“It didn’t matter if I didn’t succeed; it was just the right thing to do: to stand up to the injustice.”
Those are the words of Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, a plant ecologist, feminist and activist who changed the face of Irish higher education by leading a successful campaign against gender inequality at Galway’s university – and I’m honoured to be the co-author who helped her document her fight in a newly published book.
Micheline’s Three Conditions: How We Fought Gender Inequality at Galway’s University and Won was published in October by M3C Press, a company started by the Micheline’s Three Conditions Campaign.
This is a book about academia, but it’s not written like an academic book. At the Galway launch in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, where the queue to get in spilled out into the street, Catherine Connolly, TD, called it “a thriller from beginning to end! You won’t put this book down.” At the Dublin launch in Books Upstairs, Equality and Human Rights expert Niall Crowley termed it a special book for “being a great read, despite the complex matters it addresses”, adding that “it is almost novelesque in its treatment of place, its examination of character.”
High praise, indeed. But the book, which took a painstaking five years to write, is also praised for the victory it chronicles as well as being a blueprint for effective institutional change, showing how women can fight against the gender inequality that exists and not only win but also help change the system that created the inequality.
It was a lucky twist of fate that brought Micheline and me together. I’m American and spent my working life in newspapers, first as a reporter at a small-town daily in central Massachusetts, then moving up the newspaper ladder until I landed a job as a copy editor at The Boston Globe, the largest daily in New England, where I worked for nearly 10 years. Somewhere in between, I spent a year studying peace studies at the Irish School of Ecumenics and fell in love with Ireland. When I was made redundant from The Globe in 2007, with the onset of competition from the Internet, I started writing for newspapers in Dublin, which led to me marrying a Salthill man and moving to Galway in 2013.
One of my neighbours just happened to be Micheline, and so I became actively involved in the Micheline’s Three Conditions Campaign, which started at the end of 2014, by using my writing skills to write press releases and update the campaign’s website. I was impressed with Micheline’s resolve to fight the blatant gender discrimination that existed not only at NUI Galway but at universities throughout Ireland. I was shocked to learn that in 34 years of lecturing at NUI Galway, Micheline hadn’t been promoted to Senior Lecturer, although she had been shortlisted more than once. My respect for Micheline only grew as I learned more about her case. When Micheline filed a grievance with the Equality Tribunal in 2009 – after a promotion round in which 50 per cent of the male candidates but only 6.7 per cent of the female candidates were promoted – she wanted to make the system fairer for everyone, not only lecturers but women employed in every department at the university. Her lawyers at the Equality Tribunal hearing were top notch, but it was Micheline who so colourfully displayed the discrimination she found after meticulously going through each of the 30 applications, redacted of names. Then, after winning the landmark case proving she was not promoted because of her gender, she gave her €70,000 award to five other women also overlooked for promotion in the same 2008-09 promotion round and thus began her successful Micheline’s Three Conditions Campaign calling for the promotion of the five women, the correction of the flawed 2014 promotion round, and the implementation of gender quotas.
Micheline approached me in March 2018 with the idea of researching and writing the book with her. I gladly accepted the opportunity, although I really had no idea what to expect. Over the next few years, which were further complicated by the pandemic, I would conduct nearly 40 interviews with key players in the campaign, including multiple interviews with Micheline and her partner, Nick Scott, yielding a total of 26 hours of recordings, some of which I transcribed myself and, for others, used AI software. My respect for Micheline continued to grow throughout the book writing experience, which was a reflection of her tenacity, incredible attention to detail, and belief in justice and doing what is right. Using the information gained from the interviews I conducted along with stories in the media and from our own website – Michelinesthreeconditions.wordpress.com – I wrote the foundation of the book and then worked in tandem with Micheline, who added extensively until by the summer of 2021, we had the bulk of an estimated 75,000 words written in 12 chapters. By July 2022, Nick, an experienced writer of five books and a master at crafting the story arc, had edited and whittled down the verbiage to about 65,000 words divided into 14 chapters and an Epilogue. But the writing and rewriting continued until this spring when, lastly, with Micheline’s final input, advice, and guidance, the total word count was reduced again to a much more readable 60,000 words, or 240 pages.
I’d like to add that it’s vital to document a campaign so that there is a record of it. The struggle and results are, of course, important, but it’s crucial to recognise those events as parts of history. That’s what this book does.
(c) Rose Foley
About Micheline’s Three Conditions: How We Fought Gender Inequality at Galway’s University and Won
After years of relentless and determined action Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, a pioneering feminist, plant ecologist, and activist, has joined forces with journalist Rose Foley to publish Micheline’s Three Conditions: How We Fought Gender Inequality at Galway’s University and Won.
Micheline’s journey towards justice was anything but easy. First, she fought a historic gender discrimination case for lack of promotion, marking the first successful win of its kind in Ireland or the UK. Following her victory, she selflessly donated her €70,000 award to five other women who had also been passed over in the promotion round, thus kickstarting the ‘Micheline’s Three Conditions Campaign’. This four-year epic struggle, filled with twists and turns, aimed to secure promotions for the five deserving women, culminating in a triumphant and uplifting finale.
Micheline’s Three Conditions: How We Fought Gender Inequality at Galway’s University and Won chronicles Micheline’s remarkable achievements and offers an invaluable blueprint for those seeking similar justice. Through extensive research, including interviews and archival materials, Rose Foley and Micheline Sheehy Skeffington have created a compelling narrative that candidly explores the highs and lows of their incredible journey.
Unlike traditional accounts, the book provides a very readable and exciting story illustrated throughout with posters, photos, tweets, and news clippings. It avoids burdensome footnotes, instead opting for chapter notes at the end to provide additional details, sources, and references for the curious reader.
Micheline’s Three Conditions: How We Fought Gender Inequality at Galway’s University and Won serves as an important testament to the power of persistence and collective action in the face of injustice. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington’s unwavering dedication to gender equality, rooted in her family’s legacy of activism, has paved the way for meaningful change in higher education.
Micheline’s Three Conditions: How We Fought Gender Inequality at Galway’s University and Won is available for sale in local bookshops and, postage free, on the Micheline’s Three Conditions website at https://michelinesthreeconditions.wordpress.com/