Daire Keogh – A year in DCU

Shauna Burdis and Aoibhín Meghen

Lockdowns, restrictions, adapting and overcoming. This is how some might describe Daire Keogh’s first year as President of DCU.

Taking over the role in July 2020, Keogh has yet to experience the bustling U bursting with student life. But he feels that DCU has been defined by what it has done this year, not what it has missed.

When asked about the trials and tribulations of his first year as president of DCU during a global pandemic, Keogh jokes: “There’s the famous line in the movie Airplane!, ‘What a time to give up the cigarettes’. 

“There is a sense and people say to you all the time, ‘oh it’s a terrible year to become president.’

“Yes, It’s been very challenging but I think this year has shown the university at its best,” Keogh tells The College View.

Keogh began his career as a history lecturer in St Patrick’s College before taking over as president of the institution in 2012.

In his role as President of St Pat’s, Keogh worked with former DCU President, Brian MacCraith, to incorporate St Pat’s into the university.

Running a third level institution was not Keogh’s ambition from the beginning. He has always wanted to teach and work with students and his dedication to do that is what led him here.

“I don’t think you would apply for a position as president of an institution unless you absolutely loved it, and was enthusiastic about the values of the institution, the ambitions of the institution and if you could identify potential,” Keogh says.

Dealing with Covid-19

However, since he assumed the role of president in DCU last summer there have been many setbacks to his plans.

Keogh explains that he likes to be connected to students and visible on campus and not being able to do this in the last year has been “very frustrating”.

Despite this disconnect, he believes DCU has managed to thrive over the last year.

“They say that in a crisis, poor organisations go under, strong organisations survive but exceptional organisations triumph,” Keogh says. 

In particular, he compliments DCU students and their responses to the lockdown restrictions, which have denied them access to on-campus activities for the last year.

“This is not how any student wants to spend their college life,” says Keogh. 

“I’ve been really privileged to see the deep commitment of staff and students and I think that’s right across the board.

“The way in which [students] have responded has been extraordinary and I’m very grateful to the students for their understanding, cooperation and their willingness and ability to adapt,” he says.

Keogh believes that the circumstances and experience of Covid-19 will stand to students in the future when they are faced with ambiguity and adversity, although he notes that it is “a poor consolation for all that they have sacrificed.”

Speaking about Keogh’s management of the university during Covid-19, current DCU Students’ Union (SU) President, Fearghal Lynch, said:  “Overall it has been a difficult year for everyone involved, I think DCU did a good job managing the crisis but sectoral issues and blanket decisions from the government and HEA limited what could have been done this year.

“Daire, in fairness, always asked for the students’ opinion when making decisions in managing the crisis.”

Plans for DCU

As Ireland moves slowly out of this pandemic, Keogh is cautious about DCU’s plans for the next year. 

“There’s nothing we want more than to open the doors again and return to the next normal. Unfortunately, our decisions are always within the context of health and safety.”

He hopes that a fast and successful vaccine rollout in Ireland will allow the university to open its doors to students for semester one of next year.

Keogh says that he wants DCU to be known as “the university that puts people first,” by focusing on the student experience, along with staff development and engagement with people.

“I do think that when students come back after lockdown, that we need to focus on campus-based activities and engagement with students,” he says.

Speaking about the upcoming academic year, Terence Rooney, DCUSU President-elect told The College View that he is “really looking forward to working with Daire Keogh in whatever ways I can. 

“I really value the strong relationship the SU has with upper management in DCU and I really cannot wait to create a really positive experience for DCU students next year.”

Improving facilities across all DCU campuses is a priority for Keogh. This year DCU signed an 18-year agreement with Bohemian FC.

The football club will invest €1.5 million in the partnership to develop DCU’s training facilities. 

There are also plans for a new library on the All Hallows campus, says Keogh and to constantly improve curriculum development through reforms as part of the four-year project, DCU Futures. 

Reflecting the community

Keogh also hopes to improve diversity in DCU and says this will be an “absolute priority” for him as president.

DCU has a policy to Promote Respect and Protect Dignity, which covers the Nine Grounds of Discrimination, DCU Appropriate Behaviour Guidelines and, the Responsibilities of all Members of the DCU Community.

When asked about the importance of a zero-tolerance anti-discrimination policy. Keogh agreed it was something the university would “absolutely” adopt. 

“DCU should be welcoming for all, it should be a place where students and staff feel comfortable.

He continues saying: “The university will be better when we’re diverse and also the university will be inspiring.

“The demographics of a university should reflect the demographics of the community they serve,” Keogh says, quoting Michael Crow from Arizona State University.

He mentions the five Women on Walls portraits which were revealed in DCU on international women’s day. Each portrait depicted a woman who has been celebrated for her contribution to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

 “It’s an ascending symbol, it plays to our strengths in STEM and it sends a sign to people that this is a place where you will thrive,” said Keogh. 

The SU welcomes this commitment to diversity according to Lynch.

“Daire has been very vocal on the need for more diversity in DCU and DCUSU have had many conversations regarding this throughout the year. He actually was who brought the idea of working with Women for Election to us.”

DCUSU hosted three Zoom workshops ahead of the SU elections this year to encourage women to put themselves forward for political roles.

Daire also plans to ensure final year DCU students from the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 academic year, get the graduation they deserve. 

“We have been deprived for instance of graduations this year, but I have promised that even if it means being camped in the Helix for three weeks on end, that we will have celebrations for all,” Keogh says.

Shauna Burdis and Aoibhín Meghen

Image Credit: Julien Behal