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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 12 May 1998. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:

The Report, dated 22 April 1998, of the General Board on the establishment of a Unilever Professorship of Molecular Sciences Informatics (p. 579).


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the amount of data in the molecular sciences is increasing rapidly, and is now manageable only by the use of electronic methods. In the specific area of crystal structures, this University, through the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre, is recognized as the world leader in information management. A general approach to the management and the exploitation of information in the molecular sciences is now possible through a generous offer of funds from Unilever. These include an endowment for a Professorship of Molecular Sciences Informatics, and also provision for the construction and operation of a new building. This should enable the University to gain a leading role in this important area. It should also enrich both research and teaching in the molecular sciences, through the more effective use of electronic methods in data management.

The establishment of a Unilever Professorship of Molecular Sciences Informatics in this University to further research and teaching in this area is greatly to be welcomed.

The Report, dated 27 April 1998, of the Council on the structure of academic offices in the University, promotions procedures, and related matters (p. 575).

Professor R. M. NEEDHAM:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in her personal statement on matters related to the present discussion (Reporter, p. 579) Dr Evans says some things that could give the wrong impression to the Regent House.

She asserts that the University has consistently dragged its feet over the question of a settlement (Paragraph 1). The University has throughout been advised by its solicitors that a settlement should not be sought while active investigations or litigation were in progress. Accordingly it did ask Dr Evans for terms for a settlement in July 1997, after receiving the Report of Lord Oliver, the Commissary, into a complaint against the Vice-Chancellor. She offered to settle in return for a payment of £75,000 in damages and the immediate creation of a Chair for her. The officers were not willing to enter discussions with this demand as a starting point.

Throughout the Michaelmas Term there was continuous litigation initiated by Dr Evans, and, in accord with the advice already mentioned, no discussions about settlement took place. The Registrary began discussions about a settlement in January, leading eventually to Sir Brian Neill's proposals. It is misleading to say that the University could have settled at any time, though it could of course have settled last July on terms which were regarded as unacceptable by everyone who knew of them.

The Council has at no time suggested that Dr Evans agree to any kind of gagging clause. Gagging clauses prevent the person whose problem is being settled from discussing the matter in any public way, and the Council has never proposed this. What it did propose was that Dr Evans agreed to make no further use of the University's statutory procedures in support of any measures or objectives which were or could have been considered in any independent review brought about as part of a settlement. This was effectively endorsed by Sir Brian Neill.

Dr D. M. THOMPSON (read by Mr H. J. EASTERLING):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I signed this Report and support its recommendations. However, it raises certain more general issues which members of the Regent House need to ponder. Throughout the calendar year 1997 after Dr Evans had become a member of the Council, this matter was never far away from our minds; and this period (which falls between paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Report) was an important background to the subsequent developments which have prompted the recommendations. Careful discussion of this matter has been confused throughout by an uncertainty as to whether we were dealing with a personal or a general complaint. As time has gone on, the detail of the complaint has become steadily more personal.

When it was first raised I and others argued that it was inappropriate for a personal matter to be considered by the Council as a result of the accidental fact that the person affected was a Council member, and that if it was a general matter it needed to be considered by the General Board. The General Board, of course, had begun a review of promotion procedures before January 1997. It then became apparent that the University's personal grievance procedures did not cover this particular matter. By this time Dr Evans had sought judicial review of her case; and this was the first of a series of actions, either in the civil courts, or by appeal to the Chancellor alleging breach of the Statutes and Ordinances by various senior officers of the University, amounting to around a dozen in all. (None of the allegations of breach of Statutes and Ordinances were upheld.) Until the later part of the Lent Term the Council have seldom been able to discuss the issues without the threat of some legal action hanging over their heads. However, it was then quite clear that Dr Evans had moved from the general to the particular, both in the terms of a satisfactory personal settlement which she suggested for herself and in the allegation of sex discrimination in the consideration of her case for promotion. The senior officers of the University have made valient efforts to apply the current rules of procedure fairly; but an intolerable situation is created if members of the Council engage in legal actions against the University without resigning from the Council. I think that the rules of procedure have to be looked at again with this in mind.

Diligent readers of the Reporter will also have noticed that, in addition to the Discussions concerning personal promotions or the procedures for them, scarcely any proposal for a Professorship supported by external benefaction has escaped comment from Dr Evans in the last eighteen months. A second difficult aspect of this matter has been Dr Evans's allegations concerning members of the General Board and the Council on some of these occasions. The reports of Discussions do not enjoy parliamentary privilege, and the Editor of the Reporter reserves the right to exclude libellous statements. Nevertheless I do not think I am alone in having found the innuendos in some of these speeches distasteful, and unhelpful in securing a resolution of the matter. I suggest that the Vice-Chancellor and his Deputies should consider more actively whether all the remarks made in Discussions are in order, and therefore to be reported.

Finally, members of the Regent House should know that the Council agreed on the essential outline of a Report to the University on 16 March, with the intention that the details should be discussed with Dr Evans and a draft report prepared by the Council's Executive Committee during the Easter Vacation. Although the Vice-Chancellor told Dr Evans this at the conclusion of that meeting, she said that she would proceed forthwith to gather signatures for a discussion of the Council's failure to accept Sir Brian Neill's Memorandum as it stood and a Grace for the appointment of a Syndicate. Perhaps this will explain to those who have not been able to read between the lines why some of my colleagues found it difficult to agree that 'Dr Evans's aims are appreciated and that her untiring work has acted as a valuable stimulus for reform'. Dr Evans and I have been friends for a long time and I therefore make these remarks with regret; but I am sure that, as an advocate of open discussion, she will welcome them.

Professor N. O. WEISS:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I should make it clear at the start that, although I am speaking as an individual member of the General Board, I do not speak on behalf of the Board; nor indeed has the Board attempted to form a collective view on this Report. The Council's recommendations fall into two parts and I shall deal with them separately.

First, they propose the appointment of a Syndicate. I am not convinced that this is necessary but I have no objection to it. The General Board has already instituted new procedures for ad hominem promotions and we await the outcome of the first round. These procedures correct the key weaknesses of the previous system. It was widely thought that promotions could be blocked by Heads of Departments or Chairs of Faculty Boards - whether this perception was justified or not I cannot really say. However, the new procedure has addressed the problem by making candidates apply themselves, and providing feedback and an appeal process. This term, after wide consultation, proposals for Senior Lectureships will be put forward by the General Board and money is being set aside to fund them. The Board has also considered payments for Heads of Departments and Chairs of Faculties, as well as the level of professorial salaries. I see no harm in passing these proposals through a Syndicate with external members, or in asking them to correct any imperfections in the new procedures for ad hominem promotions that may have been revealed by the first year's experience. However, these reforms do make it inappropriate to consider claims of injustice in the past. So I am happy to support the Council's proposals that call for the establishment of a Syndicate.

The panel to consider Dr Evans's promotion is a different matter. We still await the outcome of this year's exercise, and any action should follow its conclusion. Given the new procedures, and the opportunity of repeating applications in the future, there should be no need for such a panel. Of course it could be argued that Dr Evans's case is unique but nevertheless the creation of such a panel sets an unfortunate precedent. What is much more serious is the proposed composition of the panel. For such a panel to command respect it has to be impartial - if the members cannot be chosen by mutual agreement then they should be appointed by an independent Chairman. Yet the Council recommends that Dr Evans should provide a list of four names, from whom the Council (of which she is a member) will choose at least two. That is unacceptable. This is not an arbitration panel, set up to produce a compromise. If Dr Evans applies for a Readership she either gets one or she doesn't: there are no half-measures. No doubt she is able to produce four names of impeccable academic respectability but this procedure is inappropriate and provides an appalling precedent. Anyone, no matter how small the intellectual pond in which they work, would be able to produce four cronies to attest to the importance of their research. So I hope we shall reject this panel.

On the plausible assumption that there will be a ballot, I therefore urge the Regent House to accept the Council's Recommendations V to VII (which concern the Syndicate) but to reject Recommendations I to IV (which relate to the panel).

