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Tuesday, 24 October 2000. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:
The Report of the Council, dated 25 September 2000, on amendments of certain Statutes (p. 23).
Dr A. W. F. EDWARDS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, my remarks a fortnight ago on the Report of the General Board on private practice within the School of Clinical Medicine, in which I commented on the Senior Lecturer's Statute, D, XVIII, have no doubt been forwarded to that Board for comment, but as D, XVIII is again before us I would like to summarize the points I then made for the benefit of the Council, who have the primary responsibility for proposing amendments and additions to the Statutes.
The present Report proposes the amendment of the erroneous cross-references in D, XVIII to which I had earlier drawn attention. I now formally propose two further amendments, that the word 'University' be removed from all references in Statutes and Ordinances to 'University Senior Lecturers' and that Chapter XVIII of Statute D exchange its position and its number with Chapter XVII 'University Lecturers'.
The second amendment is simply a matter of getting Senior Lecturers and University Lecturers into the proper order of seniority. The first rests on the fact that the only reason that University Lecturers were so-called when they were introduced in 1882 is that the Statute for them, B, VIII, also mentioned College Lecturers, from whose ranks it was originally supposed that University Lecturers would normally be drawn.
In my earlier remarks I stated that there are no College Senior Lecturers, just as there are no College Readers or College Professors, but this has drawn the comment from Mr Denyer, of Trinity College, that his College does have Senior Lecturers. But nothing is simple in this field, and inspection of the Trinity Statutes this morning reveals only Lecturers and Assistant Lecturers, but with statutory provision for the College Council to create further offices. However, my initial impression of this Statute is that it does not apply to teaching offices. If Trinity really does have Senior Lecturers, such a College office will presumably have to be added to University Statute C, III, 3(a)(iii). Be that as it may, no Trinity Senior Lecturers are listed as such in the Resident Members List.
A third point, which it would not have been appropriate to make at the last Discussion, concerns the omission of the office of Senior Lecturer from Statute D, II, 3. This Statute requires the University to put certain offices into Schedule J and thus for their holders to be statutorily entitled to sabbatical leave under D, II, 5. The omission of Senior Lectureships, which I hope was inadvertent, means that their holders will be poor relations, whose entitlement to sabbatical leave could be removed by simple Grace. Of course, if it was deliberate, an explanation is required. I have been unable to move the General Board officers on this point, and I hope that if it is still not taken up by the Council, would-be Senior Lecturers will move an amendment to the recommendations of this Report.
Allow me to close by adding that my interest in getting the statute on Senior Lecturers straight is purely technical. All my experience, which includes having been a Senior Lecturer, leads me to believe that the introduction of the office in Cambridge is a mistaken policy poorly executed. I am particularly disturbed that the Personnel Division (a purely administrative unit) thinks it can issue instructions (through a big red book) telling statutory Appointments Committees how to change their membership and how to conduct their business.
Dr G. R. EVANS (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'The Council have recently noted'. The Council have, in respect of some at least of these changes of Statutes, had anomalies drawn to their attention.
Those changes before you relating to the Senior Lectureships result from the failure to bring the proposed Statute before the Regent House for full consideration as a Statute after the Grace permitting the creation of Senior Lectureships had been put. The draft Statute was there with the Report, but it then went off to the Privy Council as it stood. That should not have happened. I do not know whether remarks made in Discussions go to the Clerk to the Privy Council with the proposed amendments to our Statutes. I think they should.
One or two connected points need to be made here, as we consider this small but motley collection of bits and pieces for the Privy Council's attention. 'That, subject to the approval of Her Majesty in Council, the Statutes of the University be amended as set out below ...' is a request I am sure we do not want to make so often to be a nuisance. So why are we not adding to the present list requests for amendment of the Statutes and Ordinances to make them compliant with the Human Rights Act which came into force on 2 October? We got expensive legal advice which told us that at certain points we may be in difficulties, but this has been put on the furthest back burner in hopes that we shall not actually find ourselves in court over our failures to act in accordance with the new legislation. Some universities are simply getting on with revising their domestic laws (THES, 29 September 2000). Why are we not doing so?
