herald

Monday 19 November 2018

DCU chief quitting as insults fly in academic battle

When Ferdinand von Prondzynski's 10-year term of office as president of Dublin City University expires in July, he will be remembered publicly for two main reasons -- his blog and his legal battles.

Although an expert in industrial law, he has become embroiled in two lengthy rows over dismissal cases. He lost one last week in the Supreme Court and the result of the other will be known next year.

The second case hit the headlines when an academic was forced to apologise for asking the president to state whether or not his father was a Nazi.

The rows overshadowed his considerable achieve-ments and his openness in sharing his thoughts with all and sundry.

A social networker and blogger, the DCU head is not a typical Irish academic. He was born in Germany in 1954 but the family moved seven years later to Ireland where they lived in Knockdrin Castle, Co Westmeath.

Cricket rather than GAA was the main sport at Headfort School in Kells, Co Meath, which he attended for a few years before the family moved back to Germany.

He returned to Ireland in 1974, graduating from Cambridge and Trinity where he lectured.

He was appointed president of DCU in 1999 and brought freshness and vigour to the institution, driving the research agenda and pushing the university higher up the Times Higher Education league tables.

He started a blog last year where he ruminates on everything from indestruct-ible golf balls to higher education funding. But it was somebody else's blog that caused him deep personal hurt.



THUG

Dr Sean O'Nuallain, who has been in the wars with DCU, has admitted language used on his blog was "over the top". The university is appealing a ruling that Dr O'Nuallain should be reinstated permanently with no financial loss.

A previous hearing of the Employment Appeals Tribunal heard about the reference to the president's father which appeared in Dr O'Nuallain's blog. Prof von Prondzynski has stated that his father had fought in World War Two, as had many people of that age. He denied his father was a member of the Nazi Party and said the comments were a step beyond acceptable boundaries.

The most recent hearing was marked by a number of heated exchanges. At one point, DCU's counsel, Tom Mallon, walked out after Dr O'Nuallain called him a "thug". Tribunal chairman Kate O'Mahony said Mr Mallon had never acted in other than a wholly professional manner.

Dr O'Nuallain's partner, Melanie O'Reilly, a talented singer and musician, said the loss of his job had been "devastating" and he had not had a salary for a long period. She added that, as a result, the pair had not been able to plan a family.

Both sides will give their final submissions to a further hearing next month and a decision is expected shortly afterwards.

Last week DCU lost a Supreme Court case on procedural grounds over attempts to dismiss Prof Paul Cahill.

If it loses the second case, it will be a severe embarrassment for the retiring DCU head, who is young enough and capable enough to move on to fresh academic endeavours.

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