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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 7 December 1999. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:

The Report of the Council, dated 22 November 1999, on the construction of a building for the Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine (p. 179).


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, here we have another plan to delegate powers by Grace to an individual, in breach, it still seems to me, of the provisions of Statute K, 9. There are reasons why that Statute stipulates that delegation must be to a committee. To 'authorize' someone to take a decision is surely, in terms, to 'delegate' the decision-making. But of course all this constitutional regulation may become redundant now.

I am going to explore a question in that connection which is, I know, on all our minds. If you will persevere with me into my other speech today, you will see why I have to get this said while I can.

A university is not a business, said Sir Michael Davies, acting on behalf of the Queen as Visitor in his Report on the Swansea affair.1 That, it appears, is no longer true. From the New York Times of the week of the press launch: 'The aim is…to enhance the culture of entrepreneurship at Cambridge', commented the President of MIT, familiarly known as 'Chuck'. 'We're seeing the emergence of world market for name-brand education', said a commentator from Pennsylvania. So we are to be like Shredded Wheat or Daz?

The Guardian of 29 November would seem to confirm that: 'Cambridge is a brand name', Roger Needham is reported as saying. 'We couldn't have pulled this off in King's Lynn.' Needham has been heading the Microsoft outfit in Cambridge since the time when he was still Pro-Vice-Chancellor. But brand images can change. Herman Hauser, who has appeared on platforms with Cambridge's Vice-Chancellor, is a venture capitalist who, according to the same piece in the Guardian, 'sees Cambridge's future in the image of Silicon Valley'. 'You don't find people chatting about internet ventures, business models, or marketing strategies in the cafés here', commented David Yap, confident that that would soon begin.

The Regent House: Cambridge's governing body is its three thousand academic staff, the Regent House. I do not think we have made any act of delegation by Grace. The Regent House will get a chance to discuss the MIT project eventually, but there there is no commitment I know of to give us an opportunity to do so soon, and in the meantime the press seem to know a good deal more than we do.

I am worried to find so many verbs in the indicative in the press reports. I don't believe it has yet been agreed that there would be 'a series of common third-year subjects taught with distance learning technologies'? But that is what the MIT website says. So who has been telling the press that it has been agreed? Has anyone given any thought to who is going to set and mark these mid-Atlantic examinations and award the degrees? It would be a bit of a surprise to come to read for a degree at Cambridge and find you were to get one from MIT. No hypotheticals in the New York Times of the week of the release of the news about our marriage with MIT either: 'The Cambridge-MIT Institute, as the new enterprise will be known, will seek to develop…' It 'will also include exchanges of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members between the two universities, which will build...links to foster the development of virtual classrooms'.

That takes me to the lack of detailed planning. 'The announcement...was long on hyperbole but short on detail', commented the Sunday Times on 14 November. 'Details are still sketchy', said the Times Higher Education Supplement on 12 November. The obligations of the parties, the timetable, the apportionment of areas of responsibility to each party, nothing has been thought through. I have now met the MIT steering group, who seem pleasant enough people. But so few hands to plan with; that cannot be safe. £68m of public money is promised without anyone having costed the expenditure in the most elementary way.

The only thing we know so far is that the Government is not going to provide us with start-up money, so Cambridge has had to find that itself, from its existing budget for other things. That seems to send a danger-signal about the reliability of this promise if political circumstances change. Unfulfilled, it could become so expensive a promise that it will bankrupt the University.

On the other hand, if the Government can afford to give £68m to this project, one wonders why that money cannot be made available to higher education in general. That is a lot of student fees.

And other universities, I understand, are a bit miffed that we get all the cake and they get scarcely even crumbs. They are entitled to be. It was announced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on 30 November that a total of £60m has been divided among 85 applications at 81 institutions, to support projects under the Higher Education Reach-out to Business and the Community Fund. None of them was allowed even to bid for the £68m which is to go directly to Cambridge alone to fund a single giant project at the Government's behest.

The UK and USA Governments: The press launch on 8 November presented the deal as a coup for the British Government in persuading MIT to come to the UK and not go somewhere else in Europe. The academic aspects, and the role of the University of Cambridge, are not clearly visible in that agenda. 'If ministers [tie] strings to their money and [use] the project to drive policies of their own....Cambridge's chances of making the most of the partnership could be jeopardised', warned the THES on 12 November. 'We seek to create, as much as possible, a university that spans two Cambridges - an extended Cambridge, equally accessible from both sides of the Atlantic to students, faculty, industry and government', cried the MIT web page (10 November 1999).

The British Government has attached a provision that it will oversee all disbursements. Indeed, it appears to be intended that each research project will be vetted by the Government. In a clause added at the last minute and not seen by Cambridge's Council, the Government said money would be released 'against contracts for specific programmes of activity'. The Treasury confirmed only that it hoped to allow the project 'some sort of freedom' (Times Higher Education Supplement, 12 November). 'People will be concerned with academic freedom and academic quality along with the risk of losing spin-offs and researchers to MIT', said the accompanying THES editorial.

It now emerges (Sunday Times, 14 November) that there is internal warfare in the Cabinet, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Department of Trade and Industry at loggerheads. The Sunday Times of 14 November says, 'Last week the Department of Trade and Industry said it was clawing back more than £2m of public money it had previously allocated to Cambridge to promote enterprise, on the ground that the university no longer needed the cash'. This immediately means that research projects in Cambridge not linked to DTI will suffer deprivation of funding. And the MIT spearhead group admit that MIT is not 'strong' in the humanities.

My nephew's 'Dungeons and dragons' computer games at least leave you clear who are the virtual goodies and who are the virtual baddies. Prudentius's Psychomachia and its medieval imitations had the same advantage of seeing the lay-out of the battlefield in sharp contrast. There are hints in the New York Times that the USA Government may want to lock horns with the UK Government to establish who gets to control the export of the technologies created in the mid-Atlantic virtual world of this Institute. Is there a villain? And how shall we know?

