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Tuesday, 10 November 1998. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:
The Joint Report, dated 26 and 21 October 1998, of the Council and the General Board on arrangements for the early retirement of University officers and University assistants (p. 88).
Professor J. E. CARROLL (read by Professor J. E. FFOWCS WILLIAMS):
Registrary, the Council of the School of Technology fully understand and support the need for the early retirement scheme. However they wish me as their Chairman to draw the University's attention to inequalities in setting the targets for savings amongst the various Schools.
The University has for many years had what is known as a 'Disaggregation Analysis' showing how much Schools earn for the University, how much they spend, and how much they should contribute to the central budget. This analysis has recently undergone intense scrutiny by both the central bodies of the University and other members who believe that their particular School is disadvantaged by the Analysis. The result of all this scrutiny is to confirm that over a period of more than five years the School of Technology has been heavily and increasingly underfunded. To bring this into perspective in terms that my colleagues will understand, the current annual underfunding in the School of Technology means that the School of Technology alone is saving the University considerably more than the equivalent of the sixty academic posts that the whole University is seeking to save. On top of this saving being imposed on the School, it has further been asked to save the equivalent of some seven or eight academic posts. When I protested, as Chairman of the Council of the School, a very small 'correction' factor was inserted to the savings target in effect suggesting that the different Schools might be brought roughly into balance over more than a thirty-year time scale.
I know that the Planning and Resources Committee are working on this problem and that the General Board have already made some valuable improvements in the position of one Department within the School of Technology. Let me encourage further action.
Having aired one problem, I wish to turn to a second problem. Restructuring the areas of expertise amongst the staff in some Departments is as important for the future of those Departments as making a saving on salaries is to the University. If a School or Department was able to make more than their target-savings then I believe that the current early retirement scheme which is on offer should, in some circumstances, be able to help in the restructuring of the staff-expertise in that Department. Currently I understand it is only 'destructuring' in order to make savings that is on offer. I would hope that the University will look again at this problem of using this opportunity to help Departments to improve their scholarly balance. This is just as important to the long term health of the University as is ensuring the right financial balance.
Professor J. E. FFOWCS WILLIAMS:
Registrary, in supporting the early retirement scheme as something that will help sustain excellence, I want to couple my support with a plea for the University to pass more autonomy on to the Schools and Departmental levels for determining what is necessary in the pursuit of excellence.
It is at the Departmental level that the detailed knowledge of strengths and weaknesses exists, and it is from that level that we can expect the best management decisions for preserving excellence. The University is in need of more resources and needs them now, at a time of declining public support. Freeing-up money by cutting expenditure is an obvious beaurocratic response - but in my view it is a poor response in a community as inventive and enterprising as ours.
Within the Department of Engineering there is, as there should be, a record of attracting money for the work of the University from industry and from innovative commerce. That source is critically dependant on the enthusiasm of the Department's researchers and entrepreneurs. It is a rich source, but one that is being damaged by the University's failure to recognize that its teaching officers need much more encouragement to grow these activities and more freedom to make their own decisions. Central control adds insufficient value to justify the hassle it brings into contract negotiations and grant applications. Too little of the overheads brought in from contracts ends up at the disposal of those who earned the money. And far from being given encouragingly generous treatment in the allocation of University resources, those more capable of surviving harsh treatment are given it. All that is resented. When people who think that they carry a disproportionate load are told to carry more, they get fed up.
I urge the University to give more authority for entrepreneurial action to those capable of taking action and to pass to them more of the rewards of success. That could stimulate the growth of research and enterprise and bring more income into the University, income on a scale that would avoid the need for early retirement packages, necessary though that seems to be at present.
Professor A. J. R. G. MILNER:
Registrary, as Head of the Computer Laboratory, one of the Departments in the School of Technology, may I first pick up the point which Professor Carroll has touched upon. He suggests that it be made possible for a Department, in some circumstances, to use the proposed voluntary early retirement scheme for restructuring, particularly when the target-savings have been met by other means. The key point is to have a guarantee that, with perhaps a short delay, the vacancy can be filled. The proposed scheme offers no such possibility; an explicit criterion is that the Department be able to maintain essential activity if the post is suppressed. But a heavily underfunded Department is most unlikely to be able to maintain its essential activity; indeed the loss of a post would irreversibly erode the earning power of that Department (in terms of QR funding and research grants).
I mentioned 'heavy' and I could have said 'gross' underfunding; neither word would be lightly chosen. I have sympathy with the view that a Department whose skills are marketable has a duty to earn something for its University. But - as Professor Carroll has pointed out - the Disaggregation Analysis, which is the best guide we have to the earning and spending of Departments, reveals a gulf between the two of yawning capacity. The Computer Laboratory was one of the most disfavoured; to give you a measure of it, last year the Laboratory earned for the University 45 per cent more than was spent upon it. This of course puts us at an unfair disadvantage in competitive exercises like the RAE, compared with cognate departments elsewhere; as a result, we may cease to earn so much in HEFCE QR funding.
To return to the proposed early retirement scheme: if it is deployed too much with savings in mind, then it will be of little interest to a Department which is saving too much already.
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Registrary, 'They are determined that this should be achieved voluntarily'; but ' on a selective basis'. I see a fault-line between these two assertions. It is to be, in effect, the institutions which 'apply' for these early retirements, rather than the individuals who will be 'retired' ('disappeared'?). For your application will not go forward if your Faculty does not have you in its sights for retirement. That can easily turn into the drawing up of a hit list.
Each retirement will effect two things. The first is the permanent suppression of a post (and is it clear that permanent and lop-sided suppressions are in the interests of the University?). The second is the removal of the serving officer who occupies it. Now under the provisions for creating redundancies of the Education Reform Act 1988 the first move is to identify a class of post which is no longer needed, by way of framing a 'policy'. The second is to target or 'select' individuals to be made redundant. I see a danger that de facto we are setting up conditions which will enable the University to claim, in the case of an officer who will not go when pushed, that in fact this early retirement can become a redundancy and there is no choice. Read Statute U, II, 4(b).
