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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 9 December 1997. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Report:

 The Report, dated 19 November 1997, of the General Board on the re-establishment of the Price Waterhouse Professorship of Financial Accounting (Reporter, p. 215).


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, let me begin by saying that I do not wish to attack the continuance of Professor Whittington in his Chair. He and I are old colleagues and I hope old friends and I would not wish to harm him in any way. But this special device for an individual does raise broader questions about where we are going with this whole charabanc of the promotions battle.

 The ballot will not give us more promotions this year. I think when the results of this year's round are known, those who did not vote, or did not vote for more promotions, may find to their cost that twelve Chairs and thirty Readerships are not going to be enough to go round, that there will be no miracle of the loaves and fishes to extend the provision to meet the needs of the professionally hungry multitude.

 I invite members of the Regent House to read very carefully the construction put upon the consultation process in which they were encouraged to put their trust, when it is published tomorrow (Reporter, p. 246). I shall underline some of the implications for you in the Discussion in January. I hope many will speak at that Discussion.

 Professor Whittington does not have to face the blank wall of disappointment, and I am glad for him. Most of us will, in a few months' time. There is as yet no sign of a willingness to meet the terms of the High Court judgment and ensure that our committees have, and give, adequate reasons for their decisions about promotions. Our General Board has published a Notice announcing that it proposes to do nothing at all really, and hopes it gets away with it. Meanwhile Oxford has taken full note of the High Court judgment and further revised its procedures to ensure that they comply with its requirements, as you may read in a Gazette of earlier this term. It is your money, tens of thousands of pounds of it, the University will be spending on fighting me if the case has to go to a full hearing in a few months' time.

 We should not dream of classifying candidates for degrees in the chaotic and unreasoning way the Promotions Committee of the General Board has been going about its business and apparently intends to continue to do so, unless it can be forced to formulate and furnish its reasons fully. Members of the Regent House should know that it was revealed during the High Court hearing that it has never recorded, or had any reasons it could give, for the choices it has made. Of course there has been resistance to feedback and appeal when the giving or withholding of these valuable titles has been subject to no accountability. The Price Waterhouse Professor is a fortunate man not to have the continuance of his title cast like a coloured ball into this lottery.

 There is a very serious looming question about the creation of the stream of 'special offer' Chairs and Readerships in the University as earmarked funding becomes available from outside. I have commented before in Discussions on this third category between the Established and the Personal. One set of problems concerns the ethics of benefaction. We have got our fingers burned already on that, and may do so again. Internally, there are problems, too. Such Chairs and Readerships have appointments committees working in mysterious ways, neither under the rules governing personal promotions, nor under the etiquette of the Electors to Established Chairs. I invite members of the Regent House to do some persistent questioning over the mode of conduct of any such appointments in areas of which they have knowledge. One or two alarming things have come to my notice lately which look very like impropriety. It would be useful to get a fuller picture of the patterns of conduct, not least because of the implications for the eligibility of non-University teaching officers for promotion to Chairs and Readerships.

 I invoked Statute K, 5 again in mid-October. I had to invoke it five times before an inquiry was begun as the Statute requires. There was huge resistance to looking at the questions I had raised. The purpose of my invocation was to bring into question the activities of the General Board and the Secretary-General in interpreting the new promotions procedures on their own authority in ways which are to the detriment of categories of candidates. These are our procedures, members of the Regent House; we are the legislators; we have to be asked if they want to change things.

 The litigation I am pursuing in my own case is, at least on one front, in an area where others may feel free to join me if they wish. I am seeking to call the University to account for its breach of its duty to all of us to ensure that eligible officers are given fair consideration for promotion. The breach of contract case could become a group action, from which others could benefit. When the results of this year's round are known, if not before, members of the Regent House are welcome to associate themselves with my own action.

 There have been deeply disturbing developments of late, and I know some of you have been e-mailing the media to voice your concerns about the way the University is handling matters, for journalists tell me so when they telephone me. The University put out a Press Release a week or two ago which contains deliberate misrepresentation of the outcome of the preliminary hearing in the Sex Discrimination case. For the record, that hearing was solely concerned with whether the application was out of time. The case has not yet been heard, let alone lost. At least one letter containing the same misrepresentation has been sent to concerned enquirers in another University about what was going on.

 My appraisal record was handed over to the University's solicitor without my consent being asked. Private papers in my grievance case were disclosed without my consent being asked. The University's Counsel asserted at the Tribunal hearing the University's right to disclose any papers it has on any of us. The University cannot be trusted with anything you tell it, fellow-members of the Regent House. The administrative staff in the Old Schools can root about in your files as they please and make what use they like of the information. I hear from friends of poisonous and defamatory stories being spread about me personally. My fellow-members of the Council have felt free to let themselves go in letters to the Chancellor about me. May I invite those who hear me vilified to feel free to come and talk to me so as to judge for themselves? That this can happen ought to be frightening to all of you. This is what the University does to the conscientious whistleblower. This is our University's response to radical and persistent challenge. We smile at Cornford's wit. But the reality he describes is not pretty and it is still a reality.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 14th January 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.