Selected businesses: The built-in business links raise the spectre of preferential treatment for some commercial funders. The Cambridge University Council was told nothing of the Vice-Chancellor's and Treasury's discussions with industry. A list appeared in the Sunday Times which members of the Council had not seen: Sir John Browne of BP Amoco, 'which has established a new research institute at Cambridge'; Chris Gent of Vodafone Airtouch; Lord Simpson of Marconi; and Martin Sorrell of WPP. We do not know who else is involved as a potential funder, or what conflict of interest there may be in such funding.

Management deficiencies: The Sunday Times (14 November) suggests that, 'After his career at IBM the link between engineering and management is close to the Vice-Chancellor's heart'. The thrust of this plan is commercial, industrial, and designed to foster only those branches of science which have production-line potential. But are we up to doing even that efficiently? Cambridge has no central record of the '1,200 high-tech start-ups' the Vice-Chancellor proudly refers to in the Michaelmas Term issue of CAM, the alumni magazine. Who will benefit financially through salary top-ups from public funds under Cambridge's unreviewable system of secret extra payments to selected Professors? Will batches of places be guaranteed to MIT students when we are trying to improve access in the UK? How will that tie in with the Vice-Chancellor's words in CAM this term: 'We're striving to demystify Cambridge and increase the proportion of state-school students we take'? Will there be a huge rise in special fees for these MIT-joint courses? One of the many concerned persons who have contacted me about the MIT venture pointed out that the UK is likely to lose young scientists to the USA if they go to MIT and receive enticing offers to stay in the States. The Wall Street Journal described an occasion when a student from MIT would not answer an examination question because he was bound by an (illegal) commercial secrecy condition.

The great crested newt factor: In this term's CAM, the Vice-Chancellor speaks of the West Cambridge site: 'Its innovative mix of university departments and charitable and commercial research centres could easily materialize even faster than we now imagine'. (Could this include space for MIT we ask ourselves?)

I understand that great crested newts may save us yet. They are reported to be around on the West Cambridge development site. As a protected species these small, frail creatures have rights to the preservation of their habitat. If some of us are seen about the streets of Cambridge in newt fancy-dress, no inferences should be drawn about our sanity. We are just prefering one style of amphibian life to another.

So I wonder how much is going to be intellectual and how much simply commercial in the building of the 'bridge of the minds' to which 'Chuck' Vest referred at the 'signing ceremony' in London on 8 November. (Authority to sign at the Cambridge end remains unclear.) I would like the grandiose phrases to be examined by the undervalued textual critics among us, those of us who know how to wield a mean semi-colon and to whom the exposure of equivocation and hyperbole is home territory. For in the end, if we go along with this plan, what matters most of all is the intellectual quality of its design and the safeguards we build into it to protect ourselves from those hungry gaping industrial mouths.

So, members of the Regent House, if you let them go on getting away with what I allege is improper delegation, you may find that you have handed all this money and power and decision-making over to a person not a committee, and that the new Director of the forthcoming Institute will not find it needful to ask your leave about the creation of the Institute he is to direct. He will be able to frame his own job without advertisement, and, who knows, invent Professors for it without asking the University about that either.

I do not wish to end on a negative note. Much good may come of this. It will take the vigilance of all of us to ensure that it does.

1 The Great Battle at Swansea (Bristol, 1994).

The Annual Report of the General Board, dated 17 November 1999, on the establishment of personal Professorships and Readerships (p. 181).

Professor D. N. DUMVILLE:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this Report deserves a highly qualified welcome. The greater number of promotions is a step in the right direction. It is, as always, a pleasure to welcome the recommendations for promotion of those whom one knows to have deserved such recognition. But, as always, the imprints of the heavy feet of University politics are also visible in the list, as much in the exclusions as in the inclusions. I have begun to wonder whether those of my colleagues who have contended that the major problem lies in the central, rather than in the Faculties', committees are not now winning the argument.

However, I find myself restrained from going that far - much though I continue to think that we need a wholly independent process (whether of the sort argued for by Dr Laming on previous occasions, or of the type whose cause I have urged in other Discussions in this place). Although our Administration continues to be unwilling to engage in public discussion of the procedures, or to state any reasons which may lie behind this part of its belief-system, a yet greater scandal than any which may be thought to lurk in the activities of the General Board's committee is still to be found in the case of this University's most celebrated unpromoted Lecturer. I have given Dr Gillian Evans private notice that I intended to discuss her case here today.

When one visits other British universities (not to mention those in other countries) the one issue about which everyone wishes to hear - that question which occasions most perplexity, the scandal which gives our rivals and detractors so much gleeful entertainment - is why, other than sheer cussedness, this University will not make Dr Evans a Professor. (And why, one might add, cannot this University make effective use of the extraordinary energy and range of skills which she has displayed over recent years in fields other than the narrowly academic?)

This list of recommendations before us does not contain Dr Evans's name, as of course its annual predecessors have not done for many a long year. This year there is a simpler answer, than in a couple of miscellaneous past years, to the question 'why not?'. That answer is that her Faculty's Promotions Committee did not on this occasion put her name forward to the General Board for consideration. There are scholars up and down this land, and indeed in other countries and continents, scratching their heads and wondering what is known uniquely and yet unspeakably to members of our University's Promotions, Committees such that they can year after year deny her promotion. Dr Evans herself has been known to wonder out loud from time to time why she has not been promoted, and - as far as I am aware - no one has yet been able to give her any convincing reason, whether in private or in public.