I do not believe the promises about voluntariness. Too many promises made to us in the pages of the Reporter have proved insecure. Even if the promises are made in good faith now, and let us suppose they are, a little further down the line when people the University badly wishes to be rid of, for whatever reason, say that they would rather stay, I suspect that pressure will be put on. And if the officer really resists, the University may be able to point to its having taken the route of 'application by institution' as a ground for saying that it is entitled to make such officers redundant, having gone through the necessary hoops and designed a policy before cutting off individual heads under it. I know of cases in another university where that has been attempted.
The choice whether to go should be ours, not our Faculty's or that of the central administration, and it should be open to everyone without a barrier of further 'selection'.
It is by no means obvious that this clear-out will be cost-effective. It will certainly be very expensive. And the money saved, will be going, remember, as much to secret big extra payments to incoming favourites at the Vice-Chancellor's discretion, as to the general improvement of salary scales and promotions for all who deserve it. (I see that now at last the latter has become the General Board's 'policy'. Do look back, if you have a moment's leisure, at its contradictory assertions on that point over the last four and a half years.)
Those secret enticements are an important consideration. We have a clue, in the unguarded reference to the relationship of this scheme to buying-in for the next Research Assessment Exercise. If you are in a weak Department and have published very little, pull up the draw-bridge. They want you out so as to buy in more productive souls. This is not about freeing up more money to bring in Senior Lectureships and to improve salaries all round. It is not about rewarding those already here. If it is, what is that sentence about the RAE doing there?
The not very well-hidden agenda, I repeat, is surely the removal of the non-research-active before the next Research Assessment Exercise. I have several times asked how that squares with our claim that we value those who principally do teaching and administration, and wish them now to have Senior Lectureships.
How is the 'overall managerial interest of the University' to be identified, and by whom? What about its scholarly and academic interests? Look in the Statutes and Ordinances at the duties of University Teaching Officers. I see nothing there about management, only talk of 'education, religion, learning, and research' (D, ii, 4).
Some colleagues will seize eagerly upon early retirement, especially in the present depressing climate in which their hopes of recognition and fair reward for their hard work for the University and scholarship have been severely damaged over many years. Others will not, preferring to stay here and seek to change things for the better; or to wait in the hope of promotion so that they can retire on a better final salary. To go this year would be financially foolish for many, surely, and yet a time-limit is envisaged. Some will merely, like so many of us, wish to remain here, teaching and writing and thinking, living the scholarly lives to which we dedicated ourselves when we were young, and seeking to maintain a climate in which that is the first consideration of the University as a community of scholars, not a business.
Professor R. J. BOWRING (read by Mr H. J. EASTERLING):
Registrary, the second paragraph of this Report expresses the hope that savings may be made without a reduction in staff numbers. As far as the Arts and Humanities are concerned, this is disingenuous: we are about to embark on an extremely painful exercise that may in the end entail the loss of whole languages, the loss of Tripos papers, and certainly an increase in teaching hours for those who remain. May I remind the General Board that the average teaching stint in my Faculty, not counting supervisions, is already eight hours a week. And no, this is not because we enjoy the pain; this is what the courses require. More than once I have heard the savings exercise described in terms of house-keeping or 'a necessary weeding'. I am afraid there are not many weeds left in the garden these days, and we are about to pull up healthy plants and spoil the ground in the process. Perhaps I may be allowed, therefore, to question some of the assumptions that lie behind the first and second paragraphs of this Report.
Firstly, there seems to be a belief that the Senior Lectureship scheme and the restructuring has been accepted by the University at large. I am prepared to believe that a majority thought it was a good idea in the beginning, but this was before we were informed (somewhat later, I think) that the introduction of such a scheme would entail losing posts and persuading colleagues to consider themselves redundant. If the same question were asked now, I think we would get a very different result.
Secondly, there is the bugbear of the next RAE, the effects of which I deplore, but the presence of which we can hardly ignore. The central bodies seem to think they know what the rationale behind the next exercise will be, but they seriously misread the runes last time round and what guarantee have we that they won't do so again? I am not blaming them for this, since the financial reality behind the grades was only revealed after the exercise had been completed, but I am somewhat surprised that they feel confident enough to be putting us through the wringer at this juncture. The implication of this Report, and of others that have recently been published, seems to be that without 'establishing new academic offices ahead of the next RAE' we shall come a cropper. As the last Report of the Board of Scrutiny made crystal clear, it is by no means obvious that the spending of large amounts of money on what became known as 'panic professorships' before the last RAE made a jot of difference to the result, and the implication that we are not going to make it to the top without a quick injection of new talent in the next year or so is both questionable and offensive. I was under the impression that HEFCE were now wise to such ploys and were going to credit the work of an individual to the institution where the work was done. Perhaps they will not go this far, but a report in this week's THES, which may or may not be reliable, suggests that all new personnel will have to be in post for a full year before the RAE deadline in order to count. In any case, the RAE is leading us down the wrong road, forcing us to choose those who have fully established research records (and are therefore possibly past their peak), rather than those who are young and still rising. It is not a pretty picture.
Thirdly, as a University Professor myself, I wince every time I hear how badly we are paid and how impossible it is to persuade others to come here because of the pittance that we offer. It may well be true that Cambridge is suffering a little in this regard, although, given what the majority of my colleagues earn, how could I be anything but grateful for a salary of £42,000 a year? In any case, I am here because I am proud to be here and because of the incomparable University Library, in equal measure. But this apparent loss of the occasional professor who feels that his or her talents should be sold to the highest bidder will be as nothing compared to the slow damage being done to collegiality and collective morale by the increasing salary gap between the lecturer and the professorial grades. It is simply bad management practice to go banging on about low salaries at the top, when you know you can do nothing about even lower salaries further down the scale. The General Board beg leave to report to the University. May I beg them in turn to look at their assumptions again and to check that we are not being made to suffer for no good reason.
