UCC appoints first external president in 50 years

Professor Patrick O'Shea: New head at UCC.

The Cork-born head of research at a United States university is to become president of University College Cork (UCC) next February.

The approval of Professor Patrick O’Shea’s selection by UCC’s governing body is the first external appointment to the role in 50 years.

Most of his academic career has been at University of Maryland and elsewhere in the US, but he stays in touch with the Irish higher education system. The UCC physics graduate is a director of the Wild Geese Network of Irish Scientists, and he hosted University College Dublin president Andrew Deeks earlier this year.

He takes over from Dr Michael Murphy at a university with 20,700 students, including 14,000 undergraduates, and a €300m annual income. The budget helps support 2,800 academic, research and administrative staff.

There is likely to be a focus on Prof O’Shea’s ability to help lever an increase in UCC’s annual €92m research income. His current role, which he assumed in 2011, oversees a €440m research and innovation budget.

His expertise is in electromagnetics and he has played a leading role in several large research programmes.

“My physics degree from UCC laid the foundation stone for a successful academic career in the US culminating in my current leadership role at the University of Maryland. I am delighted to return to my alma mater,” Prof O’Shea said.

UCC governing body chairperson Catherine Day said he will lead the university into a challenging decade.

“His academic, political, and business acumen has helped the University of Maryland to become one of the leading research universities in the world. We look forward to working with him in developing UCC’s national and international profile and reputation,” she said.

The post has been filled after a six-month international recruitment process and interviews took place a month ago. A number of senior UCC academic and management figures are understood to have applied, and some on the campus were hopeful that the country’s first female university president might be selected.

It is the sixth successive appointment of a UCC president from the maths, sciences, or medical sphere, but Prof O’Shea lists athletics, cycling, history, and linguistics among his other interests. UCC’s statement announcing the appointment said he is a strong advocate of cross-disciplinary work in universities, highlighting the importance of humanities studies and their interaction with science and other technical disciplines.

Prof O’Shea is the first president at the college not appointed from within the university since Donal McCarthy was appointed in 1967 — although he was a former UCC maths professor. He was educated at Coláiste Chríost Rí in Turner’s Cross, and holds masters and doctoral degrees from University of Maryland.

In response to a query from the Irish Examiner, UCC said the new president’s salary will be in line with public policy, and will be €185,000.

His tenure will begin amid uncertainty on third-level funding, with no decisions likely in the current political climate on whether to resolve the current crisis with increased Government investment, higher student fees, or both.


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