Why, then, do those who inhabit the relevant segments of our promotions procedures think that she would in the past, now, or apparently at any time in the future devalue Cambridge's professorial currency? (There is, of course, little hope of an answer to that - or any other relevant question - from the General Board. However, since our profession is about asking questions and seeking answers, I shall persist.) For my part, I do not feel that the sight and sound of Professor Gillian Evans giving her Cambridge Inaugural Lecture would occasion the University any shame. Far from it! She has made an enormous contribution to medieval studies and immediately adjoining disciplines - and I speak here only of those areas of her work in which I have some professional competence; as is well known, her range extends in a number of other directions. Anyone who has given her abbreviated list of publications as issued in the Reporter some while ago (1997-8, pp. 715-16) an unbiased look will not doubt that there is a prima facie case that her scholarly contribution has been enormous. Everyone in the scholarly community knows how elaborate and thorough are the vetting procedures of our University Press and Oxford's - why then does CUP publish, reprint, paperback, and license for translation Dr Evans's books in the name of the University? Is it possible that their referees and letters of reference are so very different from those solicited and received by our Promotions Committees? And if so, how are the differences to be explained? How indeed? No one has yet told Dr Evans. No one has yet told her what she should do to try to make herself chairworthy. Yet that is what our feedback procedures are supposed to deliver.

An uncomfortable answer seems to present itself. This 'uppity woman' (and any one tempted to follow her) will be taught that her powerful enemies will not allow her scholarship to be recognized and rewarded through the promotions system. Yet until this infamous problem is solved, all the talk of reform and the creation of orderly and justifiable procedures will amount to nothing. It is a very public scandal, and with every passing day it continues to damage this University's reputation. Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, let the Vice-Chancellor and the Administration grasp this nettle: if they do not, the whole University will remain tainted by their failure.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I do not believe that the General Board is seriously in the business of evaluating applications for promotion according to the work of the applicants. You, and many others, will say that that is just 'sour grapes' - just because I was not promoted myself this year. And I will reply that I was not promoted this year because I did not apply this year; and I did not apply this year because sufficient internal details of the promotion procedure emerged last year (that is, during the 'Yellow Book' year) to show that the General Board is not yet in the business of evaluating applicants for promotion according to their work.

Let us be charitable and suppose the contrary - let us suppose that the General Board is conscientiously endeavouring to appraise applicants fairly according to their research - and see what follows.

In the 1997-98 round (the 'Yellow Book' round) there were twenty applicants for a Professorship who were rated '4' by their Faculty Promotions Committee on every one of the seven criteria and these were the twenty candidates promoted. Likewise, there were thirty applicants for a Readership who were rated '4' on every one of the criteria, and these were thirty of the thirty-seven candidates promoted. So promotion was determined chiefly by the Faculty Promotions Committees, and the General Board will naturally be concerned that the work of the Faculty Promotions Committees should be reliable. If appraisal in the Faculty Promotions Committees is not reliable, it will not be fair. So, what could the Board do?

The simplest recourse would be to re-examine alleged errors in evaluation in an appeals procedure; and, before anyone says that such a procedure is already in place, 'An appeal will not be a re-hearing or a general review of the decisions of the Faculty Promotions Committee'. ('Purple Booklet', section 7.6). So the Board have no knowledge how reliable, or otherwise, evaluations by Faculty Promotions Committees are. I put this point in a speech at the Discussion on 13 October last year (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 65) to which the Board replied: 'With regard to the points relating to appeal, 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' (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 106). Why did the Board 'remain of the view…'? It did not tell us. Why not?

We have to conjecture what the Board's reasons were, but in constructing that conjecture there is one reliable argument to guide us. The Board has put itself in the position of rejecting a criticism out of hand without giving any reason at all. That is arrogant - it does the Board no credit. Moreover, the Board would have seen that defaulting on such a point would do it no credit. So why did the Board not give a reason for the view it held? The answer is simple; it is because the only reason the Board could have given would have done it even less credit!

The 'Yellow Book' (pp. 9-10) set out the appeal procedure in detail, but made no mention of what would be accepted as valid grounds for appeal. I have been reliably told that the grounds listed in the 'Purple Booklet' (section 7.6) were made up mid-stream during the 'Yellow Book' year when the Board found itself faced with twelve appeals. Why, at that point in the promotions round, should the Board decide to exclude substantive appeal against an evaluation of a Faculty Promotions Committee? Quite simply, because the Board was afraid that some of those appeals would be successful. And what would be wrong with that? Well, it would bring the reputation of the Faculty Promotions Committees for fair and accurate appraisal into question. Note that throughout these proceedings the Board have shown no concern that evaluations by a Faculty Promotions Committee should be fair and accurate; its concern has been solely for pasting over the cracks. That is why I say that the General Board is not yet in the business of evaluating applications for promotion according to the work of the applicants.

There is, however, another reply which the General Board might still make and I will anticipate that reply here. In legal proceedings in this country one might appeal against a verdict because of some procedural error in the process leading to that verdict, but not simply because one disagrees with the verdict itself; and the Board might say that it is simply following that legal precedent. But there is another legal precedent which it is manifestly not following and failure to follow that second precedent makes a nonsense of its position on appeals. Careful precautions are taken in a court of law to exclude from the jury anyone who might have prior knowledge of the case or prior sympathies with plaintiff or defendant. In Hamilton v al Fayed, potential jurors were asked, among other things: 'Are you or have you ever been a supporter of Fulham Football Club?'. What can that have to do with a libel trial? Well, Mohammed al Fayed is Chairman of Fulham Football Club and it might be suggested that a habitué of the terraces at Craven Cottage might harbour in his role as juror a soupçon of sympathy for Mr al Fayed. With that kind of scruple in the selection of jurors, one can be confident that the outcome of the trial is based on the evidence presented in court and nothing else. There is no extraneous input to the verdict.

But members of our Faculty Promotions Committees have a very great deal of prior knowledge of the applicants, extraneous to the documentation. Worse still, in most cases one member of the Committee will have contributed to that documentation by completing Form PP3 or PR3. Yet more serious, it is suggested that members of the Committee should actually orchestrate applications from favourite candidates: 'This, of course, does not preclude Heads of Departments or Chairmen of Faculty Boards or other senior members from encouraging individuals to apply'. ('Purple Booklet', section 1.3). Our Faculty Promotions Committees are rife with bias. The General Board does nothing to damp that bias down. It actually encourages it. As I said earlier, the Board is not yet in the business of evaluating applications for promotion according to the work of the applicants.

