Interview with Michael Monaghan

The award-winning administrator discusses the transformational power of higher education, pulling pints on Hollyoaks, and the challenges of public speaking

June 27, 2019
Michael Monaghan

Michael Monaghan is a leadership and development adviser at Liverpool John Moores University, running staff development programmes and offering one-to-one coaching. This year he was named the Association of University Administrators’ member of the year for the second time, recognising his efforts to develop the organisation and to support continuing professional development.

Where and when were you born?
I was born in the 1980s in the Ford area of Liverpool, a typical low socio-economic council estate. I was the eldest of four siblings. My father suffered with mental health problems and was around until I was 11. We relied solely on government benefits to live, as did the majority of my friends’ families.

How has this shaped you?
It gave me a deep drive to work hard and do better. I did not want to live on the breadline any more, sometimes not having any money for food or electricity, and I certainly did not want my children to experience such hardships. It did, however, instil a great sense of community and respect for others in me; there was always trouble going on where I lived but everyone looked out for each other and always conducted themselves respectfully.                                   

Do you see yourself as an example of how higher education can transform lives?
Definitely. I have a career; my son and daughter will grow up seeing someone get up and go to work every day. I am married, live in a four-bedroom semi-detached house and have a car. This is probably normal to most, but to me, it is what I dreamed of growing up. I have a holiday now every year, and growing up I didn’t even have a passport until I was in college. Higher education clearly transformed my life and I love that I am now able to contribute to this for others on their own journeys.

How does it feel to be recognised with two AUA member of the year awards?
Very, very humbling. I am not often lost for words but receiving the AUA member of the year award for the second time left me speechless and very choked up. It meant so much for me.

Do you think professional services staff get the respect that they deserve?
Parity of esteem is extremely important for all groups of staff in higher education. When I speak to professional services staff, the majority do feel respected, in the sense that their work is valued by their colleagues in both academic and professional services. When I ask the question, “do you think professional services staff are valued as a collective”, the answer is usually, “not enough”. Changing perceptions of this is challenging, particularly when we know it is a self-perception too. What has been key at my own institution is empowering professional services staff in their own roles and striving for uniformity with what is available for our academic staff.

What jobs did you have before working in higher education?
My first job was as a dishwasher during high school, earning £3.60 an hour and usually working 30 hours a week on top of school. Since then I’ve worked as a checkout operator, waiter, shelf-stacker, customer-services adviser, telesales adviser, door-to-door salesman, barman, at a bowling alley, literacy and numeracy support volunteer, telemarketer selling furniture insurance, dialler coordinator, learning mentor, and as a regular extra on Hollyoaks, including being the students’ union barman for over six months.

What are the best and worst things about working in higher education?
The best thing about higher education is the positive role it plays in social mobility and its integral part in educating our future leaders and a large part of our workforce. The worst thing about higher education for me is the growing consumer attitude of students stemming from the rise in fees.

What do you do for fun?
Making and eating sushi, lots of it. I like running, football, golf, swimming, tennis, badminton and going to the gym. Since having spine surgery two years ago, I have done a dozen 10km races, a half-marathon and two sprint triathlons. I love watching good films and TV shows, playing board games and writing, and at the moment I’m writing a comedy play called The Wise Wizard of the Tangerine Tree and a sci-fi adventure novel, A Priori: Midas, City of Light.

What saddens you?
When people don’t do things because of a lack of confidence. One of the main duties of my job is the delivery of group sessions and my colleagues always assume, because I am very comfortable with public speaking, that I am a confident person, when I’d actually say I’m not that confident. I am able to do the delivery to large groups because I don’t worry or get stressed about it, which is a personal choice I force myself to make to ensure I focus all my energy on what matters.

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
My grandad. He was born with a cleft palate and finds it very difficult to talk and for people to understand him. He’s had one eye since he was 14 when he lost it in an attack with scissors, and he’s illiterate. Despite this, my grandad has raised three children, worked for 50 years on building yards and always provided for his family. He is now in his eighties, has lost a leg, can’t lift his arms up past his shoulders and has had two strokes. Yet he hasn’t lost his sense of humour and still has that non-giving-up, resilient attitude, which many of his generation have.


Barbara Messerle has been appointed provost of the University of Sydney. Professor Messerle, currently executive dean of the faculty of science and engineering at Macquarie University, will take up her new role in September, succeeding Stephen Garton. As provost, Professor Messerle will be responsible for the university’s academic activities and will oversee its faculties and schools. Michael Spence, Sydney’s vice-chancellor, said Professor Messerle had “an outstanding track record in higher education and proven experience in innovation and transformational change”.

Jeremy Haefner has been named the next chancellor of the University of Denver. Professor Haefner currently serves as Denver’s provost and executive vice-chancellor and will succeed Rebecca Chopp, who is stepping down next month due to health concerns. Prior to joining Denver last year, Professor Haefner was provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology. Denise O’Leary, chair of the university’s board of trustees, said that Professor Haefner was “a national thought leader in student and faculty success, a great communicator, and an individual personally committed to advancing the University”.

Kimberley Lawless will be the next dean of the College of Education at Pennsylvania State University. Currently associate dean for research in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she will take up her new role in September, succeeding David Monk.

John Pymm, currently dean of the faculty of arts at Wolverhampton University, will join the University of the Creative Arts next month as pro vice-chancellor (global engagement and portfolio development).

Ed Wilding has been appointed head of the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham. He will move from his current post as professor in psychology at the University of Nottingham in September.

Bob Carr, a former foreign minister of Australia, is joining the University of Technology Sydney as an industry professor focusing on business and climate change.

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