All revved up over pay claim

January 19, 2007

The "mental horsepower" of Irish university presidents has become one of the topics of discussion and gossip that take place over coffee in staff common rooms.

The unfortunate choice of phrase was one of many that graced a confidential submission made on behalf of the presidents for a pay rise of at least 55 per cent that was leaked to the public.

Most of the submission to a high-level pay review body is well argued, pointing to the undoubted role that the seven Irish universities have played in developing the Celtic Tiger economy. But it was sexed up by a human relations consultant who inserted management-speak about university heads becoming "corporate chief executives" who must "position their businesses to grow and be ethically and effectively managed and led".

It refers to "win-win partnerships" and extending people's "line of sight", but the phrases that have stuck in the public's mind concern the competencies needed for the modern university president, including being "street-smart", having "emotional intelligence" and the memorable but baffling "mental horsepower."

The seven presidents are on salaries ranging from €186,000 (£124,000) to €205,000, about the same as government ministers. Using a formula devised by a previous pay review body, the submission from the Irish Universities Association (IUA) argues that their salary should be €319,000.

Three university heads live in houses provided on campus. Another looked for a housing allowance equivalent to 20 per cent of salary, but this was recently rejected by the Education Ministry.

The presidents are very embarrassed about the disclosure and are keeping their heads as low as possible. Normally keen to publicly lament underfunding of universities, they have declined media invitations to justify the claim.

Sources close to the IUA pointed out that there were business people on the review body who were used to the management language in the document, which was never intended for public comment.

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