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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 28 April 1998. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the Report, dated 11 March 1998, of the General Board on the establishment of an N. M. Rothschild & Sons Professorship of Mathematical Sciences (p. 512).

Professor H. K. MOFFATT:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this Report is so clearly to be welcomed that any comment may appear superfluous. I would not however wish to miss the opportunity to express gratitude, on behalf of both the Faculty of Mathematics and the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, to N. M. Rothschild & Sons for their generous benefaction, which creates a new Professorship in the Mathematical Sciences and which simultaneously provides for the post of Director of the Newton Institute, following my own tenure, which runs until 30 September 2001.

The Newton Institute was established as a national institute and opened in 1992, its main function being to run extended interdisciplinary research programmes on selected themes in the mathematical sciences. By the end of 1997, twenty-three such programmes had been completed on a great range of topics in Pure and Applied Mathematics, Theoretical Physics, Astrophysics, Computer Science, Chemical Engineering, Environmental Science, and Economics. Two programmes are now in full swing; and eleven more are in course of planning for the period to December 2000. During these past six years, the Newton Institute has established a world reputation for the quality and vigour of these programmes, which have attracted a total of more than 5,000 visiting scientists as participants.

In order to give the Institute some financial stability for the future, it is highly desirable, if not essential, that it build up an endowment fund to provide income in the longer term to cover its running costs. The Rothschild benefaction comes at a critical moment in the life of the Institute, not only providing for the future costs of the Directorship, but also meeting the condition of the Isaac Newton Trust that will allow the conversion to endowment of the £1m currently on loan by the Trust to the Institute. The corner-stone of an endowment fund for the Institute is now therefore in place; and we can build on this in future fund-raising efforts.

Following the wishes of the donor, the N. M. Rothschild & Sons Professorship of Mathematical Sciences will, as proposed in the Report, be assigned to the Faculty of Mathematics, where it will take its place together with the other illustrious named Professorships similarly assigned: the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics; the Rouse Ball Profes-sorship of Mathematics; the Sadleirian Professorship of Pure Mathematics; the G. I. Taylor Professorship of Fluid Mechanics; the Lowndean Professorship of Astronomy and Geometry.

It is fitting that the new Professorship should be associated with a family that has itself had a long association with the University of Cambridge, and whose name has a unique international resonance. The University may rightly be proud of this association which has now come to fruition through this timely and imaginative benefaction.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I return to a familiar subject, the procedural discrepancies in the ways in which one may get a Chair in the University of Cambridge. For this Chair, one of the 'special offers', there is to be an Advisory Committee, constituted of eight, at least four of whom will be external to the University. I am not clear why a single-tenure Professorship of this sort is recognized to need a quite different method of appointment to it, with the requirement that those making the appointment have the relevant expertise, when single-tenure personal Chairs can be given by a small general-purpose committee including one member so newly a Professor (in the round still awaiting the full judicial review hearing), as to have no experience whatsoever of serving on an ad hominem committee even in a Faculty, and another who is not a Professor. For Established Chairs we have Boards of Electors, some of whom in my Faculty have recently been 'consulting' the Faculty, in a manner in principle perhaps desirable, but not when it includes inviting people to say who they would not like to see enthroned in the Chair, and to pass on any reservations they choose about potential candidates. 'Patronage Rules OK' might still appropriately be sprayed with an aerosol upon my Faculty's wall or inscribed as a graffito upon the wall of its lift, if one were given to vandalism.

I will not take time at this Discussion on what has happened over the sensible attempt to resolve the dispute by mediation, a method of dealing with matters for which I have been calling since before I lodged the first judicial application last March. It is not my fault it took so long to get even to the attempt. It is ironic that I said to the Council when we began the mediation that 'even Northern Ireland can attempt peace-talks'. Northern Ireland got there first. All that is for a future Discussion which has now been called.

I wish today to mention only two points, which concern me deeply. One member of the Council also serves on the General Board's Committee for personal Professorships and Readerships. She has made statements in her Council capacity about the work of the General Board's Committee designed to discourage the Council from accepting the settlement. I have suggested to her that she ought to resign from that Committee. I have quoted to her in a letter the words of Professor Smiley in a Discussion in October 1996: '…it would be good if there was a stronger convention that members of the central bodies and others comparably involved in running the University…do not serve on the Committee. They should not want to and if they do, that is a good reason for stopping them'.1

The second point is this. The Council's sticking-place is, as far as I can discover - for I have let them talk over the terms of Sir Brian Neill's Memorandum by themselves, for hour after hour of Council meeting after Council meeting since February - their unwillingness to allow a Syndicate to include in its remit the question whether there do not exist in the University cases of individuals who have suffered so great an injustice under the old procedures that some reparation ought now to be made to them.

A Report will be published before this speech is in print, so that members of the Regent House will be able to read the two in conjunction. I am sorry that it has been necessary to return to this rebarbatively combative style of doing things, and I hope that when the Syndicate is set up we can continue cooperatively and with mutual courtesy. I signalled that hope when I spoke last term in this forum of the need for reform of Statute K, 5. Then the mediation talks were going well, and it was an assumption on my part that Sir Brian Neill's call for the return to trust and cooperation would strike a chord with my fellow-members of the Council. Alas, it did not, and that makes me sad.

I am also disappointed that when Cambridge had an opportunity to take a lead in the pioneering of the method of independent dispute-resolution advocated for universities in the Second Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, it did not make a go of it. I was one of the officers from the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards who made that suggestion to the then Nolan and now Neill Committee in writing, and at one of its oral hearings in January 1996, so the success of this venture was especially close to my heart.

1 Reporter, 1996-97, p. 113.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 7 May 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.