Then there is the question of our 'subordinate legislation'. I hope we shall also, urgently, be getting advice on its compliance with the Human Rights Act, too. This does not of course have to go to the Privy Council, but we are in danger of creating a raft of policy documents and notes of guidance whose force is wholly unclear, because we do not have a clear path for giving them authority under the Statutes and Ordinances. We could easily clarify the authority of such materials by amending the Statutes or Ordinances. Then we could bring them together in a booklet so that everyone could have a copy and we could all see what the rules are and it could become a serious matter to disregard them, when a student or member of staff of the University suffers as a consequence.
This might have the advantage of ensuring that equivalent codes are on a similar 'level' in the legislative hierarchy and go through the same processes in their creation. At the moment, it is the luck of the draw. Compare our code of practice under the Disability Act (published in the Reporter with a Notice), our 'Policy' on the Public Interest Disclosure Act, our code on Misconduct in Research. How many of you have seen any of these? Did you even know that we do not have a code on the ethical questions which arise about whether or not we are to accept proposed benefactions?
I most particularly want to draw your attention to a sentence in the Notice, approved by the Council on e-mail circulation only (Reporter, 9 August, 2000), after they had voted 11 to 10 to accept the benefaction for the GKN Chair, which purports to state the policy of the University of Cambridge on the determination of ethical questions in the acceptance of benefactions. 'The Council and the General Board believe' (I would like to know how many can really sign up to this article of faith) that 'what is considered ethical by the UK Government' is all right by the University of Cambridge too.
We are, thanks to intervention by the student members of the Council, now to have a Working Party to create a properly-thought-out policy.1
So let us not stop here. Let us begin an overhaul of our whole fat volume of Statutes and Ordinances, and give the Clerk of the Privy Council a task really worth the expenditure of his time. And let us get our act together on our subordinate domestic legislation at the same time.
1 See THES, 20 October 2000.
The Fifth Report, dated 8 June 2000, of the Board of Scrutiny (p. 2).
Dr M. D. POTTER (read by Professor T. J. SMILEY):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I was the Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny during the period when the Report under discussion was compiled. We intended it to be published in June, but in fact it did not appear until October. Why so?
The reason lies in a curious feature of the University's constitution. The Board is charged (inter alia) with the duty of scrutinizing the Annual Report of the Council, and its independence from the Council is guaranteed by the requirement that its elected members should not also be members of the Council. Yet when the Board reports to the University, it must first submit its Report to the Council, which may, if it chooses, delay its publication by up to six months.
In the past this procedure has been followed without incident - so smoothly, indeed, that no past Chairman of the Board that I have spoken to was even aware that it happened. This time, however, things were different. The Council discussed our Report at its July meeting and expressed the view that there might be 'inaccuracies' in it which required correction before it could be published.
The Registrary helpfully told me which sections of the Report the Council took exception to - they were the ones headed, 'Accounts of subsidiaries', 'Continuing Education', and 'Investment performance' - but in order not to spoil the challenge he had set me for the summer he declined to say what the 'inaccuracies' actually were.
I was of course disappointed to be told that our Report might contain several factual errors. It had been prepared with some care, and we had consulted various University officers to ascertain that what we were saying was correct and fair. (However, Dr Johnson's assertion in the Discussion of our last Report that 'our principal officers ... devote a tremendous amount of time and effort to meeting the Board, providing it with information, and answering its questions' is simply false, at least as regards the period when I have been a member. During the course of last year members of the Board interviewed the Acting Secretary General, the Treasurer, the Director of Finance, and the Registrary for about an hour each; met the Director of Estate Management for about half an hour at his request; had lunch with the Director of the Wolfson Unit; and sought easily-provided pieces of information from various University officers in a handful of letters and e-mails. As far as I can recall, that was it.)
Nonetheless I set about trying to find inaccuracies in what we had written. I did indeed find one small point that had slipped through the net, in the paragraph on 'Continuing Education'. It wasn't strictly an inaccuracy, since it merely posed a question to which the correct answer turned out to be 'None'; but once I had a written assurance that that was indeed the answer, I was happy to delete the question from the Report.
