Friday 20 September 2019

NUI Maynooth suing UCD over alleged 'poaching' of one of its academic staff

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Aodhan O'Faolain and Ray Managh

One of Ireland's universities is suing another third-level institution over the alleged 'poaching' of one of its academic staff.

The National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) has brought High Court proceedings against University College Dublin over Professor Kath Browne's move from the Co Kildare-based college to UCD.

Prof Browne, the court heard, is a professor of Geographies of Sexualities and Genders. She joined NUIM following an open competition in 2017.

NUIM claims that last May she was approached by UCD and advised to apply for a position with the Dublin college.

She tendered her resignation from NUIM in June 2019 and is expected to take up her new role as a full professor at UCD in September.

The move has resulted in NUIM bringing High Court judicial review proceedings against UCD, which in correspondence has argued the claim is not judicially reviewable.

NUI Maynooth, represented by Declan McGrath, SC, claims that it is not trying to prevent Prof Browne from taking up the position at UCD, but is seeking various declarations from the court aimed at stopping what it alleges are unlawful.

NUIM claims that Prof Browne was recruited under UCD's Central Pool Academic Appointments Programme, which it uses to attract academics who like Prof Browne hold academic research grants, and are employed by other universities.

In reply to a question from Mr Justice Senan Allen, counsel agreed that his client was claiming that its staff member had been "poached" by UCD.

It also claims that the particular mode of the programme under which Prof Browne was recruited involves inviting applicants to send their cv to the relevant Head of School in UCD for consideration.

Such appointments were not by promotion or competition as required, Mr McGrath said.  It was not an open and transparent process, nor was it consistent with international best practice, he added.

Mr McGrath said the procedure engaged by UCD that led to Prof Browne's appointment had also breached a 2006 Staff Recruitment Agreement entered into by the two universities.  It was also Maynooth’s contention that the position was not advertised.

NUI Maynooth seeks declarations that UCD's appointments programme is contrary to the 1997 Universities Act and contrary to a 2006 Co-operation accord signed by the then Presidents of seven Irish Universities concerning the recruiting of academic staff.

Maynooth also seeks a declaration that UCD has broken the 2006 Staff recruitment agreement between it and UCD which expressly provided neither institution would approach the staff of the other institution directly or indirectly, or offer employment other than within the terms of an agreed protocol. 

The university further seeks damages against UCD because of the Dublin college's alleged unlawful conduct.

Mr McGrath said Maynooth was willing to go to mediation or enter into arbitration with UCD over the dispute.  He said the Dept. of Education had expressed a desire that the matter did not go before the courts.

Permission to bring the action was granted on an ex-parte basis by Mr Justice Allen who made the matter returnable to a date in October.

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