Stephen Goulding and Heather Steele examine the recent controversy over UCC President Michael Murphy’s recent comments regarding his salary.
The president of UCC, Dr Michael Murphy, came under scrutiny in the media last week when it emerged that he is under “stress” with regards to his salary. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Dr Murphy insisted that he and his counterparts at other Irish universities “are as challenged at paying their bills as anyone else.” He also added that the general populace might not comprehend the difficulty he is under due to the “scale difference”. The comments emerged at Dublin Castle earlier in September where Dr Murphy and eight other university heads gathered to present the tireless philanthropist Charles Feeney, with an honorary law degree for his donations to the Irish Education system which has spanned two decades.
It is not the first time that the president’s salary of €232,000 a year has been the topic of debate in national media: in a list of the top one hundred earners of the Irish education sector, published in The Irish Independent in November 2010, Dr Murphy was ranked third. In a more recent list published by the Irish Times in December 2011, it emerged that 45 members of UCC staff earned more than 150, 000 a year with the majority of the list topping the 200,000 mark.
Dr Murphy, former Dean of Medicine of UCC and Consultant Clinical Pharmacologist and Physician at The Mercy University Hospital, Cork, also was quick to add that he had taken a “15% pay-cut”. He questioned the depth of the cuts the government made to his salary–after they imposed public sector cuts in 2010– stating that it has made a huge impact on his salary: “On top of that [15% pay-cut] then came the public sector pay cuts and levies. So when I say I’m down 40pc in my cash flow, how far do you want people to go? I think everybody in the country has been making enormous sacrifices.”
He furthered this by dismissing any rumours that his house and car were provided for him by UCC: “Contrary to popular opinion, I do not have a house or a car provided by the university.” However, his expenses—which covered his travel costs and accommodation— totalled €75,000 in the year 2008-2009 alone, when UCC’s debt had accumulated to the amount of €13 million.
Dr Murphy was defensive of his position, implying that his salary (€30, 000 over that of An Taoiseach) was not superfluous. Dr Murphy went onto say that were he to work outside Ireland, he, and most university heads of Ireland, would earn a greater amount of money and substantial benefits: “Most of the people who are working as heads of Irish universities could be doing the same thing in universities anywhere around the globe at twice the pay.” In closing he added that the reduction in pay at senior level positions could lead to a drop in quality of the individuals who hold these roles: “I would be seriously concerned that this continuing campaign to force further and further reductions in the quality of life of people who are working 60- and 70-hour weeks will drive people out of the country. It is already happening”
Conversely the president of NUI Galway also spoke after the conferral and was in favour of the government cutting high earning public sector worker’s pay. “If the Government decides what I should be paid, I’ll live with that. They already cut us back 20% — and rightly so.” Following on from his comments he said that university presidents should be accountable for their earnings. “I would also be very strongly in favour of everybody being asked to justify their salary — to make sure that the people who have those salaries are earning them.
The issue of the president’s salary has rekindled against the back-drop of UCC’s decline in the QS ratings (dropping from 181st place to 190th, its lowest rating in the past two years). The President also made a statement in the Cork Chamber of Commerce during their annual Christmas breakfast meeting where he posited that some of the funds that are designated to disadvantaged students should be allocated to more academically ‘gifted’ students—remarks that were branded as “arrogant” and “elitist” by both TDs and fellow staff members at UCC alike.
Given the president’s prolific public image, UCC Express was eager to gain a better understanding of the view of the student body here at UCC and sent two of its writers, Heather Steele and Stephen Goulding on campus to ask students what they took of Dr Murphy’s recent comments and the man himself.
“The SU were extremely disappointed by the comments made by the president regarding his salary. We feel it shows how disconnected the President is with the financial hardships facing students on the ground, however I believe that Dr. Murphy was misquoted based on an informal conversation with a journalist. We feel that the drop in QS rankings is in no way connected to Dr. Murphy’s performance. The continual cut-backs being enforced by the government are making Higher Education and the Quality of the Irish education system unsustainable.”