WIT board decide not to reappoint president

PROFESSOR Kieran Byrne’s role as president of Waterford Institute of Technology will not be extended today after the college board decided last night not to reappoint him after controversy over his expenses.

A meeting of the WIT governing body yesterday was scheduled to ratify a second term for Mr Byrne, who has been head of the college for the last 10 years. He had been recommended for reappointment from an earlier search and selection process and his existing contract expires today.

However, after several hours discussing the issue since early afternoon, the board’s chairman Dr Donie Ormonde said last night that it had been decided not to adopt the recommendation of the selection board.

“Given the strategic nature of the appointment, at a time of change and challenge in the third-level sector, the board has decided to broaden its search and selection process both nationally and internationally,” he said.

Details of spending by Prof Byrne’s office which emerged on Wednesday night showed that more than €130,000 was spent on taxis since 2004 and a similar figure was spent on fine art.

The use of a hired driven car was explained by him as necessary for travel to meetings in Dublin and for other purposes and he also told the Irish Examiner that the overall spending by his office of €3.5 million in more than six years was less than 1% of the college’s overall budget in that time.

Other expenses which emerged included more than €500,000 on publicity, including payments to public relations firms and professional photographers.

Almost €21,000 had been spent last year on the president’s office in WIT’s €21m tourism and leisure building, even though €50,000 was spent fitting it out as part of the original build which was completed just three years ago, according to figures highlighted by the Irish Examiner a month ago.

The governing body has appointed WIT’s secretary and financial controller Tony McFeely as interim president until a replacement is found.

The board has already asked for an independent review of costs associated with the president’s office from accounts Deloitte, and the Higher Education Authority had requested an immediate report on the spending and expenses on Wednesday.

It is understood that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has been highly concerned about the figures that have emerged in recent weeks and a public statement by him on Wednesday, acknowledging his awareness of the issues, appeared a clear signal of his discontent about the situation.

Dr Ormonde said Prof Byrne may remain as a member of the college management, as is standard practice within the institutes of technology sector, but it is not clear if Prof Byrne intends to do so.

“I would like to thank Professor Byrne for his service and commitment towards achieving university status for the institute, which the governing body hopes will be within its reach shortly,” Dr Ormonde said.

Announcing the independent spending review last week, Dr Ormonde said the governing body would decide on foot of the outcome if changes were needed to procedures for spending at the college, including the possibility of new reporting arrangements, to ensure value for money and safeguarding the use of public funds.

The spending expenses of the president’s office also included almost €1m in college subscriptions and fees to Institutes of Technology Ireland, an umbrella body for the sector, and employers organisation IBEC.

Travel expenses for the governing body totalling almost €25,000 during the period of more than six years were also amassed.

The building accommodating the president’s office includes a boardroom which cost €86,750 to fit out and furnish.


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