Born and raised on the east side of the Berlin Wall, Professor Kerstin Mey will have a particularly keen understanding of what means to witness the tearing down of tradition.
In 1592, Trinity College Dublin became the first higher education institution on this island. It has taken another 428 years for an Irish university to put a woman in charge.
Prof Mey, a 56-year-old professor of visual culture, makes history as not only the first female president of the University of Limerick (UL), but the first for any university in Ireland. Not only a witness, but an actor and not pulling down a wall but breaking through a glass ceiling.
Prof Mey is taking over the top job only two years after arriving in UL, having been appointed vice-president in April 2018. She said she was "proud and really humbled to lead the University of Limerick over the next period".
Albeit an interim appointment for 18 months, pending the outcome of an international recruitment process, it has set a new standard for gender equality in academia.
Prof Mey will replace Dr Des Fitzgerald (66), who is stepping down early for personal reasons related to the challenges associated with running a university in the context of the Covid-19 threat.
After the UL Governing Authority ratified Prof Mey's appointment yesterday, Chancellor Mary Harney said she would be a "great appointee and one in whom we have every faith in to lead the university at a challenging time. She has already demonstrated her capacity for leadership in her role as vice-president".
Ms Harney noted the significant gender imbalance at the senior leadership level in Irish universities, adding: "It is fitting that UL now has the first female president given our consistent leading position on gender equality in higher education in Ireland."
Dr Fitzgerald said UL was "very fortunate to have someone of this calibre lead the university. Kerstin has tackled the difficult task of the return to UL post-Covid and is well positioned to bring UL through this challenging period".
"She is an outstanding academic with a strong empathy for students and the academic mission of UL. She has a vision for UL that will place it in a leading position nationally and globally," he said.
Prof Mey's previous roles include pro-vice chancellor and dean of the Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design and professor of contemporary art and theory at the University of Westminster, London.
Her CV also includes director of UK's Consortium for Research Excellence, Support and Training, GuildHE (CREST); vice-chair of the UK's Council for Higher Education in Art and Design (CHEAD); membership of the Austrian Science Board; and membership of the Supervisory Board of the European Foundation for Press and Media Freedom.
Prof Mey is on the board of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and the Irish Universities Association Campus Engage Steering Group.
Other affiliations include membership of the International Symposium of Electronic Arts International Advisory Committee, the board of the Irish Chamber Orchestra and the board of the Irish Aerial Creation Centre. She acts as reviewer for international funding bodies, academic institutions and publishers and her own publications include 'Art and Obscenity' (2007).
While a number of institutes of technology have appointed female presidents, women have been severely under-represented in the upper echolons of Irish academia: no female university presidents until yesterday and a gender gap across all senior roles.
Prof Mey's appointment follows a period of intense scrutiny of the divide. A 2018 Higher Education Authority (HEA) report showed that 51pc of university lecturers were female, but when it came to the senior role of professor, only 24pc were women; in institutes of technology, women held 45pc of lecturer jobs, but only 36pc of senior lecturer positions.
While much of the focus of the gender equality debate in higher education has been on academics, the imbalance is found across all areas.
Significant under-representation of women has persisted despite a call to action in a 2016 report from an expert group chaired by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who has served as both a cabinet minister and EU commissioner.
That group was established by the HEA as a first step in a strategic approach to redressing the balance and the HEA has been keeping tabs on developments.
Former higher education minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor prioritised the issue with a Gender Equality Taskforce aimed at speeding things up.
A 2018 analysis found that it could take up to 20 years to achieve an average of 40pc females at professor level in universities.
In an intervention that attracted criticism for being anti-male, Ms Mitchell O'Connor subsequently announced 45 new women-only senior professorships under the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). The first 20 SALI posts are in the process of being filled and now Prof Mey has broken further new ground.