The section on 'Investment performance' was a bigger puzzle, because all the facts in it were extracted from the last two Abstracts of Accounts. Perhaps the difficulty was that we had multiplied together the figures for two successive years in order to obtain compound figures for the two-year period. I don't know. Anyway, the paragraph appears in the Reporter exactly as it was written.
That leaves only the section on 'Accounts of subsidiaries' to be dealt with. It soon became plain that it was here, and more especially in our remarks about Cambridge University Press (CUP), that the Council's concerns really lay. I won't recount all the objections the Chief Executive of the Press raised to what we had said - there were quite a few - but will only record the outcome. He failed, despite valiant efforts and a very good lunch, to persuade me either that CUP had not (as we had contended) reported an operating loss in 1998 or that the concept of an operating loss was an inappropriate one to apply to a business such as theirs. He did persuade me, however, that two sentences were badly phrased, and I duly changed the wording to reflect more accurately the points we had intended to make. In particular, he helped me to greater clarity of expression on the central question of how much CUP spends on publishing things that a purely commercial business wouldn't publish.
I can't help feeling that the amount of time I was forced to spend investigating these points was disproportionate to the improvements in our Report that resulted. I certainly didn't find any factual errors in the Report. And the resulting delay in publication makes some parts of the Report, such as the paragraph on CAPSA, read rather oddly. We had intended to report our concerns about weaknesses in the CAPSA software before the system went live, but as it was, only the members of the Council had the benefit of reading what we had written - more than mere 'rumours' (Reporter, p. 94), surely? - before 1 August.
One last point. Dr Dougherty, in his remarks at the last Discussion, hinted that we had let CAPSA off rather lightly in our Report. I am not sure if he was aware that we had written those remarks before CAPSA was switched on, but nonetheless I agree with his implied criticism of us. The point I wish to make is that the remit of the Board of Scrutiny, as defined by the Statutes and Ordinances, is quite restricted. We are acutely aware of this fact ourselves, but we are also frequently reminded of it in our dealings with senior University officials, some of whom are helpful to a fault in pointing out to us when we are in danger of straying into areas they think do not concern us. (Thus, for example, the University Librarian declined to discuss the Library's cataloguing backlog with a member of the Board on the ground that it lay beyond our constitutional powers.) So when serious concerns were expressed to me about CAPSA in May and early June, I had to say that there was very little I could do about it: I passed on the concerns to one of the more financially clued-up members of the Council, and to a member of the Audit Committee, but that was all.
I say this not because I wish to propose a widening of our powers (I don't), but because I think that if a body such as the Board of Scrutiny (or, for that matter, the Council) has to operate in an environment of constant sniping, the likely consequence is a reduction in its operational effectiveness. Much of the time involved in drafting our Report was taken up with ensuring that everything we said conformed to the strictest possible interpretation of our remit. If we weren't so concerned with that, we could concentrate instead on the much more important task of telling the University what we think it ought to know.
Professor T. J. SMILEY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I attended this Discussion in order to read the contribution from the Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny, who is unable to be present.
As a former Chairman, I merely wish to welcome this year's Report as carefully researched, well-written, and judicious. The only disconcerting thing is the length of the section headed 'Progress on earlier recommendations'.
Inevitably, each year, some of the Board's comments and questions have implications of criticism, and no one likes being criticized, explicitly or implicitly. But both in the tone and content of its Reports, the Board has always been conscious of the need to balance its statutory duty to the Regent House with the fact that the Reporter is not read exclusively by members of the University. I believe, too, that it has always approached its task in a genuinely constructive and co-operative spirit. I hope the Council and the General Board will feel able to respond in a similar spirit.
Professor T. D. LAMB:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Board's recommendations in this Report are very sensible, and I urge the Council to implement them all as soon as possible.
A number of the recommendations relate to openness. As we approach the twenty-first century it is surely right that we should abandon the secrecy of the past, and actually make information widely available to members of the Regent House. I fully support Recommendation XI, that the minutes of all unreserved business of the central bodies and Faculty Boards be published on cam.ac.uk pages. Publication of the minutes on the web has been routine for the last couple of years in the Faculty of Biology (and quite possibly elsewhere), without any problems, and is an important source of information. Similar transparency should also apply to the Councils of the Schools. And Recommendation VII should certainly be implemented immediately, by publication of the agreement.