That fact that the Purple Booklet states (section 5.2) 'Faculty Promotions Committees must make their evaluations on the basis of the evidence in the documentation', or that '…the Board wish to stress that the outcome of the promotions exercise depends fundamentally on the exercise of collective judgement based on evidence provided by referees' reports' (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 106) is largely irrelevant because the outcome of deliberations in Committee depends, not on what the Board says, but on what actually happens in the meetings of Faculty Promotions Committees and that, in turn, is, at the least, strongly coloured by bias.

If the evidence is clear enough, bias has a negligible effect. Lucille McLauchlan is one of the two nurses convicted of murder in Saudi Arabia in 1997. Her disastrous sojourn in Dhahran was an attempt to evade a charge of theft in Dundee, where she had previously been employed. Amongst the evidence against her on that charge of theft was a video recording of her, visibly her, withdrawing money from a cash machine using a dying patient's cash card. With evidence like that, bias makes no difference. But Faculty Promotions Committees do not have evidence like that. They are comparing research in different fields and the comparison is chiefly a matter of opinion. When the evidence is equivocal, there is no way of excluding bias except by excluding the biased committee member, as the law courts do.

There is also another matter. When I applied for promotion in the 'Yellow Book' round, I wished to add an appendix to my 1,000-word statement. There was no suggestion that anyone should read that appendix. It was chiefly a list of sources and its purpose was to provide ready answers to a variety of questions that expert referees might want to ask and thereby save them a great deal of work. My appendix was disallowed because it was regarded as 'additional information and therefore outside the guidelines' in a letter from the Secretary of the Faculty Board of Biology (12 September 1997). Now the 'Yellow Book' had said nothing on this matter (so there were no guidelines), and neither does the 'Purple Booklet' (so there are still no guidelines today). There is, instead, a pre-existing culture that Faculty Promotions Committees are not to know too much about any candidate. 'Additional information' would not be equitable as between one member of the Committee and another. Even worse, it might constrain the Committee's freedom of choice. Faculty Promotions Committees really are not concerned to evaluate applicants on the basis of their work.

But individual members of those Committees are concerned, instead, to secure promotion for their favoured candidates; and the documentation, the list of publications, and the referees' reports are no more than a basis on which to solicit support from other members of the Committee. Of course, if you are not anyone's favoured candidate, if no member of the Committee has orchestrated your application, if no one speaks up for you in Committee, you do not get promoted.

If our promotions procedure is still so fraught with bias, what have the recent reforms achieved? Principally a major increase in regulations, bureaucracy, and paper work. There has also been a large increase in the number of promotions, but that owes nothing to changes in procedure. Functionally speaking, promotion is much as it always has been.

Until the recent reforms a candidate's name was put before the Faculty Promotions Committee by the candidate's Head of Department. Candidates who were not put forward in that way did not get promoted. It is now the responsibility of each teaching officer to apply for promotion personally, but those applications are still considered by the same Faculty Promotions Committee. If a candidate is not supported in Committee by his or her own Head of Department, other members of the Committee, who will know much less about that candidate, have no grounds for intervention. So, notwithstanding that any eligible teaching officer may now apply, it remains true that candidates who are not put forward by their Head of Department do not get promoted. The iniquity of the previous procedure was that a Head of Department's choice, whose name to put forward, was entirely unregulated. It still is. Functionally speaking, promotion is still today as it always has been; those candidates who do not have the endorsement of their Head of Department do not get promoted.

I have put these criticisms of promotion procedures in various ways at previous Discussions and the General Board has developed a habit of not responding. The existence of my contribution is acknowledged, of course, but that is all. On the absence of an appeal on substantive grounds (Reporter, 1998-99, pp. 171-2), the Board merely said, 'With regard to the points made by…Dr Laming…on the appeal procedure, the Board believe that this procedure has worked well.' (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 224). I dare say it has worked well in dealing with purely procedural defects; but that was not the point I made. It has not worked at all in dealing with substantive errors; the Board has seen to that. The Board's strategy in responding to criticism of its promotions procedure seems to be to make as brief a reply as it thinks it can get away with on the ground that, if it were to engage in debate on these issues, its position would rapidly become untenable.

On another occasion the Board replied, 'Since the Discussion the Regent House has decided, as the result of a ballot, how it wishes to proceed.'(Reporter, 1998-99, p. 466). That was all - so let us look at that ballot.

It needs to be understood that the promotion procedure is biased for everyone. For some people that bias is sufficient to keep them permanently from being promoted, but for others it hastens promotion, working in the opposite direction. So when it comes to a ballot:

(i) Those already promoted, who have benefited from a favourable bias in their Faculty Promotions Committee, will, most of them, think that the present arrangements are just fine.

(ii) And there will be others, not yet promoted, but who expect to benefit in due course, when it comes to Buggins's turn. They will, many of them, go along with existing procedures and, certainly, they will reason that overt protest now will jeopardize their chances of promotion later.

What this means is that votes for existing procedures can, in a certain sense, be bought, either by promotion itself or by an implied promise for the future. And legitimate protest is easily suppressed.

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the ultimate defect of our newly-revised promotion procedures is that promotion remains in the gift of a semi-permanent body of managers, as it always has been. While these managers are expert in their own fields of work, they are not expert in the fields of most of the candidates who come before them. If you are not expert in the field, then you are unable to appreciate the force of a referee's report, or how important is the work that an applicant has accomplished. The consequence is that our Faculty Promotions Committees are systematically under-informed. In default of adequate information, the question whose names shall go forward to the General Board's Committee is determined by considerations extraneous to the documentation - that is, by the bias of the Committee. Such a committee tends to put forward for promotion candidates in its own image. While that way of proceeding is convenient for the managers, it is not good for the University. It stifles innovation and, especially, interdisciplinary research.

