That extra cash is due because their leadership roles have become more complex and accountable. Their role is no longer that of an educator, the article says, but has become "more akin to the corporate chief executive who must develop and drive strategically and position their businesses to grow and be ethnically and effectively managed and led". Who could fail to be convinced by such eloquence? We have to move away from the old "academic community" fetish, and the outdated view of a President as a sort of communal cooking-stove, or "primus inter pares". We new-style Presidents are a different breed. We know what must be done. We know how to mould our former colleagues. We know what we're worth. If Ireland doesn't pay us the going rate, the great universities of the world will snap us up in a flash, so they will. And that goes for me too. King's College is lucky to have me for their leader. In my own peculiar fashion, I've done the state some service, so I deserve some status. Oh, and by the bye, not wishing to sound pedantic, guys, but I think that should be "ethically" not "ethnically". (Small joke. Where would we be if we lost our sense of craic?)

Presidents Awards for Excellence

My leadership tip of the day: If you want to get people eating out of your hand, set up a system of Awards. For teaching, for research, for administrative efficiency -- it doesn't really matter which. Academics are all aspiring prizewinners by nature, so they'll queue up for your awards, their long pink tongues hanging out. Step 2: Make a Presidents Award mandatory ("mandatory" is a new-style Yankee word meaning "necessary") for any sort of promotion, recognition of even confirmation in employment. Step 3: Get a good committee of respected hacks to decide who gets the award. Don't decide it yourself -- that looks like favouritism -- but make it known what sort of winner you would personally favour. You will be amazed how this simple little device can turn your lesser colleagues into compliant rivals. Once you have personally pinned the ribbon on the winner's lapel, you will have made a friend for life. In at least two-thirds of the cases. And even the losers will respect you all the more.

Frankly yours -- President Magnus O'Toole. Forget the degrees. This is just me.

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