The University of Limerick has appointed a woman to lead the university in the coming months, the first time in the history of the State a female is to take the helm at an Irish university.
Professor Kerstin Mey has been appointed as the interim president of UL, replacing outgoing president Des Fitzgerald, who is set to retire in September.
With women remaining largely under-represented in senior academic positions at third level, her appointment is the first time a woman has held the most senior role in an Irish university since they were established more than 400 years ago.
Following an open competition, Prof Mey’s appointment as interim president of the institution was confirmed on Wednesday by UL chancellor Mary Harney, the former tánaiste.
Originally from East Berlin, Prof Mey joined UL in 2017 when she was appointed vice-president of academic affairs and student engagement. She will serve as chief officer of the university until the appointment of a new president through an open international recruitment process, expected to take up to 18 months once first commenced.
Prof Mey said she was “humbled” and “proud” to lead the university over the coming months, although she accepts it will be a huge challenge.
“We have faced very demanding months transitioning into the digital space, which was only possible because each and every one of our staff and students worked very hard to adapt to this challenging situation,” she said.
“We will use the insights from that experience to advance our working practices, to transform how we teach and facilitate learning and how we engage in research and knowledge exchange.”
Over the next 18 months, UL will reassess its strategic plan, given the “significantly changed” situation, she said, adding that UL intends to “seize the opportunity to transform the educational model” by working with industries, communities and government.
“In the very short term, the focus has to be safeguarding the health and safety of our current and incoming students and our staff and the communities we serve and we are working very hard to prepare the campus for a full opening in September.”
This week, UL students were told the majority of them would only be allowed on campus one week out of four when it reopens in autumn.
Mr Fitzgerald, the outgoing UL president, said Prof Mey 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.”
Mr Fitzgerald announced his retirement in May, citing that the pandemic would impact his ability to serve UL.