In my speech at the Discussion on 3 February this year, I set out, in brief outline, an alternative way of evaluating applications for promotion. One of my colleagues immediately recognized it as the way to compare candidates working in different disciplines. And what did the General Board say? 'Since the Discussion the Regent House has decided, as the result of a ballot, how it wishes to proceed.'


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Boethius wrote an obscure little treatise called the De hebdomadibus, which had its moment of academic fashionableness in the middle of the twelfth century. He set his readers the challenge of working out how to apply a series of propositions to the solution of a problem. I had had it in mind to scatter before you a series of words and phrases and then to challenge you to insert them into the square brackets in my last three speeches. But I see I do not need to. That word at the end of the last speech published on 10 November (the three words were 'It is […]') is there in the speech I gave on 26 October, if you look for it. The other points are all there in substance in bits in one or other of the three speeches. If they are going to censor, they might at least do it efficiently.

I said they would not silence me. It looks as though they are going to try, and I shall have to move to a website. In the interests of open government, I am sure the Council will be glad for me to allow the Regent House to get a little ahead here. The Council has mooted the idea of changing the rules for Discussions by giving discretion to the 'person presiding' to stop speakers. This would license the Vice-Chancellor's choice of deputies to cut anyone off at his or her discretion. I have already seen one of them whetting [one word] lips. (I have put the square brackets in for myself, since the pronoun might start you speculating.) That will potentially affect the freedom of speech of you all, although in practice I am, of course, the one who is going to be halted. One feels that if the Council had answers to the points I put, we ought to be hearing them. 'Just shut up, dear!' is the response of a dying democracy.

I quote Lord Weatherill in evidence to the Joint Committee on Parliamentary privilege:

'I think it is extremely important that we should not qualify…the right of a Member to speak as he wishes in Parliament'1;

and Sir Patrick Cormack:

'It is a very short step towards the executive having the power to muzzle a Member if you move in that direction, is it not?'2

Statute A, VIII, 4 says that 'the Council shall ensure that any remarks made at a Discussion are considered'; that does not seem to afford it powers to stop them being made at all. Ordinances, p. 113 gives the 'person presiding' power to impose a limit of length 'or to terminate the Discussion' (as a whole). It does not confer power to stop an individual speaker and our practice has been merely to adjourn a lengthy Discussion, to be continued. A mere Notice by the Council is published on p. 117 of Statutes and Ordinances, on what authority is unclear. It politely encourages speakers to set themselves a limit of fifteen minutes. I never exceed that. It says that it is 'inappropriate' for a speaker to read out a list of 'the names of persons who support the speaker's views'. I would not dream of doing that. That is all. If the Council tries to change constitutional fundamentals of Discussions by mere fiat, I hope the Regent House will protest. And it would be in breach of section 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act of 1986 to stop a speaker on a university's premises because those in charge do not like what is being said. It would also be in breach of section 202 of the Education Reform Act 1988 to deny a member of the academic staff a 'privilege', for exercising a statutory freedom. The right to speak in Discussions of our own Senate is a right not a privilege, but I think the point holds.

In fact, if we are going to rethink Discussions, let us press for changes of a rather different sort. I am all in favour of a right of reply for those criticized, and with it, of an end to the Council's right to have the last word in any way they choose, or simply to ignore points made. Let us get a real conversation going in the pages of the Reporter, where posterity may read it, and turn their device to silence us back upon them, by enlarging rather than diminishing the democratic debate. Let us have a short period at each Discussion where speakers may raise or press issues of concern, or respond to a Notice.

It behoves those of us who are not on this encouragingly lengthened list of those who are to be promoted, to congratulate with a good grace those who are. I do so sincerely. I see upon it names of individuals whose years of pain and bewilderment I have observed at first hand. They will feel better now. And for those of us still waiting in the wings of professional recognition within the University (if not outside it), there is the comfort that it was said in the Old Schools four or five years ago, that the pool of talent was drying up, for everyone who really deserved it had been promoted and only the dregs were left. Well, fellow dregs, bear up, for it may be that once again - if only they will get the final gremlins out of the system - it may turn out that after all we really did deserve promotion, only they unaccountably failed to spot it up to now.

In the all too brief prolegomena to this Report there are one or two points of note:

'So that, without repeating the entire onerous exercise undertaken by the Committee, the Board were able either to approve the recommendations or, if they wished, to consider the basis on which any of the recommendations had been made'. That is a direct reference to the text of the judgement of Sir Stephen Sedley in granting me leave for judicial review in 1997. Look it up in the Reporter of November 1997-98, pp. 76-8. (I am trying to get them to publish the judgement in the Court of Appeal in October, too, because that similarly contains criticisms and lessons for the University to note. Today's Times suggests that they have not noted them yet.)

Those who have been following this tale will perhaps recollect that I was given leave on two grounds. The first was'delegation', that the General Board appeared to be ratifying decisions of its Promotions Committee without having the remotest idea what it was agreeing to and why. The second was the failure to give candidates reasons. Sedley, J. said that reasons ought to be sufficient to enable candidates to understand why they had not been promoted. So the two are connected, for if candidates do not know, presumably the General Board cannot have satisfied itself either.

This year's 'ordered list of applicants' apparently did not include us failures because it says that it includes the General Board Committee's evaluations and some of us never appeared before that Committee at all. I believe Professor Skinner was to chair one stage of the process. I would have liked to know how he would have wriggled out of the fact that as Chairman of my Faculty Promotions Committee last year, he refused to give me the oral feedback to which the rules entitled me, because I wanted to make a verbatim record of what he told me. (That is already in the Reporter 1998-99, p. 377, so please, no square brackets.) I, for one, had to make an application this year without any understanding why I failed last year. I would also like to know how he would have handled the reconciliation of any conflicting opinion about candidates. He has his Chair despite some embarrassing comment about his own work (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 520).