In conclusion, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I should draw the attention of the Regent House to the unhappy situation in which we find ourselves. The structure of the University, which is designed to protect freedom of speech, turns out to be vulnerable to disruption by an individual, pursuing a grievance with obsessive tenacity. It is not just that we have to listen to Dr Evans's seemingly interminable effusions. What is more important is that the Council has been prevented from giving proper leadership (as demonstrated by the Report that is under discussion) while the Vice-Chancellor and the officers have been distracted from the serious issues that we all have to face. I hope that the Board of Scrutiny, acting on behalf of us all, will look into these matters and report on them.

Professor R. J. BOWRING:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, firstly, on the matter of the proposed Syndicate. As an admirer of Dr Gordon Johnson's measured approach, I am broadly in agreement with him that we need a serious reappraisal of the whole structure of academic offices in this University. The introduction of yet another level - that of Senior Lecturer - may help reward some teaching officers but it will not cure the whole illness, much of which has been largely self-inflicted. Some years ago the somewhat bizarre response to low pay for the majority was to increase the differentials between Lecturers, and then those between Lecturer, Reader and Professor. I am not at all surprised that this has had a deleterious effect on morale and collegiality. It may well be that the pressures from a Tory government that believed that egalitarianism was past its sell-by-date forced the University down this path, but the response in certain circles was far too enthusiastic. I do not know what efforts were made to fight this particular directive, but I do know that the introduction of discretionary payments, to take but one example, has led to much unhappiness on the part of not only those who have failed to benefit but also those who have been forced to participate in the process. The meetings that decide on discretionary payments have been the most difficult and uncomfortable meetings I have had the misfortune to attend, because everyone knows there are far more deserving candidates than there is money to support, that many potential candidates have decided not to apply because they find the whole procedure of 'making one's case' distasteful, and that for the most part one is trying to measure apples and pears. And to take another example, it used to be the case that the gap between the salary of a Reader and a Lecturer who supervised and perhaps did a College job was hardly noticeable: one simply slipped into a different mode. But now, with the increase in differential between Reader and Lecturer, and the redefinition of what a Reader may or may not do, this nice balance has been eroded, giving rise to a much cruder salary structure, which might fit business but not academia. While I am not sure how far we can backpedal on this matter, it is worth trying since the experiment has obviously failed. I wish the new Syndicate luck.

That said, I am somewhat unhappy at the way that Dr Johnson's suggestion has been taken up by Dr Evans to fight a rather different battle. That matter concerns an individual who is absolutely convinced that she is worth a promotion that has been denied to her. There are two scenarios here: (a) there are people (her peers) both in this University and outside it who are convinced that she is not worth this promotion, or (b) she is thought worthy of promotion but her case is not quite as strong as that of X or Y and so she must take her place in the queue, a queue produced because there is not enough money in the system to fund all worthy candidates. Most of her arguments seem to have involved scenario (b) and it is in this respect that she presents herself as fighting the good fight for many others in the open, public arena. Some may perhaps find her protestations that she is doing this for the general good a little difficult to swallow. I cannot tell. Many others must be in the same boat as her and no doubt many sympathize with her argument, although many also seem resigned to wait their turn. On the other hand, one has great sympathy for those who must decide on the allocation of scarce resources. These are difficult decisions made carefully by people of probity and conscience, and I cannot see how it can help to suggest otherwise.

But what if the actual scenario is in fact (a)? The only way that I as a member of the University can participate in (a) would be if all the files were opened for all to see, and I doubt whether this kind of thing is feasible in a real, as opposed to an ideal, world. Admittedly the line between 'Patronage rules OK', as Dr Evans crudely puts it, and confidentiality is sometimes a difficult one to draw, but can we do entirely without confidentiality? I doubt it. It follows, then, that as a member of the University I can accept, and even participate in, a certain amount of public discussion of (b) as long as it is not personalized but kept to general principles, but I find it difficult to handle (a). It would be useful to know which battle Dr Evans is fighting, for if it is (a) then the matter is not one that can be reasonably solved in open debate, especially when one party must remain silent and the other feels bound to refer to the absolute rightness of her case on every conceivable occasion. It is Dr Evans's privilege to speak at Discussions but to bring up her own case ad nauseam whenever anything slightly connected to a promotion or a Chair is announced is surely unreasonable and an abuse of that privilege.

Lastly, on the matter of the memorandum prepared by Sir Brian Neill, which is now in the public domain. Having read this document, I find it full of weasel words and I fail to see why Dr Evans should be treated as a special case. Is it because she shouts louder than anyone else? Dr Evans denies that the memorandum represents 'unreasonable demands'. If asking for special treatment over and above everyone else is not unreasonable, I would like to know what is. I am not surprised that the Council found it difficult to agree to the demands made in this document. And now we have before us a proposal for a panel to review her case, and her case alone, to consist of five members, three of whom are effectively subject to her veto. The image that comes to mind is not of the blowing of whistles but of guns to the head.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Recommendations I to IV of the Council's Report do the University a grave disservice.

Let us suppose for a moment not only that Dr Evans gets her panel, which might happen, but also that her application for promotion falls at the next hurdle, which might also happen. What does the Council propose to do then, when 'a fresh cause of action emerges', a possibility which Sir Brian Neill's Memorandum does not exclude, and which might happen too because Dr Evans is re-aggrieved on account of further disappointment in 1999, or year in year out into the next millenium?

Indeed, the prospect of her 'starting other proceedings' is there in the Reporter (pp. 577-8) for members of the Regent House to reflect on. And then what grounds will the Council of the day have for resisting a demand for another one-candidate competition? Not that it would necessarily help the case even if it were agreed to institute an annual one-candidate competition. Even in that case, there would be no stopping objections being raised to the involvement in the process of particular members of the Regent House who had got the answer wrong the year before.

And not only in the case of Dr Evans, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor. For as we know - or at least we ought to know, for the press has often told us so - Dr Evans's remit also extends to those suitably qualified aggrieved persons waiting behind the floodgates, the potential number of whom bothered the Council last term, we are informed, but for reasons unexplained presumably doesn't bother them any more. And to these, as Dr Evans has told us herself, 'the University [would have] a duty as a good employer to make … some reparation' - which of course would have to be reparation proportional to what the Council recommends in Dr Evans's case, again subject to their being adjudged, years after the event, as having met the relevant minimum level of attainment of the successful candidates in whatever competition it was in which they felt themselves misprized.

Now, as a rule, sour grapes don't produce anything worth laying down. And meanwhile, what other of our procedures, whether academic or disciplinary, which of our Appointments Committees or Boards of Electors, or Boards of Examiners for that matter, would not have been subjected to persistent harassment up hill and down dale - because there is, and always will be, at least the possibility that committees and boards and bodies may have made a mistake, in either direction?

All very fanciful you may think, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor. But stranger things have happened. We are discussing some of them this afternoon.

In matters of self-esteem the task of reconciling the individual to the consensus is always a delicate one. Whether in dealing with adolescent truancy or infantile terrorism, it is currently a problem right across the educational spectrum. Yet no nursery school would long retain credibility which, for the sake of peace and quiet, adopted a policy of capitulation to the child who persisted in disrupting story time so as not to be made to eat up its greens.

In seeking 'peace in our time' the Council seem to have forgotten how that versicle continues: 'Because there is none other that fighteth for us', Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'but only thou, O God'.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I very much hope that the Regent House will agree to the second proposal in the Council's restrained Report, namely, the establishment of a Syndicate to consider the future structure of academic offices in Cambridge. It would not be right for me to go over again the points I made in the Discussion on 20 January when I signalled my unhappiness about the General Board's suggestion that a new office of Senior Lecturer be set up in Cambridge, together with the introduction of extraordinarily complex procedures for making appointments to it. I believe it is essential to the future well-being of the University that we address now the low level of stipends for academics and that, in doing so, we not only avoid introducing further heirarchy into the profession, but that we begin a return to a more equal system where, tested by competence, teaching and research are rewarded on an even footing and all our colleagues doing both in full measure can expect to progress to a higher level of salary than that they currently enjoy.

