Trinity election fails test

April 21, 2011

The article "Clash of the centuries" (14 April) on the election of Trinity College Dublin's new provost expressed two problems with the process as I observed it: unreal romanticism and disconnection from present dangers.

By chance I was present at the election's final hustings, where each candidate addressed the electorate. Of the five contenders, only one was an external candidate. Only the outsider expressed the stark problems facing the institution: Trinity is reliant on a bankrupt government and must formulate a rigorous financial plan for independence.

There were vote-catching promises from the internal candidates: the library would stay open later; the bus service between campuses would be improved. At the other extreme, one even promised to raise an unreal EUR1 billion (£880 million) for the college.

So perhaps Trinity is doomed. If it does not engineer a unique place in the globalised academy, marrying tradition and distinction with a proper financial plan, it may join the long list of redundant Irish properties.

The institution's parochial system for electing provosts favours the inside candidate who, to be elected, has to promise the trivial and must never frighten the electorate. The system excludes new blood with new ideas.

The anointed successor to the incumbent provost won. The external candidate came last.

John Martin, Professor of cardiovascular medicine, University College London

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