The General Board has a duty to satisfy itself properly not only that the successes ought to get their enhanced status and their bigger salaries, but that the rest of us should not. Did the General Board's own Committee explain to it why it downgraded some candidates from their Faculty's ratings when it had no relevant experts on board? Candidates not put forward by their Faculties at all ought to have the 'reasons' put before the General Board. (If they ask.) Candidates whose appeals are dismissed by an Appeal Committee ought to have the reasons for that dismissal put before the General Board. (If they ask.) (The Appeal Committee's first-rate Secretary is the one point of light in the process; the Appeal Committee's own ratiocinatory powers are not, in my view, in her league.)

It is a general truth in the unravelling of problem situations that you get the easy concessions first. What remains, as any ecumenist will tell you, are the places where real resistance will be encountered. I am asking for more detail and more transparency in what candidates are told and more rigour on the General Board in checking up on their Promotions Committees' conduct.

I take a satisfaction in the distance we have come since 1994, when I began this campaign. It really has been worth it for the sakes of others, although I would not be human if I said I did not mind about the consequences to myself.

Remember that we do now have procedures, though I wish the Regent House could be let in on their final tidying up. Oxford, for example, has introduced 'group' promotions, which would be much fairer to teams of scientists than allowing one individual to carry off the prize. I do not disagree with Dr Laming about the strangulation of rigidity and bureaucracy. Better procedures could avoid that.

I learned only from a chance conversation in the Combination Room that the procedures were about to be re-issued as a fait accompli. The outgoing Secretary General could see nothing wrong with that. As he pointed out, the Regent House had voted to allow the General Board to carry on behind the scenes as it wished.

The guidelines issued in draft by the QAA to protect students making complaints ask universities to 'ensure that staff responsible for the procedures are fully competent in their operation' and to 'ensure that the complainant or appellant is given a proper opportunity to present his or her case, with representation or other assistance as appropriate', and is given appropriate and timely access to the relevant documents. Candidates have a right to be concerned that members of committees will still not be required to understand the rules of natural justice, that there will still be no control of declarations of interest, that appellants will still not be allowed to know enough to mount an appeal, that the pile of references will go on growing in the folders with no mechanism in the system for dealing with any negative comment. A member of a Promotions Committee admitted to me that he joined in the decision-making in favour of a successful candidate, with whom he had himself co-edited a book. Professor Clarke, now of the General Board's Appeal Committee and entrusted with spotting procedural flaws will, I am sure, recall our conversation on Tuesday, 30 November. He is busy in London today. I offered by e-mail to read a speech from him explaining why he thought it was all right for him not to declare an interest, but he did not take me up on the offer.

Remember that the threat of a further ballot on Allocations from the Chest got a good many more names on to the list this year, after it was conceded that everyone who deserved it would now be promoted, without financial constraint. But still not enough Chairs? I hope that will bite even deeper next year, and that our own academic staff will be given priority over the incoming brigade from MIT in the matter of reward by promotion within the University of Cambridge. There do seem to be an awful lot of technologists and applied scientists in this list .

Well, bud, if I may so address you Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, while you are still not allowed to stop me, so long. As it says in the MIT Tech Talk web page (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/tt/1999/nov10/cambridge.html), 'MIT is go-go-go, run-run-run' and we should be more like that. So let us 'go for it' as we rush headlong into this huge new MIT-Cambridge scheme, without too much reflection. For if we thought about it we should be doing what Professor Richard Hynes of biology at MIT said: 'In Cambridge, they tend to think around'; 'You're given time to think, so it produces a different style of learning'.

Perhaps that is another way in which the list of those to be promoted might have come out differently this year? Or perhaps 'Go-go-go' is already the name of the game. But then that does not square with the situation of those of us who now appear to have written too many books (perhaps a consequence of not being promoted at the time when we had written the right number of books - if only they had told us in time what that number was so that we could stop writing). If my 'Go-go-go' should hitherto have been 'Stop-stop-stop', I think they should have told me. And what in heaven's name do they want now? The feedback Professor Clarke gave me does not give me a clue what I should put in my 'personal statement' for 7 January.

For the deadline for next year's applications is upon us. I do not know who is on my Faculty Committee. The list has not been published to candidates. I have been sent a xeroxed page, clearly not yet proof-read and containing grammatical solecisms and contradictions and repetitions, among which there are the merest hints about the changes in procedures. But I have not been sent the procedures. I have a PP3 to fill in, but there is a big space for the Faculty to fill it in too, so the intention is unclear. I am told (twice) that the presentation of my documents can affect my chances, but I am told nowhere how to present them. I am told that if I depart from rules I have not been given, I shall damage my prospects. Many candidates are going to be away from the end of term. They will presumably miss the date and all this useful information.

The plan to make the Secretary General Director for a year of the (as yet non-existent) Cambridge-MIT Institute is to be welcomed for a number of reasons. I do hope he will make a fresh start in this new post. I hope he will proceed with openness and receptiveness, making sure that when he is asked questions, answers are forthcoming and that nothing happens out of sight of the Regent House. The Regent House must be heard as it all takes shape. Question Time for the Secretary General, turned Director? A 'Select Committee' to take evidence like that which the Vice-Chancellor gave to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology in February (Reporter, 1998-99, pp. 518-20)? But no, then we might be tempted to call for a similar degree of accountability over promotions.

1 Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, Minutes of Evidence, Tuesday, 10 March, 1998, p. 3, Lord Weatherill.