I have read paragraph 6 of the Report very carefully, and the Recommendation V that follows from it. I am content that the Council do not intend that the proposed Syndicate will have to deal with or comment on any individual case: it would do no good to establish a further forum for fractiousness. Secondly, I note that the General Board will be making a number of proposals to the Regent House before the end of the present term and that the Syndicate will have a role in reviewing these proposals and the evidence the Board have collected in making them. That is fair enough, but I hope that the Regent House will not be asked to go forward with any of the Board's recommendations piecemeal, either because the Board feel that adequate consultation has already taken place or that a momentum has been built up which should not be lost. I continue to be deeply sceptical of the Board's consultation about the office of Senior Lecturer and I remain convinced of the need to consider stipends and offices in a more complete context. I trust that the Board's forthcoming Report will, therefore, be considered as a discussion document, and that no specific recommendations will be put for approval to the Regent House before the new Syndicate, if appointed, have had an opportunity to consider the Board's papers along with other information.

Finally, to inject a note of realism, although I am arguing (and will continue so to do) for higher stipends for all Lecturers, I fully recognize that resources are finite and also that it will be expedient and indeed right in certain cases to pay some people substantially more than the norm. It will be difficult, though by means of a Syndicate perhaps not impossible, to deal satisfactorily with these apparent contradictions.

Dr A. R. H. BAKER (read by Dr D. S. LANE):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wish warmly to support the Council's recommendation that a Syndicate be established to consider the structure of academic offices in the University, their scales of stipends, and procedures for promotion. It is important that such a Syndicate's considerations should embrace simul-taneously both general points of principle and the specific concerns of many individual University officers about these issues. I would, therefore, like to make two points today, one relating to the University as a whole and the other to the Department of which I am pleased to be a member.

Before making those points I wish to declare a personal interest: I speak as an un-promoted University Lecturer. But my remarks today will also call upon my experience as Head of the Department of Geography for five years, from 1989 to 1994, and as a member of the General Board for four years, from 1991 to 1994.

First, comparisons are inevitably and frequently made between Cambridge and Oxford Universities. While it is often appropriate to celebrate the differences between them, there are aspects of their functioning for which a strong case can be made for the need for similarity between the two. One such aspect is, in my view, the structure of academic offices and promotion procedures: but the difference between Oxford and Cambridge in this regard is being significantly widened. Oxford's Gazette of 25 September 1997 recorded 112 promotions to Professorships and Readerships, while Cambridge's Reporter of 1 October 1997 recorded only 41 similar promotions. Although such a direct comparison may not be entirely appropriate, such straightforward, titular comparisons will be made both in Cambridge and, more importantly, throughout the academic world. There are, I suggest, seeds here for a growing discontent within Cambridge as the gap between ourselves and Oxford widens in the coming years and is perceived as a growing and demoralizing inequity.

Secondly, in the most recent (1996) Research Assessment Exercise, the Department of Geography at Cambridge was awarded a Five Star rating. Only four other such departments in the country were awarded that rating. In each of these top five departments of Geography in the United Kingdom, the percentage of full-time staff holding Professorships and Readerships in June 1997 (the latest date for which I have the information) was as follows: University College London 48 per cent; Bristol 44 per cent; Durham 35 per cent; Edinburgh 31 per cent and Cambridge 11 per cent. The anomalous position of Cambridge is unambiguously shocking and unjustifiable. While the research being conducted in the Department of Geography at Cambridge is acknowledged by such an independent peer-review as being of outstanding international significance, that achievement is not being appropriately and fairly recognized by this University. I speak specifically of Geography because it is the Cambridge Department which I know best. There might well be other Departments in a similar position, but not I trust in a worse position.

The suggested Syndicate will need to make such comparisons, most importantly between Cambridge and other universities but also among Departments and institutions within Cambridge, if it is to propose changes to our structures and procedures which will be more equitable - and which will be seen to be more equitable - than those currently in existence.

There are two fundamental issues here. First, the University needs earnestly to consider allocating a larger proportion of its resources to promotions, to accept the argument that personal promotions to Professorships and Readerships should be on the basis of merit and not limited in number artificially and inequitably by some arbitrarily imposed cap. It is encouraging that the General Board have recently embraced this principle in relation to the proposed new Senior Lectureships. In their Notice to the University of 3 December 1997 on promotions to senior academic offices, the General Board stated that in relation to the proposed Senior Lectureships, 'it would not be desirable to apply a rigidly fixed ratio in determining the annual number of promotions', and that 'promotions should be determined on merit', while recognizing that 'affordability is a factor which the Board must take into account in any given year' (Reporter, 10 December 1997, p. 249). The General Board should logically take the further step and also press a similar view of promotions to Readerships and Professorships. Annual promotions should be determined on merit and not restrained by some arbitrarily fixed number. The necessary resouces should be allocated to enable merit to be rewarded equitably. Secondly, the University needs to consider ways of acknowledging that many more of its Lecturers are internationally distinguished than it currently recognizes to be the case: part of the malaise among many Lecturers in Cambridge is that while their academic distinction is applauded on the international stage it goes unrecognized by their home University. The proposed Syndicate might wish to consider, in this connection, whether there are lessons to be learned from the way in which Oxford has addressed a similar problem.

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor and the Secretary General know it to be a fact that I am not speaking just personally but also expressing the collective view of many of my colleagues when I say that at least a titular recognition that the University values our contributions to its continuing success is what is being sought. In the absence of additional resources for promotions, this might be achieved by doubling the number of promotions but halving the additional stipend normally associated with such promotions, or by some similar strategem - at least until such time as the University accepts that actually it can afford to recognize both fully and fairly the merit and distinction of its staff.

Professor D. H. MELLOR:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I shall comment mostly on this Report's Recommendations I to IV, in which the Council propose a specially favourable procedure for considering an application for personal promotion of one of their own members. The Council's other proposal, to set up a Syndicate to tell the Regent House what to think of the General Board's forthcoming proposals to reform the structure of our academic offices, does of course impugn both the intelligence of the Regent House and the integrity of the General Board. That however is a relatively minor matter on which, as a member of both the Regent House and the General Board, I merely wish to declare an interest - and my conviction that this proposal will at best involve a needless and damaging delay to a major reform, on which the General Board has already consulted all those who may be affected by it.

As to the procedure for assessing applications for personal promotion, I must first express my anger at much of the criticism that has been levelled at the handling of it by General Board officers. Since these officers are unable to speak on their own behalf, it behoves those of us who still remain free to speak for them to do so. I must say therefore that, while I have had nothing to do with their handling of this matter, in none of my many dealings with the Board's principal officers, including several that have involved serious disagreements with them, have I ever detected any impropriety in their actions; and if I had to choose between them and some of those who have been snapping at their heels, I know whose account of disputed matters I would rather trust. The Secretary General, in particular, has a record of intelligent, imaginative, diligent, impeccably proper and patient loyalty to the people and institutions he serves that deserves more respect than it has recently received. The University has been very fortunate in the calibre and dedication of its senior officers, but that good fortune will not last long unless they are given the respect, and the unhindered time needed to do their work, to which any conscientious employee is entitled. As it is the Council's job to see that they get this, I hope the Council will consider with some urgency how to protect Old Schools staff from unreasonable attacks and demands on their time.

To return to the Council's Recommendations I to IV. Here, as a mere member of the General Board, I have no interest to declare. The Board's role in this affair has been like that of the Czech Government of 1938: an innocent, injured, and impotent victim of an improper, ill-judged, and ineffective attempt at appeasement. But as the person appeased is obviously no Hitler, members of the Regent House, indeed the whole academic community in the UK, must wonder what has induced the Council to make this attempt. That the attempt is improper is self-evident. No one lets particular students nominate their admissions tutors or vet their examiners; no one lets particular applicants for jobs nominate or vet members or chairs of Appointments Committees or of Boards of Electors. That the Council should propose such a thing for any University staff is intolerable enough; that they should do so for a named person is worse; and that they should do it for one of their own number beggars belief.