Mr D. PATE:
Registrary, I am speaking on behalf of members of the MSF union employed at the University.
We would rather have an early retirement scheme on a purely voluntary basis, than have to face a redundancy situation. However, we do not wish to lose posts as individual workloads continue to increase, whilst permanent staff numbers continue to decrease throughout the University.
We are concerned about the funding of the scheme, as even though the University is providing money to finance the retirements, we are not clear as to how this will affect the pension scheme and the current surplus.
We are also concerned that the information provided within the Reporter has raised workers' expectations, as there are many who have worked faithfully for the University for many years and now feel that they would welcome retirement. However, as the scheme appears to require only the loss of a few posts, many will be disappointed that they are not allowed to retire early. Also, the Report has led to confusion within Departments. Some staff have been told that the scheme only applies to academics, whereas in other Departments letters have already been sent out to all assistant staff alerting them to the existence of the scheme.
Finally, we would also like to raise a point about the actual post which will be suppressed and wonder whether there can be any flexibility, so that one person is allowed to retire and another to take this post, thus releasing the second post for suppression. This would allow for some promotions and job changes so that the exercise would not solely be about the removal of posts, but would be a positive one as an opportunity for career development.
The Report, dated 21 October 1998, of the General Board on the procedure for the consideration of applications for the establishment of personal Professorships and Readerships in 1999 and subsequent years (p. 106).
Dr A. W. F. EDWARDS:
Registrary, it must by now be obvious even to the most casual reader of the Reporter that all is not well with the business of creating Readerships and Professorships for named persons. There has been, and continues to be, public conflict of a kind hitherto unknown in Cambridge, spilling over into the courts and gravely damaging the reputation of the University. Some wrong turnings must have been taken if a dissident minority, acting with constitutional propriety so far as my limited knowledge allows me to judge, is able to hold centre stage for so long. A well-ordered University would have settled the matters in dispute some time ago to the general satisfaction, if not to the entire satisfaction of the aggrieved parties.
I am going to be so bold as to discuss what I see as the principal error that has been made. It is, of course, not customary for the Old Schools to admit their errors, but I venture to suggest that the resolution of the conflict requires such an admission, at least in the private counsels of those involved.
The kernel of the problem is that an attempt has been made to effect a major change in the policies and procedures of the University in connection with the creation of Readerships and Professorships for named persons without a corresponding adjustment in the relevant Statutes and their associated Ordinances. Matters which should properly belong to the Statutes and therefore be beyond immediate dispute are not to be found in the Statutes; lesser matters which are the prerogative of the University itself and which should be in the Ordinances are not to be found in the Ordinances; and matters of procedure which should be the responsibility of the bodies concerned, subject to any statutory provisions, are instead being specified ad nauseam by the General Board.
Instead of regular statutory arrangements like those for the election of ordinary Professors or the appointment of University Lecturers, everything to do with the operation of the new policy is encapsulated in a Yellow Book to be issued by the General Board, with an attempt at validation by Grace. It would be hard to think of a surer way of causing conflict, with its open invitation to the putting of endless sequences of detailed amendments.
What should have happened is this. First, the policy should have been promoted, discussed, and then approved by the University, that is, the Regent House acting by Grace. Secondly, the outline procedures thus approved should then have been cast into statutory form in accordance with the existing conventions of the Statutes and approved by the University and the Queen in Council, thus removing them from controversy. Thirdly, any supporting Ordinances dealing with lesser matters should have been drafted and approved by the University (possibly at the same time as the statutory changes if all was running smoothly). Finally, the administrative arrangements should then have been put in place by the administrative officers acting under the authority of the General Board.
What has actually happened is that the Old Schools have relied on two elements of Statute D ('The University Officers') which were never intended to cover a policy such as that now being implemented. The first is Statute D, XV, 1(b), which allows the appointment to 'a Professorship limited to the tenure of one Professor only, if established for a particular person by Grace', and the second is Statute D, XVI, 1 and 5, which state that 'the University shall have power to establish and maintain such Readerships as it may from time to time determine' and 'the appointment to a Readership shall be made in such manner as the University may from time to time determine'. In connection with the Readerships, the University some time ago determined, by Ordinance, a parallel procedure to that for the Professorships.
These provisions were originally introduced to cover exceptional cases. Within recent memory, when the numbers were still modest and the concept of 'promotion' had not yet been introduced, they were operated without conflict. But they are inappropriate for a general scheme of promotion which, it should be obvious, requires just as extensive statutory treatment as Statute D devotes to elections and appointments to all other University offices. The procedure for the appointment of a University Lecturer, for example, is specified in detail, and anyone who has served on an Appointments Committee will know that a General Board administrator is present to ensure that the business is conducted in accordance with the Statute and the other general Statutes regulating procedure at meetings.
The essential need has been for a new chapter to Statute D headed 'Promotions' to govern the operation of the new policy. The absence of this chapter has been, I believe, the major single cause of the prolonged difficulties.
Not everyone finds these abstract arguments about the importance of proper statutory provision easy to grasp, so I will illustrate them with a particular example. The Yellow Book will promulgate a rule (2.5) that 'Any person who had reached the age of 67 by 1 October 1998… will not be eligible for appointment to a Faculty Promotions Committee'. The Regent House is invited to approve this rule and, in the same breath, also invited to give the General Board authority to change it if they consider it necessary 'for the proper management of the promotions exercise'.
My first observation is that questions of ineligibility on account of age are matters for the Statutes and are not within the jurisdiction of the Regent House alone and certainly not within that of the General Board. Currently age-limits are specified for membership of the Regent House itself (Statute A, III, 7), of the Council (Statute A, IV, 8), of Boards, Managers, and Syndicates (excluding occasional Syndicates) (Statute A, VI, 3), of the Board of Scrutiny (Statute A, VII, 3(c)(i)), of Boards of Electors (Statute D, XV, 9), and of Appointments Committees (Statute D, XVII, 5(b)). This leaves no room whatever to doubt that age-limits are a matter for the Statutes. Much the same can be said of many other things in the Yellow Book. A Grace does not confer legality on a regulation which should properly be in the Statutes; it is itself ultra vires.
