< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Report of the Council on the wearing of academical dress on 'scarlet' days

The COUNCIL beg leave to report to the University as follows:

1. In this Report the Council propose that members of the University who are graduates of other universities should be permitted to wear the academical dress pertaining to their non-Cambridge degrees on 'scarlet' days.

2. This issue was previously raised in 1979, when the Council consulted the Regent House on a similar proposal. On that occasion the question was put to a vote, and the proposal was defeated by 151 votes to 88. Given the time that has elapsed since the question was last considered, and given the constitutional and other changes that have occurred during that time, the Council have agreed to bring the proposal before the Regent House again and to give it their support. The Council believe that there are a number of compelling reasons in favour of the proposal.

3. There is a widespread belief in the University that Cambridge does not 'recognize' the degrees of other universities, and that as a result members of the Regent House who are not Cambridge graduates are regarded as second-class citizens. This perception probably arose from the fact that, under the constitutional arrangements which operated until 1994, the Regent House was a subset of the Senate and it was therefore necessary to hold a Cambridge degree in order to qualify for Regent House membership; as a result, members of the academic staff of the University who did not hold Cambridge degrees were regularly admitted (after a suitable waiting period) to the Cambridge M.A. Degree under Statute B, III, 6, and this no doubt led to the belief that degrees of other universities were disregarded. The perception was reinforced by the fact that members of the University staff who are graduates of Oxford or of Trinity College, Dublin, are entitled to incorporate their Oxford or Dublin degrees and thus to obtain an equivalent Cambridge degree, a privilege which is not accorded to graduates of other universities.

4. Although this perception was erroneous, to the extent that 'recognition' of degrees was not in fact in question, the Council believe that it had an unfortunate divisive effect, which still persists in some quarters. This is particularly evident on 'scarlet' days, when holders of Cambridge doctorates are required to wear their festal robes but holders of other doctorates are entitled to wear only the Cambridge M.A. gown and hood. The Council recognize that this causes offence to some members of the Regent House, by giving the impression that the University regards non-Cambridge doctorates as in some way inferior to Cambridge doctorates.

5. When the University was consulted in 1979 about the wearing of non-Cambridge robes, it was urged that academical dress 'proclaims the fact of membership' of the University, and that it would therefore be improper to wear the academical dress of another university on a formal Cambridge occasion. This argument no doubt carried some weight at the time, when possession of a Cambridge degree was a necessary qualification for membership of the Regent House (see paragraph 3 above). However, the constitutional position has changed since 1979, and membership of the Regent House now depends not on possession of a degree but on holding a University office or a Fellowship of a College. In the Council's view, this robs the argument of its force; the Council consider that it is no longer acceptable to divide the staff of the University into sheep and goats according to their place of graduation. Cambridge is an international University which recruits its staff from among the graduates of other universities all over the world, and the Council think it only right to extend to those who hold non-Cambridge degrees the courtesy of allowing them to wear the dress appropriate to those degrees on occasions (largely ceremonial in character) when festal robes are worn.

6. The Council consider that, if provision is to be made as proposed above for the wearing of the academical dress of other universities, this should not extend to University officers officiating at University ceremonies or to those presenting for, or being admitted to, degrees. The Council also consider that it would be inappropriate, and indeed impracticable, to alter the order of official processions so as to take account of degrees of other universities; as was pointed out in 1979, that order depends on the order of seniority of graduates, which is determined by degrees of this University.

7. The Council accordingly recommend:

 That the general regulations for academical dress (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 181) be amended as follows:

Regulation 1.

 By replacing the words 'their proper academical dress' by the words 'the academical dress appropriate to their status in this University'.

Regulation 2.

 By inserting after the word 'degrees' the words 'of this University'.

 By renumbering Regulations 4-7 as 5-8 and by inserting the following as Regulation 4:

 4. Notwithstanding the foregoing regulations, on the occasions specified in Regulation 3 any member of the University who is a graduate of another university may wear the academical dress appropriate to his or her degree of that other university; save that this provision shall not apply to the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, the High Steward, the Commissary, the Proctors, the Registrary, or the Esquire Bedells, or to a deputy for any of those officers, or to any person presenting or being presented for a degree of the University.

2 February 1998


< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Cambridge University Reporter 5728, 11th February 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.