How has this come about? Those outside the University who may be unaware of the total integrity of the Council's members, officers, and procedures are bound to suspect that undue influence has been exerted. We may know that this cannot be the explanation; but as the outside world does not know that, the mere making of these proposals must already have caused severe damage to the University's reputation, damage which can only be mitigated by the withdrawal of these proposals or their decisive rejection by the Regent House.

Yet still the question remains: what made the Council put forward these proposals in the first place? Members of the Regent House, as well as of the larger academic community in this country, will surely wish to be satisfied by an independent enquiry (perhaps best undertaken by the Board of Scrutiny) that no improper pressure of any kind has been exercised on the Council's members or officers by any interested party.

Finally, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, having said that, I had better say too that no one has put any pressure on me to take part in this Discussion or to say what I have said. And I may add that, if these remarks of mine lead anyone to put any pressure on me now, I will not only reject it, I will publicize the fact and the source of it before the ballot in which I hope and believe these proposals will be rejected with the contempt they deserve.

Dr W. M. BEARD (read by Dr M. SCHOFIELD):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, if you read most of the press reports of the 'Evans case', you get the impression that Dr Evans speaks for people like me; you get the impression that the great ranks of the un-promoted are grateful for her plucky stand against the graft and corruption of the University's traditional promotions procedures. That may be the case for some Lecturers and Assistant Lecturers. But it's not the case for me, nor for many other of my not-yet-promoted colleagues.

Frankly, I do not care very much whether she gets her 'independent review': it may be the only option now left to the Council, but at the same time it seems faintly ridiculous; it may itself act (to use a phrase from Sir Brian Neill's Memorandum) as a 'valuable stimulus for reform' or it may (once again) be a colossal waste of everyone's time. It certainly risks giving the rest of us the impression that the way to gain the attention of the University authorities is to squeal very loudly, and to go on squealing.

My real concern is not with the fate of Dr Evans's application for promotion, but with the effect of the whole case on the reform of the promotions procedures more generally - for everyone, and for me. Many factors, no doubt, are driving the desire for change. But it seems all too clear that every new proposal from the central offices is framed with one eye on the Evans case. 'Will it pass the Evans test?' is always the first question to be asked. (Even in the Report of the Council before us, the major recommendations that apply to us all (numbers V and VI) come limping in after the first four 'Evans' recommendations.) I can understand why the Council and General Board have ended up thinking this way. But it is a lousy way to reform a system. Reform is (in this University at least) a state of mind; it's about radical vision. It's not about discontent, reaction, and picking up the pieces when things have gone wrong. Maybe we'll get a radical vision from a Syndicate (and at least it might give the Council and General Board a break); but in the present climate it's a tough assignment.

We are in danger of being landed with a system that confuses openness with justice, that sloganizes about 'accountability' and 'objective standards' - a system that attempts to conceal, from those to whom it matters most, the nasty truth: that in an institution as complex as ours, with so many different talents being judged by so many diffrent people, no promotions procedure can be 'fair'. 'Objectivity' in promotions is a facile myth; a myth that is a recipe for more - and more widespread - discontent. Of course, we can expect any system to be operated evenhandedly; but that's quite a different matter from suggesting that there is or ever could be some objectively fair standard for promotion applied consistently even within one Faculty, let alone right across the University. (But look how easily these myths have already taken hold. The idea of an objective standard is already built in to the Neill Memorandum and the Council's proposal: Dr Evans's case is to be judged against 'the minimum level of attainment of successful candidates in the 1997 and 1998 promotions round, whichever is the lower.' It would be nice to hear how on earth they (or we) are supposed to decide which of the two years' newly promoted Readers was the weakest... And does he know? Is there some poor guy walking round Cambridge, a Lecturer in Reader's clothes - like Caligula's horse pretending to be a senator?)

I hope that the Syndicate, if it is appointed, will not forget that until recently there were several Faculties in the University operating the old promotions procedure to the general contentment of their members. The local difficulties that gave rise to the Evans case were not felt right across the University - although they now disrupt it. The Faculty of Classics, my Faculty, may not always have been a haven of good sense and good feeling; but for a decade now (ever since I got old enough to notice, that is), promotion on the old system has not been a burning issue. Obviously there were winners and losers, and in any one year more disappointments than celebrations; but, to my knowledge, no one over that period felt abused by the process. That is partly because the old Faculty ad hominem Committee, with all their different interests and axes to grind, were nonetheless perceived to act carefully and respectfully in relation to their colleagues. It is partly because the common culture reckoned that promotion depended on an unfath-omable mixture of talent and good luck; and that the decisions reached, though not unjust, were inevitably a bit arbitrary. There is nothing more face-saving for the unsuccessful than arbitrariness.

Over the next decade literally hundreds of our colleagues will fail to get the promotion they hope for - and, in all sorts of ways, deserve. What I and many others want, if and when we don't succeed, is not the chance to complain or appeal (on a system which looks as if it was designed more for discontented rail passengers than for academics within a university democracy). Nor do I much want a parade of open feedback (I don't honestly think it'll help very much to be told that I didn't score highly enough on 'intellectual leadership'). Nor do I want to be fobbed off with a Senior Lectureship (though the money would be nice). I want to be able to go into work the day after I've got the 'Dear John...' letter from the Secretary General and not feel humiliated; I want to feel that I can dust myself down, have a bottle of wine, and get back to (over)working just as usual. That's about a culture of promotion, not a procedure. And that's what I hope the Syndicate will look at.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wish to speak about the Council's Recommendations I to IV. Since I happen to be a member of the Board of Scrutiny, to which Professor Weiss and Professor Mellor referred earlier, I should stress that I am speaking entirely personally, but I also take this opportunity to say that, so far as I am aware, the Board of Scrutiny has not received any substantive communication from Dr Evans about this or any other matter.

The Council base their recommendations on considerations of natural justice (rather quaintly referred to as 'Nolan-type principles') and their application to the special circumstances of Dr Evans's case. Natural justice requires that our proceedings should appear to be fair to a fair-minded, sensible, disinterested observer. I believe that they do so appear and the Council must think so too or they wouldn't have commended them to the Regent House. Among other things, an observer will notice the Yellow Book's provision for external members on Faculty Committees and on the General Board's Committee, and for an appeals procedure between the two stages. They can also profit from the adjudications of Lord Oliver and Mr Justice Sedley, which are reproduced in full in this year's Reporter (pp. 62-79), including Mr Justice Sedley's observation: 'As to bias, Dr Evans has made herself prominent and possibly unpopular in certain quarters of the University by her campaign (for which many others will, I suspect, admire her). But there is no evidence at all to suggest that any individual carried into the decision-making process some personal animus towards her' (p. 78). It might be replied that this refers to last year's round of promotions. But we are still in the middle of this year's round, and can have no idea what the outcome will be or whether it will be challenged or on what grounds. If it is challenged, surely that ought to be brought out in the open in the courts or by appeal to the Commissary, where the University's proceedings can be either vindicated or found wanting. Only if they are found wanting in some serious and relevant way can there be a case for an ad hoc panel.

Turning to the Council's proposals for a panel, I don't want to be picky over details, but they do need re-thinking. I have in mind the unrealistically short timetable, and the inconsistency between the fixed number of referees and the latitude the Yellow Book allows for interdisciplinary candidates. Also we know from the Reporter (p. 77) that Dr Evans is applying directly for a Professorship. Will the Yellow Book's stipulation that this can only be done in 'very exceptional circumstances' still stand, and if so who will decide whether it is met; and likewise will the rule against double applications for Professorships and Readerships still stand? Anyone who has read Lord Oliver's judgment will appreciate the necessity of getting these matters clear in advance.