It may be helpful if I here interpolate a comment on some people's belief that if an act, such as the setting of an age-limit by the General Board, is not prevented by a Statute or an Ordinance, then it is permitted. This is to misunderstand the basis of the Statutes. They are principally enabling Statutes, conferring powers and privileges on the University and its constituent bodies, and often duties and obligations as well. They confer rights and they prescribe remedies. They are not a compilation of rules that must not be transgressed, like the criminal law, and nowhere should one expect to find a Statute defining questions of age-limits to be a statutory matter. From recent General Board circulars to University officers it is difficult not to get the impression that the Board have come to believe that they have the power to vary or supplement the provisions of Statute D and its associated Ordinances. It is unlikely that the High Court would agree.
My second observation on the promulgated age-limit is the trivial one that by the statutory precedents it is the wrong age-limit anyway. Except in special cases like the provision for young people on the Board of Scrutiny, the Statutes normally specify 70 years, not 67, and in particular this is the age specified both for Appointments Committees and the Regent House itself, the actual appointing body to the offices in question. (It will not, of course, be possible to meet my first point by simply changing the number in the Yellow Book.)
I hope this example illustrates the position clearly, and that I have clearly conveyed my view that the main cause of current difficulties is the substitution by the Old Schools of an unstatutory managerialism for the proper government of the University.
Dr D. S. LANE (read by Dr A. W. F. EDWARDS):
Registrary, the General Board's proposals with respect to procedures for personal Professorships and Readerships include admirable sentiments about transparency, fairness, and appeal (General Principles 3.11). But is there not an inconsistency in the recommendation that the names of referees will no longer be made available to applicants? It is proposed to change last year's arrangements in this respect and I would like to suggest that this move is premature.
The argument advanced (paragraph 3.9, Reporter, p. 107) is that a change of procedure is essential if referees are to be willing to serve and to ensure that 'detailed informative appraisal' is forthcoming. Is it being implied here that in last year's round a significant number of referees were unwilling to serve? If so, might we know the evidence for this, and the reasons for their reluctance? It would indeed be a serious fault in the process if referees were unwilling to act. But there may be other reasons for non-participation: they may feel unable to judge the candidate's work because they are unfamiliar with it; they may be unable to respond in time if given short notice. If we found that these were the reasons, then improvements should be made to the mechanism of referee selection and communication. And what is the evidence that in last year's cycle the referees did not give the required qualitative evaluation of candidates? One might also ask, did this inadequacy of response apply only to unpromoted candidates or to promoted ones as well?
If it is to be 'demonstrated to applicants that proper care and attention has been paid to these procedures and that the procedures themselves are transparent' (General Principles 3.12), then the outcome of deliberations in selecting referees must be revealed. Surely the applicant should be allowed to express a view as to whether the nominated referees are likely to 'ensure fairness and equality of treatment'. Questions may be raised as to their experience of the field as well as to their knowledge of the candidate's work.
I am confident that committees normally carry out their duties in an honest and even-handed way. However, if there is to be an appeal procedure and if the process is to be 'transparent', then I suggest that last year's procedures with respect to the naming of referees be continued until substantial evidence is forthcoming that they are not working properly, and at least for a number of years.
Professor D. N. DUMVILLE:
Registrary, the document before us is remarkable in two ways. First, the Annex to the Report - described as a 'revised version of the 1998 Yellow Booklet' (Report, §3) which also 'incorporates the additional advice' issued by the Secretary General of the Faculties - is nothing less than a comprehensive revision and substantial expansion of its predecessor, twenty-four double-columned pages as against twelve pages. (I was moved to shed a tear for the flow-chart which adorned the Yellow Booklet, and which should perhaps be brought back with the necessary revisions.) I should like to offer the Secretary General my congratulations on this significant achievement. In various ways this procedural document is a great improvement on its predecessor, but it is manifestly still a draft. Though not presented as such, it is in style a Green rather than a White Paper. Questions of both substance and presentation still remain.
The second way in which this Report is remarkable does less credit to the General Board. In a matter of great controversy and deep anxiety within the University, this Report represents an attempted coup de main. Instead of continuing to discuss the matter with a worried community, the General Board proposes to take the whole matter back into its own hands, to do with as it will, sine die. This is intolerable. The timetable, to whose troublesome brevity I drew attention in the last Discussion and which has been acknowledged in this very Report, is now being shortened by almost three months! The process cannot be completed satisfactorily in the time envisaged. We are apparently in this situation because the Board forgot to bring forward, last year, proposals for the next promotions round. Yet the tone of the Report is neither apologetic (as could reasonably be expected) nor explanatory. The lack of reasons given for decisions on important issues (Report, §2.2, 2.5, 3.2, 3.7) is a mark of disrespect for the Regent House. In a university one does not expect to be told what to do or think with no reasons given. The Report and the Annex are replete with statements of belief (Report §2.8, 3.2; and Annex 1.9, 1.12[iv], 3.3[iv]). I do not wish to be told in this context what the General Board may believe: that is in any case laid down by Statute! What I desire to know is what its collective thoughts are and by what processes of rational deduction these have been achieved. It is a Report like this which helps explain why the Vice-Chancellor could say just a few weeks ago that 'it is clear to me from talking with members of the Regent House that many think that the decision-making processes are remote' (Reporter, p. 20).
