I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to present the case. This case constitutes a flagrant breach of trust, not only the public trust but also the special trust and freedom which are fundamental to academic life and, as such, it was a tremendous source of distress and embarrassment to the university community in Galway. The question is what went wrong. I would say, frankly, a system that was over-reliant on trust was exposed in a number of respects. Its weaknesses were exploited by an individual who was prepared to break the rules and act dishonestly over a long period of time. I want to reassure the members, however, that lessons have been learned from this experience and our systems have been revised to ensure such abuse will not recur.
I will try to indicate briefly the types of change that have taken place in the university in the past ten years, some of which follow on from this experience and some of which were already in train.
The first point concerns our supervisory structures. Since 2008 we have put in place a new academic structure. Rather than 55 atomised departments across seven faculties we now have a unified structure of 16 schools in five colleges. This new structure places far greater emphasis on performance management. Each school is managed by a head of school under whom, by statute, all staff including professors carry out their duties.
The issue of external work has been addressed. The university has in place rules on engaging in and reporting on external work and consultancy, and these rules were flagrantly broken by the lecturer in question. On an annual basis this lecturer signed documentation confirming he did not engage in consultancy work, and those papers are in my file. In fact, each academic member of staff in the university is required to seek permission for any external work on an annual basis or to confirm that he or she is not engaging in external work.
The system has been revised, in the light of the experience of this case, in the following way. First, the entitlement to engage in appropriate consultancy has been reduced to a maximum of 10% of an individual's time; second, the request to engage in consultancy or external work must now be confirmed and countersigned by the head of school; and, third, permission is only given if it is clear that the work does not interfere with the staff member's regular duties.
A second important change in our oversight and management procedures relates to what we call activity profiles of academics. Every four months, every academic in Galway is required to fill in a statement of his or her work in the previous time and the proportion of time allocated in that previous four months to areas such as undergraduate teaching, postgraduate teaching, other teaching activities — workshops, laboratories, etc., research activity and outputs and institutional responsibilities.
We also have a new workload model which is implemented across the schools. On an annual basis each member of staff is required to document his or her contribution in detail across the areas I have just mentioned.
I will conclude my remarks in the following way. It is important to realise that in an academic institution there is a balance to be struck between what one might call standard managerial control and reporting on the one hand and also the need to recognise that academic authority does not of necessity follow a hierarchical structure.
The traditional accommodation between those two considerations to preserve the concept of academic freedom has been to essentially accept that academic staff operate in an environment of trust. In fact, the experience in the universities, and certainly my personal experience over 25 years, is that the majority of academic staff do deliver on that trust and work far harder than they might be expected to.
It was the breach of that trust in this case that caused the university such distress and led us to treat the issue with the utmost seriousness and to act immediately we knew about it. We acted within days of the event being brought to our attention and dealt with it.
We have since revised our procedures and systems and I suggest to the committee that an isolated case of this kind should not panic us into abandoning the concept of trust, which is so fundamental to the academic enterprise and I believe is adhered to by the vast majority of academics.
For the future, our policy must be trust, but verify. I suggest to the committee that our systems now in place around academic profiling, workload modelling and the head of school's responsibilities in regard to the activities of staff provide for appropriate verification of that trust.