My main criticism of the panel, however, is to do with its constitution. Sir Brian Neill is a former judge of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, and with its neutral chairman and members nominated by each side, it has clearly been modelled on an industrial tribunal. But an application for promotion on academic grounds is not like a dispute between employer and employee, and I find it repugnant for a promotions panel to have members nominated by the applicant. If there is to be an independent panel it must be genuinely independent. The only way I can see of securing this is to find a person of unimpeachable standing and leave the whole business of forming a panel to them. Obvious suggestions are the Chairman of the Humanities Research Board, the Vice-Chancellor of another university, or (since the current incumbent is in Cambridge) a past President of the British Academy.

I return finally to the issue of Natural Justice. If there is one thing a competition must do, it is to treat the competitors equally. To allow one of them to opt out of the competition halfway through, and give her - and her alone - a second bite at the cherry, because, like Violet Elizabeth, she threatens to 'thcream and thcream till I'm thick', would, I think, be seen by an independent observer as grossly unjust to the remaining competitors. I sympathize with the Council's attempts to buy peace, but not at this price and not in this way.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have decided to speak in this debate to explain to the Regent House why I, as a member of the Council, could not agree to the proposals in the document presented to the Council by Sir Brian Neill, or support the proposals put to the Regent House by the Council.

Firstly, the matter of a Syndicate. I do not believe that such a body is necessary. The General Board have been actively engaged over a considerable period of time with the review and revision of promotion procedures for academic staff. Some of these revisions were in response to directives issued by the previous Government, the so-called 'discretionary elements' of pay settlements, which of course were not actually discretionary, as universities were told how they had to spend them. Essentially the previous Government wanted more 'performance related' pay in universities which they thought could be achieved by more promotions and the introduction of discretionary payments. Cambridge, therefore, increased the number of promotions to personal Readerships and Chairs and introduced discretionary payments. It can, I think, be argued that these changes brought few advantages and much aggravation. The General Board have just recently completed a consultation exercise on the introduction of the grade of Senior Lecturer and related matters and are about to bring forward concrete proposals to the Regent House which will be subject to the normal decision-making procedures of the University. Given that this is the case I can see no reason why we should set up a Syndicate and ask it to tell us what to think. The Regent House, in my view, is perfectly capable of making up its own mind.

Secondly, I do not believe that special arrangements, outside the normal procedures, should be made to consider the promotion of one particular individual. The University has a very clear procedure, which, in the interests of fairness, all individuals seeking promotion are required to follow. The Promotions Committee itself follows clear guidelines in considering information and in the collecting of references. I have to say I do not envy them their task; it must be extremely difficult to weigh the claims of competing candidates. I do, however, believe that they carry out their task with integrity.

Of course the results are not going to please every one. In any promotion system, no matter how fair your procedures, there will always be people who will not gain the promotion they believe they deserve, and they will be disappointed. That is true of any competition. The only promotion system that would not produce disappointment would be one where everybody who applied for promotion was given it automatically. Dr Evans has, I understand, been considered for promotion on a number of occasions in the past ten years and has not been granted promotion. She has made it clear that she disagrees with this outcome; that does not, however, entitle her to special treatment.

Given that I do not agree with either of these points, it is impossible for me to 'use my best endeavours to support these recommendations', as I am required to do by the Neill document. The document also requires me to 'acknowledge that Dr Evans's aims are appreciated and that her untiring work has acted as a valuable stimulus for reform'. I cannot make such ack-nowledgement because I do not believe her work has been in any way valuable and because I believe that Dr Evans in her campaign for promotion has behaved very badly, both towards the University as an institution and towards individual members of the University.

Dr Evans, herself, attempted to circumvent the procedures laid down by the University for promotion by sending additional material, which she believed relevant to her case, individually to all members of the Promotions Committee. This material not only fell outside the circulated guidelines but was also submitted after the deadline for applications for promotion. The material was returned to Dr Evans by the Secretary General, who also instructed the Promotions Com-mittee to disregard this additional material, actions supported by both the General Board and the Council.

This incident led to the first of Dr Evans's five complaints under Statute K, 5. This particular com-plaint, that the Promotions Committee of the General Board, the General Board itself and the Council had all acted ultra vires in respect of the 1997 promotion round, was investigated and dismissed by Lord Oliver. A second complaint has been investigated by Professor Gareth Jones and also dismissed; the other three complaints are still under investigation.

Dr Evans next took her case to the High Court for judicial review. Mr Justice Sedley granted leave for review on two grounds. Broadly speaking in laypersons' terms these were that more feedback should be given to unsuccessful applicants and that the General Board should receive more information from the Promotions Committee in respect of the decisions it had made. All other grounds were dismissed. Leave to proceed was stayed, however, until the time at which good cause can be shown to the court for lifting the stay; good cause in this respect being the failure to cure these two 'arguable deficiencies in the procedures'.

Dr Evans has also made an application to an Industrial Tribunal alleging discrimination and victimization. The Chairman over-ruled the allegation that Dr Evans had been victimized by members of the Council, while the claim of sex discrimination and harassment was ruled 'out of time'. In such cases the Chairman has discretion to allow a case to proceed if he or she believes that the case merits a hearing. In this instance the Chairman stated that he could see nothing in the facts of this case that required him, for reasons of justice and equity, to allow the application to proceed, albeit out of time.

Currently there is another case waiting to be heard before the High Court in which Dr Evans is claiming breach of contract.

These complaints and court cases have involved the University and many of its officers in a great deal of time and effort. The Registrary has some nine boxfiles of correspondence from Dr Evans, the Council out of its twenty-four meetings since the Lent Term, 1997, has had matters related to Dr Evans on the agenda under Reserved Business twenty-two times, and the University has spent £125,000 on legal fees.

Dr Evans has castigated the Council for spending this money, which I believe is totally outrageous. The University has an obligation to investigate complaints under Statute K, 5. It also has to defend itself against complaints made to the Courts, particularly where it believes the complaints are unjustified. The reason the money had to be spent was solely because of the actions taken by Dr Evans. She, and she alone, is responsible for this waste of public funds. Money, given to the University by HEFCE to be spent on the legitimate educational purposes of the University, has thus been diverted into legal fees because one individual cannot accept the decision of a succession of Promotions Committees, namely, that in the Cambridge context she does not merit promotion.

For these reasons I found myself unable to subscribe to the view that Dr Evans's 'untiring work has acted as a valuable stimulus for reform'.

It seemed to me that, in summary, the Neill document represents the following situation. An individual has made an enormous nuisance of herself, resulting in the waste of University resources both directly in terms of the money it has had to spend on legal costs and indirectly in the time of individuals and committees in responding to her actions. This individual is prepared, temporarily, to suspend her actions against the University if she is given what she wants, i.e. a separate Promotions Committee and the setting up of a Syndicate. The question arises, therefore, whether or not the University should accede to Dr Evans's demands. In my mind the answer is quite clear - no, it should not.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this seems to be something of a hybrid bill. Recommendations I, II, III, and IV concern a settlement with a particular individual, Dr G. R. Evans, and are within the competence of the Council to agree, whilst Recommendations V, VI, and VII concern the establishment of an ad hoc Syndicate, for which the approval of the Regent House is needed. I base this view on the fact that by Ordinance (p. 118) 'The Council shall have authority to take legal advice, retain solicitors, and bring, defend, or conduct legal proceedings on behalf of the University as they may think necessary or desirable in the interests of the University'. That must surely include agreeing to any out-of-court settlements.

If Recommendations I to IV are within the competence of the Council to agree on behalf of the University, and the Council are in favour of them, as appears to be the case from their Report, then we may reasonably ask: Why have they not already agreed them? Is it perhaps because the Council would rather the Regent House shoulders the responsibility for the decision? Or even that they are hoping the Regent House will throw out the Council's own recommendations?

Whatever the reason, the Regent House should only be involved in a particular case to the extent that the terms of a settlement dictate. Thus in the present instance the settlement includes the establishment of a Syndicate, which is a prerogative of the Regent House, and one which I am glad to support. As to the remainder of the settlement with Dr Evans, I have never commented on her particular case, nor shall I do so now. It must be obvious that members of the Regent House cannot be sufficiently informed of all the intricacies and confidences involved in unfortunate tussles of this kind to enable them to make a judgment, and they should not be expected to make one. I think I echo there a point made by Professor Bowring.