I turn now to the defects in the form and substance of the Annex to the Report, and first to form. I offer quickly some examples of remaining problems of drafting. Gender neutral language has failed. In 2.12 the statement about quorum is self-contradictory. In 3.3(vi) and 6.4 it is not clear who is recognizing the good practice. In 3.11(ii) the statement that 'There must be no discrimination' is absurd, for discriminating between candidates is what the whole procedure is about. In 5.3 (and in the Introduction) the definitions of what makes a Reader or a Professor are a brave start but hardly definitive. There is a typo in 5.7. In 6.5 the point about ranking of candidates is in the wrong place: it should appear between 5.13 and 5.14 (or else it may be overlooked by committees) with a mere reference back at 6.5. In 7.11(b) the Appeals Committee is to receive Forms 7 and 8 'as appropriate': I hope that the qualification is unintentional. 7.16(ii)-(iii) are deeply confused. In 9.3(e) 'the prescribed number of references' has not previously been mentioned. And 9.4 appears to nullify the point of having separate sub-committees by having each see all the other's documents. All these, and various others, are problems which can be solved by allowing more eyes to study the document and offer suggestions for improvement. It is not ready to be cast in stone as legislation for the indefinite future.
Moving on to matters of substance, I should like to draw attention to a specimen list of eighteen matters which need discussion and revision. Given the constraints of time in this forum, I must deal very summarily with them.
1. It is not clear how one gets from being a Reader to being a Professor (Annex 5.6); the 'and/or' opens a loophole through which a truck might be driven.
2. The so-called appeal procedure is nothing of the sort: it offers mere review and in any case the candidate is denied access to the information needed for an appeal on any other ground than prejudice. (Report §2.6 in this regard is opaque.) The candidate should have access to declarations of interest and, as this year, to the list of referees.
3. That one should be allowed to apply for only one level of promotion is perverse: no reasons having been given, maintenance of this position is sheer obstinacy (Report §2.2 and 3.2; Annex 1.8).
4. The problem of evidence for an officer's teaching contribution (Report §3.3 and Annex 5.4) remains and was not addressed by the Board in its response to the last Discussion. Making explicit the distinction between undergraduate and postgraduate teaching does not address the central issue.
5. The Board has not explained why it has proposed to cap the membership of the Faculty Committee at nine (Report §3.7; Annex 2.4); in my Faculty that will mean the exclusion of the Readers, a valuable resource.
6. The question of confidentiality remains problematic: I found the Board's response (Report §3.9) on this point confusing. It is not helpful to unsuccessful candidates not to be able to discuss their feedback with colleagues. It is also far from clear why Form 4 should not be available to the candidate (Annex 6.4).
7. Unsuccessful candidates are 'not precluded' from reapplying, we are told (Annex 1.10). This is hardly encouragement! A more generous attitude would be welcome.
8. Carrying over of documentation from one year to the next is very worrying. (Cf. Annex 1.12[iii], 2.14[iv]-[v], 3.2[b].) I suspect that some of those promoted this year have benefited from the shredding of all prior documentation. Here and there are hints that not only references will be carried forward. An assurance that Form 7 will not be carried over from this year is the minimum needed; but there ought to be a fresh process every year.
9. Interfaculty and interdisciplinary applications are still not being got right. To seek only Form 3 from another Faculty is wholly inadequate (Annex 3.6).
10. We are repeatedly told that individual members of committees do not have to make and record separate assessments of each candidate (e.g., Annex 5.7). Why should they not?
11. The Chair of the Faculty Committee is to make a report supplementary to the minutes which will include 'comments which may help the General Board's Committee in evaluating the references received' (Annex 6.5). This is very worrying, and potentially invidious. What did the Board have in mind?
12. The statement of the academic case for promotion (Form 4) is a further problem. Last year, for the first time, this had to be prepared before the Faculty Committee had seen the references (now Annex 5.1), an absurd state of affairs. In these circumstances, where the form is to argue the case, the best person to write it would be the candidate, and that would also deal with the unnecessary requirement of confidentiality.
13. It is envisaged that the so-called Appeals Committees would seek a written response from the Faculty or General Board Committee (Annex 7.14). A meeting of either committee for the purpose is implied. This should be specified. The job should not be shuffled off on the officers of either committee.
14. The threat to dismiss an appeal as frivolous or vexatious is dangerous and outrageous (Annex 7.16[iv]): it is quite clear what the Board's target is, but it is hard to imagine an applicant for promotion doing such a thing. Reasoned and patient argument is what is called for. Otherwise, cases will end up in the courts. Given the lack of information available to the candidate (decreased in the new arrangements), it is hard to see how any appeal can find (except by chance or with the aid of inside knowledge) secure grounds. How would the candidate know that there had been a procedural irregularity? Perhaps all appeals will be dismissed as frivolous or vexatious or both!
15. Six years' service on the General Board's Committee (Annex 8.4) is too long. Three years should be the maximum.
16. Feedback remains problematic. The General Board's Sub-committees and Committee are to agree evaluations and feedback (Annex 9.6 and 10.6). Does this apply to the whole content of Forms 7 and 8? What about the one-liners on Form 7? The Faculty Committees are in difficulty here. How much of the feedback will they see at the end of one round or at the beginning of the next? It is also very important that unsuccessful candidates should be told their positions in the ranked list of candidates (Annex 9.6) so that they gain a realistic assessment of their chances of success in the next round.
17. Form 8 is a report to the Faculty 'on the overall standard of applications' (Annex 10.10[b]). If this is a general statement, it should be published each year, accompanied by the numbers of applications for each of the two grades of promotion.
18. If a final appeal is successful, it will lead to a separate Report. This seems to me inappropriate. The timescale should be capacious enough to allow every promotion to be dealt with in a single Report.
In other words, there are substantial as well as superficial difficulties in the document presented by the General Board. I call on the Board to withdraw the whole for reconsideration, to acknowledge that its timetable is now unrealistic, and to state that the next round (next year) will instead award a doubled number of promotions.