On the issue of progress on earlier recommendations that Professor Smiley referred to (§3), the Board are absolutely correct to persevere; it is very important that their previous efforts should not simply be dissipated with time. One small example of the slowness of the central bodies in implementing the Board's recommendations is the lack of availability of University material on the web. In their Second Report, in June 1997, the Board recommended that Statutes and Ordinances be made available online, and in their response (Reporter, 1996-97, p. 1031) the Council accepted this and other targets. Yet more than three years later that material is still not available on the web.
More important, though, are those recommendations that the Council have chosen not to proceed with, as listed in §§ 4-17 of the Report. If the Board of Scrutiny decide that the Council's responses to their recommendations have not been adequate, then what they should do is to initiate one or more Graces for the approval of those recommendations, and ask the Council to submit these to the Regent House. If the Council prefer not to sanction any such Grace, then the Board should consider whether to follow the '50 signature' approach of Statute A, VIII, 7. In that case the Council would be required either to proceed with the Grace, or else to report to the University requesting the approval of the Regent House for the withholding of the Grace.
Finally, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wonder why we even bother with the Statutes, if the General Board, who are forever quoting statutory requirements at us, can simply dispense with a Statute that they don't particularly like. If the central bodies can choose to ignore a Statute that applies to themselves, how can they expect the rest of us to observe those that apply to us?
Professor M. SCHOFIELD (read by Dr P. A. LINEHAN):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as I trust is the case in all Faculties and Departments, in mine it has for decades been the practice for Tripos Examining Boards to produce detailed reports on the examination as a whole and each paper within it once the business of classing is over. When I first became a University Lecturer in the early 1970s there was a tendency for these documents to dwell mostly - sometimes it appeared mainly for the amusement of colleagues - on the howlers candidates had perpetrated in their translations, or on the muddles and ignorance exhibited in their essay scripts. Now things have changed. It has dawned on us that such catalogues represent a distortion of student achievement, as well as being likely merely to depress the students themselves. After all, we are privileged to teach the brightest and best, and we end up handing out large numbers of firsts and good seconds - so the reports, we now think, should present a more balanced picture, giving a sense of the predominant strengths as well as the shortcomings to which human nature is susceptible. And when Subject Review teams come in from the QAA, we would be outraged if they did not take a similar approach in examining us.
This latter style of approach to report writing is echoed in the experience I have had of Audit Committees and Auditors in my College and in the University. Even if much of the space in the reports which audits generate is taken up with discussion of points where shortcomings are diagnosed and improvements sought, or where the possibility of alternative ways of doing things is broached, there is an overall concern to give a fair and balanced picture. So in College, whatever brickbats are thrown along the way, successive Audit Committees have been concerned to compliment the Bursars and their dedicated support staff on a performance for which the College should be grateful. While that sort of vocabulary is not in Robson Rhodes' repertoire, the audit teams the Internal Auditors send round the University usually put many more ticks than crosses in the boxes in the grids they use when summing up their visits to Faculties and Departments; and there is always an attempt to assess the general health of the financial procedures operating in the institutions they have inspected.
This is not how the Board of Scrutiny operates. It does not appear to have occurred to the authors of the Report under discussion that they might even consider whether, on the evidence they are enjoined to examine, the general picture is or is not satisfactory. And of course the brief they are given by Statute A, VII does not actually tell them to do anything other than 'scrutinize', without further definition or explication or guidance. In any event, what their Report offers is a rag-bag of comments on particular issues, major or decidedly minor. Some are issues on which the Board have done some joined-up thinking, but in other cases we get nothing you could call analysis or argument - just the expression of a bit of a worry about something, or stray and rather vaguely expressed ideas wandering in from somewhere else, like those visitors waiting for University Library cards who get mentioned in passing.