In connection with the request for a Discussion I should like to say that I thought at the time it was a step too far, and as soon as I learnt that Dr Evans's circulation of documents made it appear that I was associated with it I telephoned her and she immediately apologized for her hasty action, which ended the matter as far as I was concerned.

But I was very glad to invite signatures for the Grace for a Syndicate. I would not have done so had it not been for the Council's unsatisfactory reply to my remarks at the Discussion on 20 January, in which I had put a carefully-worded objection that the General Board had not done what they were required to do by Grace. All I got in reply was the usual put-down, with the point not being answered. I imagine that the President of Wolfson was none too pleased with the put-down he received either. One might have supposed that an embattled Council would have been rather keen to be conciliatory towards those who make general procedural comments and criticisms, but no. I can think of no easier way for the Council to improve the atmosphere (and their reputation) than by attending to the tone and content of replies to remarks made in Discussion. I fervently hope that the most recent example, in connection with academical dress, represents a low point never to be repeated.

In their Recommendations V and VI the Council have indeed, as they say, subsumed the Grace initiated by the seventy-six signatories, and for my part I support their Recommendation VII with pleasure.

Dr R. D. DAWE (read by Dr A. W. F. EDWARDS):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the historian Gibbon, whose Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire presents so many close and interesting parallels to the politics of the University of Cambridge, writes somewhere of 'the last temptation of virtuous minds, an indiscreet and intemperate zeal for justice.' On contemplating this Report, the more virtuous the mind, the more strongly will it feel that temptation. For Justice is what is at issue, and justice is what Sir Brian Neill is professionally qualified to dispense. I am shocked, as others will be, that the authorities of this University should first seek the opinion as mediator of a former Lord Justice of Appeal, and then, when his verdict does not suit them, seek to tamper with it.

Justice implies the rectification of injustice. It also implies compensation for past injustice, if any can be detected. Remarkably, even the Statutes of this University express approval of justice (Statute U, chapter I, section 1c), and commend with equal warmth the application of the principle of fairness. Justice delayed is justice denied, and those of us who are approaching retirement age urgently need instant action to review our cases, which are acknowledged to be few in number. Floodgates are not going to open. But if there is going to be any kind of investigating Syndicate - and speaking for myself I would prefer to see the whole thing handed over to Sir Brian - at least let it be better balanced than the present Appeals Committee - five persons of whom only one is a humanist.

I do not propose to argue my own case in public; but I think I may by way of example legitimately put before members of the University the reasons why I do not accept without question the assurance given to me not so long ago by the Secretary General that my case had been 'exhaustively investigated'. He did not amplify this statement, and a pleasing variety of second sentences which might have followed present themselves to the mind; but I take it that the implication was 'and nothing untoward has been uncovered'. This tends to be what happens when official bodies investigate themselves. But what agitates my virtuous mind is an inability to reconcile the Secretary General's comforting words with the verdicts of others: 'shocking, disgraceful and unintelligible' from a President of the British Academy (twenty-five years ago!); 'scandalous and corrupt' from a foreign scholar with more distinctions than you can shake a stick at; 'scandalous and brazen' from another foreign scholar; 'a tangled skein of intrigue' from the head of a foreign research institute; 'shameful' (orally) from the head of an Oxford College; and most worryingly of all 'a bizarre story, full of intrigue and double-dealing' from one of her Majesty's judges, who investigated my case at his own request. You may care to put these remarks alongside the letters, 'expressing surprise' as my source moderately puts it, contained in the file on me held in the Old Schools. 'Such authority should satisfy a believing, and must astonish an incredulous, mind.' That is why we need a Syndicate, our Syndicate, not yours.

But enough of this. I am acting as a test case, a test case which has been slapped down by the Secretary General, a test case for the rights of NUTO's. You will, I think, acknowledge that this University could not function, especially on the humanities side, without the co-operation of NUTO's. We know that the University has said in advance that it will appoint a certain number of Professors and Readers, in subjects as yet not assigned. Now if the Cavendish Chair of Physics should fall vacant, I could apply for it. It would take you a fraction of a nano-second to dismiss my application on the grounds of professional incompetence; but you could not dismiss it on the ground that I was ineligible. We know that we have elected to an ad hominem position a NUTO in the past; we know that we have recently created by processes outside the 'annual exercise', as it is quaintly called, half-a-dozen assorted one-tenure Professorships (not of course in the Arts) for persons who at the time in most cases had no connection with the University at all; and it cannot be proper to exclude from consideration NUTO's, whether or not they have at any time held University office - in my case resigned for the reasons hinted at above - simply because a document produced by the Secretary General, forming the basis of a Grace, omitted to make any mention of this category of persons. I can think of people younger than myself in just this category who richly deserve such recognition, and can only hope that they will receive more generous treatment in the future than has been my experience in the past.

Finally, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I should like to pay tribute to the efforts made by Dr Evans in her crusade to see that this University does indeed observe the principles of justice and fairness enjoined on it by Statute U, I, 1c. I can understand that the Council of the Senate do not rise to their feet in spontaneous renditions of 'Caro nome' whenever her name is mentioned. But, metaphorically, some of us do.

Professor D. N. DUMVILLE:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I should like to focus on one sentence of the Council's Report dated 27 April, which bears most directly on the topic for discussion. It contains two grounds for dismay. In paragraph 3 of the Report the Council has noted that its principal reason for rejecting Sir Brian Neill's 'Memorandum' was the unknown number of University Lecturers and Readers who might feel 'aggrieved as a result of previous unsuccessful applications for promotion' and who might therefore come forward if paragraph 4 of the Neill Memorandum were to be implemented. The Council does not seem to have realized that it is thereby condemning the University's past and current promotion procedures as unfair. If the Council recognizes, as its Report appears thus to indicate, that there may be many such persons, it should therefore automatically admit that the University has a duty to deal with their complaints of injustice. Can the Council really not see the illogicality and the danger in its published statement? The University cannot be 'seen to be fair' in these circumstances. Here we have yet another public-relations disaster.

Disbelief that the Council can sleep-walk into such a situation leads one to look at another element of the last sentence of paragraph 3 of the Council's Report: 'the Council concluded, for these and other reasons, that they were not able to accept the detailed terms of the settlement as proposed by Sir Brian'. It seems very odd indeed that these other reasons could not be specified. (We have perhaps heard something of these less formally this afternoon.) The Report is incomplete without them; a supplementary Report is necessary. If the Council is taking such a grave step for a stated reason which amounts to shooting the University in the foot and is therefore unbelievable, the unspecified 'other reasons' for that decision need to be stated to the Regent House. As matters stand, one can have little confidence that the Council is sensitive to the University's well being.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Council of the Senate proposed on 18 February 1896 that a Syndicate be appointed.1 That was done by Grace 1 of 12 March 1896. In June 1896 the membership and terms of reference of the Syndicate were Graced.2 In October 1896 the then Vice-Chancellor received two memorials. Some confusedly signed both memorials.3

There followed debate, and Discussion in the Senate. It was livelier than we are used to these days (though this afternoon may make an exception to that), with members rising to take up one another's points and to reinsert themselves into the argument. Then one may read, Dr Sidgwick rose to protest: 'May I say a word of explanation? I never said what Professor Marshall has attributed to me.' A few minutes later Professor Marshall was protesting that he himself had been misunderstood by Mr McTaggart: 'Pardon me, I said just the contrary'.4

Ten years ago, in February 1988, the Council of the Senate recommended in a Report that a Syndicate be established to consider the government of the University (Reporter, 1987-88, pp. 327-8). It was recognized that a body with external and independent membership was needed, able to take an overview.

A browse through the Reporter shows that in both these previous settings-up of Syndicates there was a desperate battle to protect vested interests on the part of those from whom the Syndicate was to take over for a time. There were alarmed speeches in 1897. 'It will give command of our central fort,'5 said one. 'It seems to me it would be right to give women a trade mark, if that trade mark be so chosen as not to injure us,'6 cried another.