Especially in the light of yesterday's very confusing result of the ballot on a syndicate to enquire into this whole question, we must urgently seek a new way forward. There is a need to find a new kind of forum for discussion of this issue, which is of such great concern to the University. I suggest that, for example, a seminar or colloquium be convened to meet over two days - perhaps in January, between Term and Full Term - to examine in detail the General Board's proposals. The Secretary General and some General Board members should be present. A senior 'concerned person' with a good knowledge of the issues should be Chair. It is imperative to find a forum in which the Board's reasons can be given, justified, and explored, and in which as wide a variety of options as possible can be gathered for consideration. This whole matter concerns the overwhelming majority of UTOs and a good many other colleagues.
Failing some such move, I shall set out to gather signatures to call for ballots on each of the issues which I have raised today and some others which the brief time allowed for a speech here prevented me from raising. These will seek detailed changes to the published procedures and require the General Board to make a full and reasoned Report to the University. We may be voting a great deal. This has to be got right. The Board's attempt to take the whole matter back into its own hands is a provocation. The matter has got to be got right now, for the Board proposes to deprive the Regent House of the opportunity to mull over these matters and to chew away at the imperfections of the system year by year in the light of experience and further thought.
Dr R. D. DAWE (read by Dr D. R. J. LAMING):
Registrary, the generosity of my College enables me to speak this afternoon as a disinterested party. But not uninterested. In a previous speech I made it known that I intended to run as a test case for the rights of NUTOs, who, on rare occasions in the past, had been appointed to personal posts. The General Board have tacitly, under the new procedures, ruled out such people from consideration. I invoked Statute K, 5, not in any expectation that the General Board would relent, but in the hope of clarifying certain issues. The deputy who was appointed to investigate my complaint I shall not accuse of exhibiting that 'blind and partial reverence which the lawyers of every country delight to bestow on their municipal institutions'. He discharged his duty faithfully and properly according to the terms of his remit. But two points have emerged which members of the University may find interesting. First, that the University does not consider itself under any obligation to extend the principles of justice and fairness to the vast majority of the members of Regent House who do not bask in the protective warmth of Statute D, I, 1(c) (see Statute U, I. 1(c) and section 3 of the same Statute). In a witty aside, the deputy pointed out that I was not the Vice-Chancellor).
The second point is more immediately relevant. In paragraph 18 of the deputy's crushing rescript appear the following words: 'Irrespective of who is eligible to apply for personal Chairs and Readerships in the ''annual promotion round'', it remains open to Dr Dawe, or anyone else, to ask the University to consider a special appointment for him or her outside the annual promotion round. And if such a person does apply, it is still open to the University - after the introduction of the ''yellow book scheme'' as before it - to create a post for him or her outside the scope of the ''annual promotion round'', if it sees fit to do so.' 'Fat chance', some of us may mentally add; but to others it will offer a glimmer of hope. The constitutional implications are plain. And if you received such a request, would you not feel that, in the interests of justice and fairness, such a candidate should be referred to the same committee for consideration by the same procedures for which he has already been deemed ineligible? But I was forgetting: the principles of justice and fairness do not apply in such a case.
Finally, Registrary, may I make the same point that I am sure others will make: it is absurd to rule out of consideration for a Readership persons who have applied for a Professorship. We do not tell candidates in the Tripos that they, having narrowly missed a first, cannot be considered for a 2.1. Whether you agree with the point or not, would you, as a matter of historical record, tell us whether this ruling is something recent, or whether it has always been the practice? If it has, a statement to that effect would throw some light into some very dark places.
Dr D. R. J. LAMING:
Registrary, in the Discussion of the General Board's Annual Report on 13 October I made two criticisms of the procedure followed last year: first, that members of Promotions Committees were enjoined not to exercise their personal knowledge of a candidate's work and, second, that the remit of the Appeals Committee was limited to purely procedural matters of which an applicant would ordinarily know nothing.
The Board's reply to my first point is that members of Promotions Committees 'should not allow this [personal] knowledge (which may be incomplete) to outweigh the opinions of the referees, who have been chosen as experts in the field.' (Reporter, p. 106). That is to evaluate candidates on the basis of a much reduced sample of their work and, what is worse, to evaluate them at second hand. How reliable is that evaluation?
Different referees view the candidate's work from different standpoints and say different things in consequence. They are variously ready to express admiration for a candidate's work and the Promotions Committee is not to know how ready. Moreover, in a university as prestigious as this one, it is not to be expected that all referees will be expert with respect to the candidate him or herself. We need to ask: How reliable is evaluation by a Promotions Committee?
Suppose that for next year's round each Promotions Committee has a shadow. Members of the shadow committees are chosen to be of similar seniority and fields of expertise to those of the corresponding Promotions Committees, but they have, quite deliberately, no association with this University. They receive the same documentation as our Promotions Committees, except for documents produced within a Promotions Committee itself. That means they make out their own cases for the promotion of individual candidates. The referees' reports are all anonymous to the shadow committees and the candidates' names are obscured so far as possible. Are those shadow committees going to select the same names for further consideration as the real Promotions Committees? If their selections were to be largely independent, that would raise a serious question about the reliability of our own Promotions Committees. It is even possible that the shadow committees will say: 'Look, we simply cannot distinguish between the candidates on the documentation you provide!'
Our own Promotions Committees are not going to say that, of course; members of our committees have too great an involvement with individual candidates. But, if the documentation put before them is insufficiently informative to distinguish candidates according to the criteria approved by the General Board, it is impossible that our Promotions Committees should do so. Instead, they will resolve the matter on other criteria–criteria not listed in the promotions procedure. The General Board needs to know, we all need to know, whether the evaluation of candidates by the Promotions Committees is reliable.
A parallel evaluation by shadow committees would take a full year before any revision of existing procedures could be effected. But there is one way in which corrective action could be implemented this year, and this brings me to my second criticism.
Suppose the Appeals Committee is empowered to consider the cases referred to it ab initio. Suppose it is empowered to consider fresh evidence, provided, of course, that evidence is already in the public domain. The reason here is that promotion ought properly to depend on the entire corpus of a candidate's work, not just on the reduced sample put before a Promotions Committee. If the second-hand evaluation of candidates by Promotions Committees is nevertheless reliable with respect to that entire corpus, then there will be rather few appeals for the Appeals Committee to consider. What will be gained will be an assurance to the entire University that the new promotions procedures are both fair and reliable. And, at the same time, any errors of evaluation that do creep through will have a chance of being rectified.