2 Ibid, p. 3, Q. 538, Sir Patrick Cormack.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, firstly, please permit me formally to introduce myself. I am Michael Henson, an unestablished, non-resident, and non teaching officer, Master of Arts of the University, but also active commercially worldwide in fields as diverse as professional services, advertising, public relations, and media, and soon to embark on charitable activities under my provisionally-titled 'Fund for Victims of Counter-State Activity Abuse', which may include academic research funding to a certain extent, either permanently or from time to time. You will not have seen my name in lights, but that is not for the want of trying, and I am not entirely unknown in Hollywood, in the State of California, or in New York. The potential of funding involvement is my personal motivation for speaking here today, but there is a wider public motivation, which I hope will become clear by the end of this speech, for although I possess no present career interest in the University, and may appear to some to be trespassing beyond my admittedly limited province, it is my view that that tenet would be fundamentally mistaken.

I was pleased to attend the Alcuin Lecture, given by Sir Leon Brittan last week in the Senate-House and endowed from Sir Leon's own pocket. In its course however, I was struck by several curious ironies as from the platform there were two individuals who appeared somehow distant, outrés, and isolated, Sir Leon and Sir Alec Broers who have drawn considerable personal criticism and who have attempted to stifle it, either by active means, in the case of the former, and political activity of a general character with a considerable amount of funding and machinery, or through passive means in the case of Sir Alec who relies upon regulation and defensiveness in the University Reporter which would mean that he would have to express his view that remarks made were not defamatory of him in order for their publication to be unequivocally withheld without justification. I have no personal acquaintance with Sir Alec, and I am not a shareholder of Vodafone plc or any other organization with which he is known to be involved, except of course I live in Cambridgeshire and he is the Deputy Lieutenant for my county. I wonder myself, despite that it may seem heretical to some, whether this role which is now largely honorific in character sits well with an executive role of more than symbolic significance, where a commercial strategy and logic are expected and required in the same area as such an appointment is held and indeed far further afield.

Clearly when investing funds in either profit-making and commercially-defined projects or investing in non-profit-making and purely charitable activities, there is not usually a need for fear of uncertainty in consideration of the likely policy outcomes and quantifiable benefits. The days of rigid specialism and ossification in management are now long behind us and the management science itself emphasizes the role of decision taking under uncertainty and cost benefit analysis, as well as an understanding of risks. The management science therefore would take the view that providing the greatest degree of choice to those seeking to undertake activities within the University would enable the greatest range of benefits to result from a flexible set of cost options and render uncertainty as largely irrelevant. That would include non-established posts and the ad hominem posts and equally the more traditional kinds. However, this logic is the logic of illusion and it is fallacious, for there are a number of fundamental differences between the frame of reference of management science and the condition of the University of Cambridge. Management science deals with organizations that are flexible and within which there are strictly defined obligations, fully understood and easily advised about by professionals and all those interested in the affairs of the organizations from time to time. It deals with markets in which there are regulators and the pressures of strong regulation where any situation of disorder or likely unfair practice are to be identified, and there are hence a few long-term risks to public order and of risks to the national interest and the reputation of the state in the process of the operations. That means to say that there is a proper input directly into political review with lobbying at all appropriate levels and not through back-room dealings with Ministries or corridors of power paranoia. The University no longer possesses an effective MP and indeed, based upon my attempted dealings with Anne Campbell, MP, relating to the affairs of the University, nor does the city. Then again the implications for finance which result from the first two factors that the peculiarities of the University create are difficult to consider with the opacity that is evident there. And what are the assertions of Dr Gillian Evans which are being so regularly edited out of the Reporter that Sir Alec Broers has been offering to use his business contacts to generate funds for the University? Although I do not condemn nor condone the speeches of Dr Evans relating to this and numerous other affairs - perhaps we should rather ask Jeffrey Archer about that sort of thing as it reeks of political fiction sooner than comments relevant to a proper organization with a permanent management and a wide variety of control responsibilities and financial inputs of a semi-permanent variety. If there is any attraction as it seems to me for funding that cannot be aught but discouraged on account of personality involvements and alien interests.

But what of the legal dimension? On one day last summer I was appalled to read on the front of the Cambridge Evening News that the Chancellor, Master, and Scholars of the University of Cambridge had been convicted in Chelmsford Crown Court of the offence of losing an isotope. I was personally alarmed by the prominence given to this story and assumed there had been some sort of radiation leak. I associated this with known KGB activity and infiltration in the area, and entertained the conjecture that there might be some relation between this and the publication of Professor Christopher Andrew's book which includes detail from the Mitrokhin Archive and contains the subject the matter of which proceedings are due to be held, if they have not already been held, before the Security and Intelligence Committee in Westminster. I knew of all manner of shenanigans in which I have been personally abused and detriment occurred with considerable exposure to risk when Christopher Andrew published a book previously identifying John Cairncross as the fifth man of the Cambridge group of KGB/MI6 double agents. Considering that there are young and vulnerable people who may also identify that risk, it seems to me that the activities of the University as a whole are not enhanced by showmanship and agent provocateur tactics of such a type, and that whole affair, which may not be entirely laid to rest, involved the assessment of costs on the University of not £200, not £2,000, but some £20,000. It is stated that there will be no prospect of recovering this sum, as wrongdoing is involved, on any insurance policy or indemnity held by the University. When one contributes to the University therefore one is defraying the cost of activity deemed criminal. May one lawfully contract to such end? May one be sure that the same will not happen again? I personally happen to think so because I wonder whether this whole business is a massive legal cock-up. I'm not aware of any circumstances in which the Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of the University of Cambridge have been convicted of a criminal offence in any jurisdiction of the world prior to this event. If one consults the Book of Common Prayer one will find the warrant which refers under the Sign Manual, and renewed upon accession ever since the first issue in 1562, reading as follows, at least in the version that I possess: 'That if any publick Reader in either of Our Universities or any Head or Master of a College, or any other person respectively in them, shall affix any new sense to any Article or shall publickly read, determine, or hold any publick Disputation, or suffer any such to be held either way, in either the Uni-versities or the Colleges respectively; or if any divine in the Universities shall preach or print anything either way other, than it is already established in Convocation with Our Royal Assent; he, or they the Offenders, shall be liable to Our displeasure, and the Church's censure in our Commission Ecclesiastical, as well as any other. And we will see that there is due Execution upon them'. From that it seems clear that the University of Cambridge is a royal University, and notwithstanding the Parliamentary originated legislation and authorization of its officers and some of its constitution, that is not the maximum extent of State involvement in its management and organization. Similarly, one might be prepared to argue that a Chancellor in an organization founded and managed by Royal Charter and Warrant, is in fact an officer of State, and that therefore an immunity will attract to him, and any others who are under his aegis in legal terms, and that the immunity implies that he definitely cannot be prosecuted, and that for the prosecution of those under him, his permission is required, either tacitly or by expression. That would make a nonsense of any criminal charge against the Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars, and it may be that there has been no shortage of misleading from the Civil Law, in which even our country may now itself be prosecuted against in various international courts, as well as the constituent parts of its government. I have heard from the grapevine that the University's lawyers have recently changed. No reason was shown to me if that is indeed the case, but if there is this degree of uncertainty as to the legal situation, and forbearance from the prevention of scaremongering amongst the general population of the vicinity, that largely goes to prove my thesis above. Let us not be faced with system uncertainty, and thus a situation worse than the American damages jury process. Let us then ignore the management science perspective on these issues, and seek certainty from government, and from ourselves.

