The concept of “transformative thinking” is at the core of research carried out at Keynes Centre, writes Michael Clifford
In late 2014, Connell Fanning was nearing the end of a rewarding and controversial career in UCC. He had worked in the institution for 30 years, his career culminating as Professor of Economics in the college.
He is regarded as an authority on the work of the economist John Maynard Keynes, and published a book on the economist’s work which was well received in economic circles.
He had also been a controversial figure, involved in a number of disputes and claims within the college down through the years. The most serious incident concerned an incident in the college car park in 2001, when he was alleged to have grabbed a female staff member by the throat in a row over a dog.
That led to a series of legal challenges which went all the way to the Supreme Court.
It was the second occasion in which the college had ended up in the Supreme Court with Prof Fanning.
So some within the college were surprised when, as he neared retirement, Prof Fanning received approval to establish the Keynes Centre, a research centre located on Cork’s South Mall in the city centre rather than on campus. The South Mall is one of the city’s main streets — the financial centre of Cork.
The centre recruited an administrative researcher and a “full time post doctoral” researcher in late 2014 and early 2015.
According to UCC, the centre costs €90,000 per annum to run, excluding Prof Fanning’s salary.
The Keynes Centre is not listed among the research centres in the college’s Business and Law department.
When contacted about the business of the Keynes Centre, Prof Fanning expressed surprise that there were any media queries about it, as “we are a small operation”. He also repeatedly asked how interest in the centre had been generated by the Irish Examiner.
Prof Fanning confirmed the centre has not applied for any research grants or generated any income for UCC because “we don’t have to”.
He pointed out that he had developed over many years expertise in the area of “transformative thinking” and the centre was involved in major research in this area which would culminate in a book.
He rejected any suggestion that the centre was not established along the general lines of research centres in third level institutions in this country.
“Your understanding is faulty,” he said. “Centres are founded in many ways and founded on particular individuals’ expertise.”
He agreed that no research had been published by the Keynes Centre.
“Not yet but it’s very early days,” he said. “Companies sometimes take about a year to get a product to market. Volkswagon took 20 years to get a battery to market.
“I took 10 years to write another book. We’ve worked out a position in the market, a role for us in society. I’m a modest person but I believe we’ll make a difference to thinking in Ireland”.
The focus of research at the centre is the concept of “transformative thinking” which disputes the theory that the brain stops developing at a young age.
“I had developed an expertise over 10 or 15 years and I wanted to bring that expertise out into the wider marketplace. When the opportunity came to step outside the walls [of the college] I thought that was good. Here we are outside the walls and between academic work and practice.”
The centre’s website also offers services for life coaching and consultancy, sourced from qualified coaches from outside the centre.
One of the main activities in the centre over the last year was to set up a “reading for change” book club.
“We have explored our preliminary ideas with 25 people in the last year,” said Prof Fanning.
“This is seeing how people can change in their meaning making complexity, about using a reading programme to generate this mental shift.
“During that period we’re writing our book and I reckon that will be ready in about another year. I need to go through another round of testing.”
In the course of his career, Prof Fanning was involved in a number of disputes in the college, two of which went all the way to the Supreme Court.
In 2002, the court ruled in his favour in an action in which he requested that he not be included as a defendant in an action being taken by three staff members of the economics department.
The three had claimed that Mr Fanning had refused to involve them in the administration and development of the department, isolated and marginalised them, frustrated their chances of promotion and refused to consider them for any administrative post in the department. Their action proceeded against the college, but not Mr Fanning.
In 2008, the Supreme Court again ruled in Mr Fanning’s favour over an alleged assault on a female staff member over a dog. There was a “fairly heated exchange” between Prof Fanning and a staff member, Joan Buckley.
Ms Buckley alleged that Prof Fanning put his hand in the window of her car and grabbed her by the neck, squeezing and shaking her. Prof Fanning accepted there was an incident but vehemently denied assaulting Ms Buckley.
The court found the college was not entitled to proceed with the disciplinary action against Mr Fanning, as he had been appointed before a 1997 act which meant he was subject to only a limited disciplinary regime.
The court also noted there was “a significant background of unhappy differences” between Prof Fanning and the college.
Whatever differences did exist were quite obviously mended before Mr Fanning was given the green light to set up the Keynes Centre in the year he was due to retire.
In response to a question from the Irish Examiner on how the centre is funded, a statement from the college said: “The research centre is anticipated to have an income stream from its activities as the working profile of the centre develops.”
The college explained the provenance of the centre with the following reply: “When a professor with specific expertise or on whose expertise a centre has been based, reaches retirement, in some cases they are retained on a one-day-per-week basis, so that the university at large can benefit from the specific expertise/knowledge base of the retiring professor. This is the case in the Keyes Centre.”
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