Dr Pat Morgan, Vice-President for the Student Experience, NUI Galway (Photo credit: RTÉ News)

On the 26th of April 2018, Dr Pat Morgan sent an email to all registered students at NUI Galway

Dr Pat Morgan, Vice-President for the Student Experience,

On the 26th of April 2018, last Thursday, you sent an email to all registered students at NUI Galway.

I am a student at NUI Galway.

You sent that email to me.

You spoke about stress during exam time.

You said it was important to look after our health.

You also spoke about the upcoming referendum on abortion:

“A referendum will be held on 25 May 2018, regarding a proposal to amend a provision within the Irish constitution. As a university community, we cherish your right to respectfully hold differing opinions – some often deeply held – and such diversity is a hallmark of our university community”.

Dr Morgan, we’ve known each other for a long time. I remember when you personally congratulated me for winning an Undergraduate Award. There was a time when I respected you, trusted you, looked to you for help and assistance.

Back in 2013, I was the Auditor of the Life Society at NUI Galway. I contacted you about prolife posters being systematically ripped down across the campus. It took you nearly two weeks to reply to my email. Even then, all you said was “please complete and return the official complaint form”.

Days later, I watched as you handled complaints from LGBT students about a religious poster displayed outside the reading room. People bragged online about how you “responded in 7 minutes”. Within four days, you had permanently shut down the offending student society. You appeared on RTÉ News and released a statement saying that “NUI Galway is committed to protecting the liberty and equality of all students”.

I remember feeling sick thinking of my complaint sitting on your desk, unaddressed. It would be six months before I received an outcome. On the 19th of May 2014 I was told that my complaint had been dismissed and that no action would be taken.

During the 2013-2014 academic year, I was also the Secretary of the Christian Union Society. In March 2014, a Christian Union information table was vandalised during a student referendum on same-sex marriage. You stood by as the table was shut down by the Security Office and the perpetrator of the vandalism walked free. As cruel insults and even death threats began to flow in our direction, I waited for you to issue a statement condemning this behaviour and upholding “our right to hold a differing opinion”.

I waited in vain. That day, I realised that “NUI Galway is committed to protecting the liberty and equality of all students” – except Christian students.

On Monday the 10th of November 2014 my three siblings and I were disbarred for life from membership of all student societies at NUI Galway. We were accused of improperly using €325 to pay for flyers. The NUI Galway officials who made the decision to disbar us were: Societies Chairperson Patrick O’Flaherty, who considers our Christian beliefs to be “bigotry and nonsense”; Professor Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, an avid supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion who has shared disparaging comments about Christianity on her Facebook page; and Societies Officer Ríona Hughes, who has presided over the embezzlement of thousands of euros of taxpayer’s money at the NUI Galway Societies Office.

This was the first time in the history of the university that lifetime disbarment had been imposed on a student or students. We were genuinely shocked and dismayed – there had to be some mistake.

When we lodged an official appeal with you, as Vice-President for the Student Experience, this was an opportunity for you to prove your statement: “…diversity is a hallmark of our university community”. This was an opportunity for you to demonstrate that all students, even Christian students, are valued by NUI Galway.

On Monday the 22nd of December 2014, you upheld the decision to disbar my three siblings and I for life. You refused to even consider our appeal: “… there are no grounds for your appeal”.

Today it is Saturday the 28th of April 2018. I am still a student at NUI Galway. For the past three years and four months, I have been a stranger at my own university; barred from attending any meeting or event of any student society – effectively forced into societal exile – and you have personally presided over this.

I’ve been thinking about your words: “…diversity is a hallmark of our university community”. After I received your email on Thursday, I looked up the word “hallmark”. It means “a typical characteristic or feature”.

Dr Morgan, can I suggest that it is discrimination, not diversity, that is a hallmark of our university community.

And you are responsible.

Isaac Burke

28 April 2018

Written by Isaac Burke

Hardiman Scholar at NUI Galway