University of Limerick president announces his plan to step down

UL President, Dr Des Fitzgerald Picture Sean Curtin True Media

THE University of Limerick President, Dr Des Fitzgerald, has announced his plan to step down from his role, ending his term with effect from later this year.

The Governing Authority of the University (GA) will commence an international recruitment process to select a replacement.

The serving university president said the decision to resign was taken in the context of COVID-19 which would “impact my ability to serve the university”.

In a letter to the Chancellor, Ms. Mary Harney, Dr Fitzgerald said, “Unfortunately this virus will directly impact my ability to serve the university and limit my ability to fully engage once we get our community back onto the campus.”

He thanked the Chancellor for the support she has provided to him and for the leadership she brings to UL.

Dr Fitzgerald was appointed as President of UL in late 2016 and commenced his term of office in early 2017. Prior to his appointment, Dr Fitzgerald had held leadership positions in a number of leading academic institutions and was Vice President for Research and Vice President for Health Affairs at UCD.

Speaking earlier this week, Dr Fitzgerald said that he had been privileged to lead UL and he and his colleagues “have made important progress on key issues” during his term, highlighting the steps taken to establish a city-centre campus.

He said, “I believe that during my term as President, my colleagues and I have made important progress on key issues including successfully taking the first steps in establishing a campus in the city, developing our healthcare programmes, growing our research output and increasing the University’s engagement in education globally.

We also agreed an ambitious strategic plan for the University which in the context of Covid-19 will require some further review, but which remains an important vision of what UL can become in the years ahead.”

Dr Fitzgerald said he believes the university also made “important progress” in tackling issues which UL faced.

He said, “I believe we have also made important progress on tackling many of the controversial issues which predated my appointment and which were set out in the Thorn Report, the Deloitte Internal Audit and the report of the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG).

“I am glad that during my period in office most of the issues detailed in the above reports have been dealt with and their recommendations implemented.”

The UL President said he was “particularly proud” of the university’s response to the current pandemic “in recognising its gravity early, in rapidly and successfully moving online and in contributing to the fight against the pandemic in our community”.

“The University’s management showed great foresight in moving quickly and the academic and support staff have shown great skill in bringing a difficult year for them and our students to a successful end,” he said.

The Chancellor of the University of Limerick, Ms Mary Harney, paid tribute to the “transformational President”:

Ms Harney said, “Des has been a transformational President and I regret that he has had to take this decision as a result of Covid-19.

“Highlights of his time in office include the very ambitious Strategic Plan ([email protected]) which he oversaw together with the fulfilment of a decade long dream to secure a prime city centre site for the university in Limerick and a step change in the delivery of research programmes and an increase in the University’s research funding.

“And in recent months, Des led the university’s successful response to the Covid-19 crisis. On behalf of the Governing Authority I want to thank Des for all his hard work I want to wish him and Maggie health and happiness in the future.”

COVID-19 could shape the future of the university sector

Dr Fitzgerald, who is a medical doctor, warned that the Covid-19 crisis would shape the future of the university sector for the next decade and beyond.

“COVID-19 will force universities across the world to re-examine both their business and academic models. Significant changes and investment will be required to support the sector.”

He said it was vital that the new government stepped up to the plate to protect the university sector in Ireland as it would play a crucial role in the economy’s recovery.

Dr Fitzgerald said that he was confident that with the right support now, the future for UL was bright.

“The very existence of UL is testimony to the can-do attitude of the people of the Mid-West region who overcame enormous obstacles to secure its development. That same spirit will be vital in the years to come but I have no doubt the importance of UL to the region and to the broader economy will grow significantly in the years ahead.”