Sadly, the Board has set its face against rectification of mis-evaluations by Promotions Committees. '…the Board remain of the view that an Appeals Committee should consider only those appeals that are made on grounds concerned with the rectification of errors or faults in the procedure or in the documentation' (p. 106). The Board has not explained why it is of that view and, in default of explanation, it does look as though the Board suspects, and maybe some of its members know from personal experience, that procedures within the Promotions Committees will not stand up to objective examination.
Registrary, the revised proposals contained in the Board's latest Report need further substantial amendment in the interests of fairness and reliability before they can go forward.
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Registrary, I warmly welcome what Dr A. W. F. Edwards has said. The Council passed these new procedures for publication without seeing them. I think that sets an unfortunate precedent. But now that we have seen them, there is much to be pleased about. Many of the points made in Discussions have been taken on board, and these procedures are an immense improvement on those of last year's Yellow Book. It remains a matter for constitutional concern that the timetable now excludes any possibility of the comments made in this Discussion being taken into consideration in the new procedures, unless we force a ballot.
The delay in putting these procedures before us is the fault not of the reformers, but of the General Board itself. It was, I understand, not realized until the summer was well advanced that the procedures had been graced for only one year. Why not explain that in the Reporter and invite us all to send in comments and suggestions arising from our experience this year straight away? But then, we do not really know what happened. I see that there is no promise to publish or make available to candidates any supplementary advice and guidance sent round this year. May we now have that undertaking published in the Reporter please?
There are important things still to be got right before we begin another round.
1. A great deal is at stake, by way of ensuring that the Regent House retains control of the reforms. Those who wish to apply for Senior Lectureships will need the protection of the Regent House's veto as much as candidates for Readerships and Chairs do now, if procedures are steadily to become more adequate to ensure fairness. We must not yet grace new procedures for the indefinite future. There will be adjustments to be made in the light of experience for a few years yet, and we need to be able to oversee those directly, until we reach the stage of moving to Statute and Ordinance. I invite the General Board to withdraw the proposed Recommendation II so as to avoid the necessity of a ballot, and to offer us a Grace for the next round only.
2. There is no argument from 'continuity'. Last year the 'clean break' was the watchword. I am profoundly concerned to see that references are to be held over from year to year, so that we shall be back in the bad old days when a dissentient note among the references could kill a candidate's chance of promotion for ever. This is the second point on which we shall have to call a ballot if it is not amended.
3. The third point is the appeal procedure. I welcome very cordially the concession that there must be appeal at the final stage. But we cannot allow the proposed structure to go forward unchallenged. What would be a properly constituted appeal procedure?
|i.||It must involve taking the decision afresh, and not a mere review.|
|ii.||To that end, we need a panel with relevant expertise set up for each candidate.|
|iii.||We need a requirement that that panel include a member genuinely independent of the University. The principle of independent recourse is important if we are to get round the problem of in-house prejudice.|
|iv.||Each case must be given full and fair consideration, and that means taking an amount of time at least equivalent to that which we give to a graduate student making an appeal.|
|v.||There is of course a genuine problem about seeking review of academic judgement. But even appeal on procedural points can take us quite a long way, for there is a broad grey area between procedure and substance. In law, procedural questions include whether everything relevant was taken into consideration, whether things which were not relevant were taken into consideration, whether the committees asked themselves the right questions.|
|vi.||An appeal process cannot assess all that unless the candidate is allowed the opportunity of an interview. Look at 7.14.|
A separate point: is it acceptable that those who succeed only on appeal should form a separate and belated list, thus putting on record for ever the manner in which they obtained promotion?
4. Next, we must clear up the feedback question. Sedley J set out the rules for us. Let us now follow them. Administrative officers have to be kept in a secretarial role here. I have great respect for the Secretary General, but he is simply not the right person to do the job. It is not fair to expect him to. It may be that in its present drafting the new procedure implicitly concedes this point (10.10). But I should like to see it made explicit that the committees are all going to ratify and own the things we are told about our work, and that what we are told will be sufficient to satisfy an intelligent person that there are defensible reasons for his life's work to be rejected.
I believe these two questions of feedback and appeal are of powerful concern to the Regent House. The responses to the questionnaires both strongly suggest that.
5. We must look next, again by ballot if necessary, at the mode of framing the evaluations. There are at least two questions here.
i. It turns out to be true, as rumoured, that the decisions are founded entirely on the reports of the referees and that the committees do not really consider our work or the case we make for ourselves: 'the outcome of the promotions exercise depends fundamentally on the exercise of collective judgement based on evidence provided by referees' reports'.
These referees, we are told, 'have been chosen as experts in the field'. But it takes expertise to know who are the experts in the field and some bizarre mistakes were made in the selection last year.
Moreover, even experts are not infallible. Evidence presented to a court has to be tested. This evidence is not being examined at all.
In the circular sent out about the new Data Protection Act in August by the Registrary and the Secretary General, it says that when we write them, 'references should be demonstrably factual and the viewpoints contained in them must be justifiable by the author from his or her firsthand knowledge.' So let us subject our referees to the same discipline.
To that end, we must in the end perhaps consider moving to open references. The only arguments against that are a duty of confidentiality to the third party, and that disappears if we ask for open references; and the danger of the inhibition of frankness. But inhibition of the expression of prejudice may be more important in this context.
ii. Secondly, the forming of judgements. If, in effect, we are promoting the referees, the committees are not 'forming' judgements about the candidates at all. They are delegating the decision-making to persons who are mere advisers, in breach of Statute K, 9(b)(i).
The external member put on the committee to be a procedural watchdog (2.3) surely cannot be a full voting member unless he or she has the relevant expertise? I believe a scientist performed that service for the Faculty of Law last year. How could he participate in the forming of a collective judgement on the merits of lawyers?