We are in the midst of an overhaul of our procedures for making promotions and appointments to senior academic offices.

The scale of the response to the consultations so far carried out indicates the level of concern in the University on these issues. But there have also been expressions of frustration at the limited scale and the relatively slow pace of change in the measures proposed by the central bodies, and the failure to recognize the interconnectedness of the issues. It is tragic that the debate has taken on an adversarial character, with the central bodies seen as defending the status quo and a substantial number of members of the Regent House reporting to me their feeling that their concerns are not treated seriously or even that they may damage their own chances of promotion by letting their names appear. The numbers of promotions continue to be restricted to the point where reforms of procedures cannot in themselves address the justified discontent of senior members of the University's academic staff who find themselves still Lecturers in their fifties and sixties while other colleagues, no more distinguished, hold Readerships and Chairs. The new reformed procedures are not yet adequate to ensure fairness; a number of problems with their operation are becoming apparent in this first year. More radical reform is needed.

It is important that the establishment of a Syndicate does not result in delay, for these matters are urgent. It can give us machinery for hearing all interested parties more flexibly than, say, through a circulated questionnaire. It can consider the complex of inter-related issues as a whole. It can make recommendations which can be put to the Regent House by the Council and the General Board with greater speed and frequency than has proved to be possible so far.

'No conclusions that such a Syndicate may arrive at are pre-empted. What is needed now is the establishment of that Syndicate', as the then Master of Emmanuel said in 1988 of the establishment of the Wass Syndicate (Reporter, 1987-88, p. 251).

I would hope that the terms of reference of the Syndicate might include the following:

  1. To oversee continuing reform of promotions procedures in the University of Cambridge in the light of experience with the new procedures in 1997-98.
  2. To consider what should be the reasonable career expectation of Cambridge's academic staff; and specifically whether Cambridge should in future seek to reward equally the achievements of all academic staff who meet defined standards for Readerships or Chairs or any other office we may introduce, such as that of Senior Lecturer.
  3. To consider the proportion of Professorships to Readerships to Senior Lectureships, and the balance of qualifications and achievements appropriate to appointment to these posts.
  4. To examine the differences within the University's constitutional framework between established Chairs, Chairs newly funded, especially for single tenures, and ad hominem Chairs and Readerships, together with the modes of appointment to these offices, so as to bring the requirements and procedures into line. (I point members of the Regent House to the contradiction between the Notice of 30 May 1996 and the one to be published on 13 May.)
  5. To consider complaints of individuals who allege that they have failed to be promoted by reason of some serious defect in the procedure then in existence relating to promotions or some other serious unfairness in their treatment.
A number of employment issues are conjoined and overlap and need urgently to be addressed in a comprehensive review of the University's employment practices for all its staff.

This was the substance of the text I drafted in February ready to be published if the Council agreed the settlement. It all needs saying in tougher language in the light of what has now happened.

There is a good deal of face-saving to be done on the part of the central bodies, and we must not let that get in the way of ensuring that this Syndicate will really listen to the academic staff of the University.

Its membership must be truly independent of the influence our oligarchies can exert, above the various forms of academic 'bribery' practised in the University and above all competent to frame the kinds of recommendation we need.

The reform of procedures needs to be taken actively and continuously in hand by the Syndicate. I am repeatedly disturbed by the closed minds I confront. Again and again, having done my research and consulted experts, I have tried to explain, in memoranda or in person, what the law requires by way of fair procedures. There has sometimes been frantic paddling under the water as a result. But candidates have not been told of the new instructions then given to the committees. I have been watching and probing hard all these months and I know much which is not reassuring about what has been going on in the operation of the new procedures.

And it is not likely, I fear, that a sense that all is well will be created in the University when we see the General Board's proposed plans for the reconfiguration of the structure of academic offices. I will not jump the gun on that, but give them a chance to tell us that they are going to seek to find out with open minds what proportion deserve Readerships and Chairs as against the figures for those who ought to be Senior Lecturers, before imposing a forty per cent figure for Senior Lectureships against the thirty Readerships and ten Chairs of the Notice of last December. The RAE entries which the Old Schools have on file will give a broad picture of who is research-active and how active each is. The figures should not be hard to compile.

I encourage members of the Regent House to read closely any new contract they accept from the University on promotion of any kind. If you find you are being required to allow your Head of Department or Chairman of the Faculty Board to prescribe what you teach, the research you do and even where you publish it, stand up for our right to academic freedom. And if there were soon to be a targeted early retirement scheme, with those same persons drawing up the hit-lists, you might be in a weak position if the University says you broke your contract by not doing what you were told. Read the Reporter carefully in the next few weeks. The Syndicate may help to protect us from any such moves on the part of the General Board if we draw its attention to this bid for managerial control of our scholarly activities.

One more point on which I would encourage you to worry rather purposefully, is flagged up by an item on the back page of the Times Higher Education Supplement of 8 May. We must ask the Syndicate to recommend means of monitoring the payment of special salaries and top-up payments to Professors made at the Vice-Chancellor's personal discretion, and also those payments, such as the huge additions available for clinical sessions in the NHS, for which something specific is required to be done in return. Is it? Does anyone ever check?

It is worthy of note, and I hope the Board of Scrutiny will pick up this point in their forthcoming Report, that Statute K, 9 does not appear to allow the Regent House to delegate its powers to a person, but only a committee. So it is hard to see how the Vice-Chancellor can have such a personal discretion under the Statutes. And, in any case, such delegation does not relieve the delegating body of the responsibility, so we do have a right to some say in the award of these top-up payments to a Vice-Chancellor's favourites. I put it strongly, so that it may be clear where the danger lies, not because I think for a moment that our present Vice-Chancellor would be guilty of allowing personal preferences for individuals or classes of Professor to influence him.

As for 'the bad old cases', the individuals, however many they may prove to be, who can show that they have been unjustly treated over promotion in the past, I think they deserve the University's concern. They should have some hope that their damaged careers may at last be mended a little by the public recognition that they have been wronged.

It is important to compare the wording of the Grace which carries seventy-six signatures (and could easily have carried many more if we had not closed the list), with the wording of the Council's 'version'. Is it true that one is subsumed in the other? (I have no quarrel with the earlier date in the Council's version.)

Is the thrust of 'in the light of the needs of the University' that it is intended that whatever the Syndicate recommends, the General Board will carry on regardless down the road it has been mapping?

One is struck by a difference of tone. The language of the Grace-sheet respects the seniority of the Regent House. There can be no possibility surely that a Syndicate would exercise a discretion not to ask what we want? There must surely be a general request to the Regent House to submit evidence and a willingness to accept submissions from any member who wishes to make them? A good deal of the purpose of having a Syndicate is to open up channels of communication which have become blocked.

It is also important that the General Board and Council accept our thanks for their hard work up to now and recognize that they must stand aside for the Syndicate.

The Registrary tells me he will be glad to receive suggestions of names, for the Chairman and for the members. The appointment of the right people is very important. I do not think it can safely be left to the Council without active input from the Regent House at the nomination stage. We want to avoid having to embarrass the owner of any Graced name by challenging it publicly.

1 Cambridge University Reporter, 18 February 1896, p. 491.
2 Cambridge University Reporter, 9 June 1896, p. 926.
3 Cambridge University Reporter, 20 October 1896, p. 75.
4 Cambridge University Reporter, 26 March 1897, p. 796.
5 Cambridge University Reporter, 26 March 1897, p.794.
6 Cambridge University Reporter, 26 March 1897, p. 795.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to contribute to the discussion of the reason why the Council felt it not possible to accept the Neill Memorandum. The Regent House should be aware that the published memorandum is in fact the second version that the Council saw of Sir Brian Neill's thoughts on this matter. The first version did not to my mind make sufficiently clear that Dr Evans's case was to be judged within the Cambridge context in these matters, that is to say, in competition with others for a limited number of posts rather than against a more general criterion of desert. So the concept of desert could have been introduced into our procedures by this one precedent without proper consideration of the principle by the Regent House. Further negotiation to clear up that matter resulted in the second version of the memorandum, which has now been published, which came back with extra clauses on other points. For example there was the requirement for the Council to use its best endeavours to support recommendations whose detail was not yet clear. This I found difficult to agree to. The present proposals are being put forward in the hope of reaching a conclusion to this very difficult crisis within the University, but I think entirely without the enthusiasm which the phrase 'best endeavours' would imply.