'Divide et impera'. That is the charge that the cynic will level against non-established and ad hominem posts. Debased coin, and psychological comfort, with a reduction in real influence, and indeed, a patronizing assumption of market necessity in fields in which professional ethicality is regularly at a premium. Yesterday's Financial Times newspaper made interesting reading for me; it is available in the West Room of the University Library, and included an article about funding of the University of Leeds by Forward Trust, and relating that to the University of Cambridge-MIT merger involvement. There was, however, another part of the newspaper, which is readily accessible, called 'Mastering Strategy'. Although the basic premises contained in one of the articles are not particularly advanced, it seems that they are better known at the Said Business School in Oxford, than in the Old Schools. Under the heading 'Strategy and information: time to look out', one reads of the activities of Josiah Wedgwood - a subject on which I believe the Master of Caius, Dr Neil McKendrick, possesses some expertise. Much as this reminded me of the pronouncement of one woman who faced some abuse with me between 1988 and 1991, the thespian oriented 'Paola Doimi de Lupis' (although she can't decide whether her name is Doimi de Frankopan), when asked what her father did for a living, that 'he has a lot of wedge', and I assume her focus was not on the golfing variety, I went on to read that Josiah Wedgwood was keen to capitalize on new trends, new technologies, and new materials, in every facet of his activity. He was scientific in his approach, and the key to the success of his enterprise was generalism in administration, and meticulousness of analysis. I quote: 'The wrong information at the wrong time and in the wrong place can clearly have an adverse effect on strategy formulation. Both experience and a growing body of research suggest that the following factors can seriously constrain the development of a pro-active information strategy'. There is then a bulleted attention point, which advertises, 'Too dominant a control orientation'. When one reads the Statutes and Ordinances of the University of Cambridge, one will read a section which states that any member of the University is to comply with direct instructions from any of the Officers of the University when within its precincts. If that is not control de iure, I don't know what is. It may indeed, create the legal state of 'gratuitous employment' with considerable liability implications. So many committees, so much obscurity of decision, so few published guidelines, so few published records of proceedings of meetings - even to read the business for this meeting requires one to leaf back through issues of the Reporter in a laborious fashion, and that would not pass for an agenda in my particular brand of business. Perhaps it is a form of outsourcing the customer, but when one is considering involvement in business, one does not appreciate anything but the process of propaganda, if such a technique is, within that context, seriously considered to be present. The next point reads 'Performance Myopia'. Although one regularly reads of glowing reports of the teaching and research within the University, which are of course its raison d'être, I find curious inconsistencies, defying my powers of explanation. This also reminded me of a woman I used to know, charitable sort that she was.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor pointed out to Mr Henson that he was running out of time, and asked him to conclude.

We read numerous set piece reports in the Reporter from Alec Broers and others, but where is the nitty gritty, where is the cogent criticism, where is there anything that gets to the root of issues directly, without any rhetorical excess, or niceness of the sort that John Major esteemed in public, and failed to demonstrate so notably in so much of what he did. I find it only in the speeches of Dr Gillian Evans, one of which I turned up to hear at the last meeting that was held, possessing as they did the allure of parts of them being edited out, for a reason which was not clear, until I turned up to listen. Vulgar journalism, this may appear to be, but that is the fault of the context, not the material subject. Indeed, rhetoric of any character is an art, and it is an insult to the artistic integrity, where edition takes place contrary to the spirit of the speech, and to spoil its flow. Square brackets and Watergate style edition marks are graffiti on the record of the University of Cambridge, and however, they arise, are surreal at best, and disgraceful at worst.

But how many people were at the last Discussion of the Regent House? Eight only, including Dr Evans, the Registrary, who deputized for the Vice-Chancellor, and including me. Two of them were members of the University's Senate only. Participation and representation of one's interest, that most definitely is not. And what happens when something really important comes up for discussion, like the University Pension Fund amendment? A meeting is cancelled, and the vote is rushed through. In administration for readier representation and bargaining advantage, which is the causa sine qua non of the unified University structure, therefore, there is no proof of the absence of performance myopia. The myopia and blinkeredness of the administration is so grave, indeed, that when I read a press release in the Financial Times relating to the Cambridge-MIT association last week, I read that the 'Secretary-General', included absolutely and without explanatory mark or definition, Dr Livesey, has been appointed to head the project. Most people who are not familiar with the University's structure, I am sure, will have considered that the University of Cambridge had not entirely departed from the unfortunate Soviet relationships of some of its former members, or was perhaps some form of Trade Union…

Mr Henson was, at this point, requested to end.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 15 December 1999
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.