What does the General Board mean by 'collective judgement'? This phrase crops up a great deal in the procedures, sometimes coupled with 'individual' (3.8, 5.2, 5.4, 5.7, 5.9). I have commented on its unclarity before; I refer readers of this speech back to its published forerunners. The position in law is perfectly clear. In the Institute of Dental Surgery case which had a huge formative influence on the RAE procedures in 1996, it was commented that a collective judgement has to be able to be disaggregated.1 In ecclesiology there is a common mind. The members of our promotions panels do not have a common mind; they have minds of their own, and we candidates would like to know what is in them. The rest of the committee should certainly know what is in them. Can we believe that this year's evaluations would have come out the same if everyone had had to sign up to a mark individually on the committees? What is happening at present is altogether too sloppy.
Scrutinize 9.2 and 10.4. The General Board sub-committees are to 'evaluate'. If they are to do so, they must be deemed to be making an expert judgement. The move to sub-committees for arts and sciences confirms that that is the intention, as does the omission of any mention of 'evaluation' from the role of the General Board's committee.
But the General Board's committee is to make a judgement, of a comparative kind. It is to evaluate the strengths of applications in all disciplines against one another. How, procedurally, is it going to do this? On what expertise will that comparison rest? May we have that spelt out?
6. The next point for ballot is the need for an opportunity to be interviewed not only on appeal, but in the normal process. The sense of frustration many of us feel would be greatly eased if we could get face to face with our judges. Others might not wish to do so, and that should be their right.
7. If Oxford can allow applications for a Readership and a Professorship in the same round, I fail to see why we cannot (1.8). The argument that we have only just begun down this road of unnecessary restriction and should therefore continue with it is laughable.
8. I come to the interdisciplinary candidates. The Faculty may be the very worst place for the decision to be taken about the manner in which their work is to be assessed. We need a system which will both allow the very varied character of interdisciplinarity to be allowed for and provide some consistency of treatment for these inevitably anomalous candidates (1.9).
I have spent some time talking to the head of the survey team which is looking at the assessment of interdisciplinary research for the Higher Education Funding Councils, in advance of the next RAE. They discover that 80 per cent do some interdisciplinary work. They recognize that interdisciplinary work is regularly underrated precisely because none of the panels on the 'home territory' of a given subject really understand what it is about. Such work is put out to other panels for report, and they do not know what to do with it either. The proposals before us come nowhere near addressing the problem of judging interdisciplinary work as an intellectual whole. Every interdisciplinary candidate will have grounds for appeal.
9. Confidentiality should not be increasing. It is incompatible with transparency (3.12). We must have an opportunity to see what is said at least so that we may challenge factual inaccuracies (3.15).
Look at 3.11. If everything remains confidential how is an appellant to sustantiate any allegation that there are 'assumptions or misconceptions about career patterns, measurement of academic or other success', 'discrimination, victimisation or other unfairness'. You cannot run an appeal without disclosing the documents necessary to the fair disposal of the case.
10. A further point for ballot is the need for definitions of the criteria according to the special circumstances of the subject area. If we do not define them, all appellants will be able to claim that irrelevant considerations have been taken into account or that all relevant considerations have not been taken into account.
In 5.4 the criteria are called 'a guide or framework to assist'. That is not good enough, for that is not all they are. They are fundamental to the assessment which is being made, not mere handy hints in a do-it-yourself process. If referees are allowed to comment outside the criteria, again every candidate will have procedural grounds for appeal, for all those remarks will be, by definition, irrelevant considerations.
Members of the Council and the General Board should not serve on Promotions Committees and I am not clear how the Vice-Chancellor can chair the General Board's committee when he also chairs the General Board and the Council and has discretion under Statute U finally to dismiss a grievance.
That brings me to the end of the points I would propose for ballot, if they are not integrated into the procedures in advance of the beginning of the next exercise.
Some final reflections. I am glad that there are now definitions of the differences between Readership and Chair qualities. But they make puzzling reading. As far as I can see all this year's Readers should have Chairs on this rating, and the failure so far to promote so many of our distinguished Lecturers looks even more bizarre.
Clarification is also needed of the notions of fairness and natural justice which blossom on the page at 2.14(vii) and 7.4. Declaration of interest is empty unless candidates can require it and know of it, and make it a point of appeal that it was not made, or that having made a declaration someone subsequently sat in judgement (2.6, 2.11). (8.4, 8.6, 8.7, 8.8) Justice cannot be seen to be done if the candidate cannot see what is happening at all.
The suggestion that the grievance procedure should be used (3.9) is profoundly worrying, in the light of the recent experience of several officers. The Staff Handbook erroneously tells you, in contravention of Statute U, that the Secretary General is the person to go to. The officers you would have to approach under Statute U are themselves in charge of the decision-making which will be being challenged.
I suspect the outcome of the ballot on the Syndicate is equivocal, because there was so much confusion about the implications of putting one's mark in the multitude of boxes. We are replaying the historically always muddled process of the setting up of Syndicates in this University.2 I am still sure that we shall find that we need a Syndicate. But in the meantime it may turn out that just as the ballot on the Allocations from the Chest quietly carried its point although defeated on the vote, so the signs are set fair for resistance to radical review to crumble further, so that we begin to get the fair treatment for all the University's staff which has been the consistent deep purpose of this campaign from the outset.
1 R. v. Higher Education Funding Council ex parte Institute of Dental Surgery  1 All ER 651 at 655.
2 See Reporters of the late 1890s, 1918-22, 1946-7.
No remarks were made on the following Reports:
The Report, dated 21 October 1998, of the General Board on the establishment of a Professorship of Neurological Genetics (p. 91).
The Report, dated 21 October 1998, of the General Board on the establishment of a Kuwait Professorship of Number Theory and Algebra (p. 92).
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Cambridge University Reporter, 18 November 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.