Then in the memorandum there are to my mind superfluous flannelly phrases about goodwill, and also there is in mind the possibility that there may be discovered some future cause of action which would undermine the value of withdrawal of Dr Evans's current legal actions.

And finally there was the suggestion that the Syndicate, which should surely be concerned with general questions and matters of principle for the present and the future, should also concern itself with an indeterminate number of hard cases from the past, which had been considered under very different procedures from those now in place. It seemed to me that if those cases from the past were to be considered they ought to be considered by some equivalent of the special panel which is now proposed in Dr Evans's case, and not by the Syndicate, which to my mind has very different purposes.

So it seemed to me right not to accept the Neill Memorandum in its entirety but instead, in the hope of defusing this crisis, to put forward Separately the two main proposals mentioned in it, that's to say, the Syndicate to look at principles and the panel to consider the one special case of Dr Evans. I'm not myself convinced that the Syndicate is necessary, though I think it desirable, for various reasons which have been alluded to, in the present circumstances. I would have been particularly worried about the Syndicate if it could have led to delay in implementation of the proposals for Senior Lecturer posts, which proposals were very widely supported by the Regent House. But we are assured that there need be no such delay.

Then, as to, the panel, I don't regard it as being put forward with enthusiasm but simply as a means of hopefully getting out of some difficulty. To my mind there's no admission, implied or otherwise, in putting forward this panel proposal that there has been any impropriety or wrongdoing by anyone in the University, either now or in the past. But Dr Evans's case is special, we can all see that it's special, in view of the prominence in the courts and the press which she has achieved. And special cases, of which I hope and believe there to be only this one example, demand special measures.

A topic of concern to the University: the failure of the Council to agree on behalf of the Regent House the settlement negotiated with Dr G. R. Evans (see the Report of the Council on the structure of academic offices in the University, promotions procedures, and related matters, (p. 575))


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I want to begin with a testimony to the new Registrary, who took the risk of sitting down with me, without an armed bodyguard, to seek a solution, and who has striven with patience as an honest broker to make settlement possible.

It seems to me that the University of Cambridge has shown Sir Brian Neill a high-handed discourtesy. This is not the kind of outcome which will encourage other senior figures to give time and effort to helping universities out of their difficulties. When Sir Brian Neill's Memorandum was first put before the Council in February, I did not expect them to like it. But I did think they would in the end accept it, for the good of the University. The Registrary and I had agreed with Sir Brian that the University and I would put out a joint press-release. This is what I drafted: 'We believe that this has been a model exercise in the resolution of difficulties within a university without intrusion upon its autonomy, by looking to experienced, senior independent help in a positive spirit and with the will to find a solution. We regard it as a signpost achievement in ensuring that a whistleblower does not suffer reprisal and that colleagues can continue to work together constructively in the aftermath of a dispute'.

But nothing is settled. The Council threw that chance away. The full text of Sir Brian Neill's proposed settlement has had to be published to the University, so that everyone can see what the Council rejected. Why did they do it? Let us look at the text of the Report. Paragraph 3 (Reporter, p. 575) says this:

(i) We have some new procedures running this year.
(ii) There is a plan to introduce Senior Lectureships.
(iii) We do not know how many people have been unfairly treated under past procedures.
(iv) There are some 'other reasons', which are unstated. I would like to have these other reasons out in the open.

'Therefore' the Council rejects Sir Brian Neill's terms of settlement.

Were I to encounter an argument like that in an undergraduate essay I might comment that as syllogisms go, that is a breathtaking example of how not to arrive at a valid conclusion. Even as a sophism it is unimpressive, for a sophism is intended to deceive, and who could be deceived by such a parade of confusion over the middle terms (what middle terms?) of these premisses?

So we are not given the real reason for this - in every sense - expensive refusal to come to a sensible and amicable agreement. (We are now into six figures, with the University Solicitor's bills running at £10,000 a month). And I cannot tell you what the real reason is. I was not there. For much of last term the business of the University's Council and a high proportion of its time was taken up with this matter as the last item on its agenda under Reserved Business. I was not in the room while they discussed it, and it will be interesting when we come to talk over what is said today to see whether they ask me to leave again while they do so.

For there is a serious constitutional problem with the machinery which allows the body asked to give account of its conduct by the signatories to reply on behalf of the Regent House whose representatives called this Discussion. Two points are important here. The first is that the forthcoming reform of statute K, 5 include provision for this sort of accounting too. The remit of the Board of Scrutiny should also include it. The second is that there needs to be a return to the convention we have lost sight of in recent years, and especially in recent months, that remarks made in Discussions are treated with respect and fully replied to.

What has happened is constitutionally exciting for Cambridge, but a disaster for the credibility of its Council. The Cambridge University Reporter of 30 April 1998 carries an extraordinary concatenation of documents, betokening serious breakdown in the running of the University. There is a Report of the Council, explaining why it has rejected the settlement; and that it nevertheless has it in mind to propose that there should be a Syndicate. That is made to look less spontaneous by the crowd of signatures insisting on the same thing as an independent legislative act initiated by the Regent House. The question of the 'bad old cases' is evaded. There is a statement from me drawing attention to the very matter the Council especially wished hushed up, the situation of these 'bad old cases'; the full text of the Neill Memorandum; the call for a Grace, with seventy-six signatures, including persons of high seniority whom no one could plausibly call disaffected troublemakers; the call for a Discussion on 'a topic of concern to the University' to give an opening for members of the Regent House to say what they think of the Council's conduct of their affairs in this matter. In the wake of all this comes further bad publicity, for you cannot collect seventy-six signatures without someone tipping off the press.

Cambridge had an opportunity to pull off a 'first' by way of independent dispute-resolution, and show others how to do it. The disaffection of the academic staff will not have been diminished and the 'trust' Sir Brian Neill rightly put first will now take a long time to rebuild. But this is not all negative in its outcomes. Much has been achieved by way of clearing the air and opening up channels. A fresh wind may blow through the University now. That would be good, and even perhaps worth the very large cost in damage on the way.

The Council is an elected body, the servant of the Regent House. Perhaps its members should do what Governments sometimes do when there is a crisis of confidence, and consider whether they ought not to resign and put themselves back in the hands of the electorate.

And perhaps we should consider commissioning something analogous to the University of Lancaster's report, Review of Institutional Lessons to be Learned, 1994-96 (Lancaster, 1997) and the various reports of HEFCE, FEFCE, and the National Audit Office on institutions where something has gone publicly wrong in the handling of a serious issue.

For the Council's failure to agree the terms of the settlement mediated by Sir Brian Neill has implications far beyond the case of the single individual who had become such a thorn in the flesh. It has disturbing lessons which we need to take into account in setting up the Syndicate and ensuring that it is a truly independent body and not 'packed' by those who have shown themselves so slow to open their minds to the call for reform.

I am writing a book which will describe the history of this campaign in detail, and which will place in context and refute the remarks in Professor Needham's, Dr Thompson's, and Dr Whitehead's speeches. They have said things which are both false and defamatory. It needs to be put on record that there was no agreement of any kind at the end of the Council meeting of 16 March. The speeches made by members of the General Board show that they cannot be expected to be open to any proposal that I be promoted.

I have been accused of pursuing self-interest and of misrepresentation of the facts. I leave all that to the verdict of history, and the judgement of that wider world of our own day which will read to-day's speeches. Those speeches may be thought to reflect more accurately upon the speakers than upon the individual they attack. We shall see.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 20 May 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.