There is a marked imbalance in the coverage. For example, almost nothing is said about the bulk of the General Board's substantial Report, which naturally covers the wide spectrum of major academic activities of the University central to its research and educational programme. Indeed, of the seven short paragraphs addressed to General Board matters, the longest is mostly about points of detail the Library Syndicate might have touched on in their Report but didn't; and two more focus on a serious but temporary glitch relating to publication of a single class-list: presumably a matter not for the General Board at all but for the Registrary (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 214) to comment on if comment be needed. By contrast, a great deal of space is taken up with pretty technical and tetchy discussion of higher-level financial matters, much of which seems to be duplicating the scrutiny the University's Audit Committee is charged with conducting (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 881). The Council surely needs to ask whether having two distinct bodies making recommendations to the University on what are essentially audit matters is good governance or rather a potential source of danger and confusion. Accountants do seem to have taken over even among the guardians of our republic of letters at the Board of Scrutiny; and in fact there are few clues in the Board's Report that it is talking about an educational establishment at all.
'But Schofield', I hear you say, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'we didn't suppose that you, member of the Council and the General Board and Chairman of the Library Syndicate as you are, would take kindly to criticism. And anyway, how can you or the Regent House reasonably expect a random collection of ordinary academics immersed in the work of particular Faculties and Departments and Colleges, with limited time and resources at their disposal, to be in any position to attempt anything more ambitious?' Well, there you have me, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
But I wouldn't like to stand down without indulging a Classicist's penchant for a bit of ring-composition, and I shall return for a moment to the theme I started with. It's obvious to all of us that, despite the flourishing state of our research and the educational provision we make, and the excellence of the students we attract, the University is in other respects going through a bumpy patch at the moment, with our difficulties by no means confined to CAPSA. In this context it's also obvious that now a bit of the steam over CAPSA has properly been let off, continuing sourness and stridency in our public conversation with each other are not going to help much, and in fact are likely to hamper efforts to move forward (here I concur with Professor Minson's remarks as recorded in the Reporter of 18 October 2000, p. 97). The people who bear the brunt of it all - as colleagues pointed out in the CAPSA Discussion two weeks ago - are not the academics but the academic-related and assistant staff. And I know that many who do sterling work in support of the business of the Council and the General Board feel that sometimes they get very little recognition by way of support in return. In fact I (and not I alone) register a sense of persecution in some quarters, as noisily self-righteous zealotry stalks gracelessly and indefatigably on and on.
One would only be human if in these circumstances, and given that early retirement or employment elsewhere wasn't a live possibility, one's response was to put one's head down, abandon any attempt at creativity in administration, and shelter behind the committees of academics which formally bear responsibility for decisions. The present Report contains virtually nothing which might give anyone who works in the central bodies' administration any sense that their labours are appreciated. I'm sad to say (I hope not too sourly) that I don't suppose it crossed the Board of Scrutiny's mind that that consideration might be either relevant to their task or more important for the health and well-being of the University than the reporting of an error with a class-list that was soon rectified.
Dr S. J. COWLEY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I fear that I am going to disappoint the previous speaker.
I wish to make comments on the Board of Scrutiny's observations on the management structure at the top, I repeat top, of the University's central administration. The Board of Scrutiny note that 'we trust that the Council will accompany its proposal [to establish new Directors], with the Report on changes to the management structure which we would prefer to have read before the new Directors were hired'.
It seems to me that while Gordon Brown has stealth taxes we have stealth re-organization. As I understand it, one of the main reasons why these highly-paid new Directors were appointed to unestablished posts was because that way their posts would not have to be Graced, and hence the central administration could avoid awkward questions like: 'Is this the best way to proceed?', 'Are the very high salaries (at least compared with those of academics) justified?', and 'What is the difference between a Director of Finance and a Treasurer, and why do we need both?'.
If this re-organization had worked then, moaning minnies like myself would have had less reason to complain - however at least two of the new Directors have been heavily involved in the disastrous CAPSA project. While the old administration may not have been perfect, it was not both highly paid and highly incompetent.
A successful central administration should be almost invisible to academics. Instead through a succession of issues over the last five years, ranging from promotions to CAPSA, our central administration has successfully raised its profile so that academics, the press, and others are now talking about it rather than our teaching and research. I have a terrible feeling of déjà vu. For the period 1985-90, I was a lecturer at Imperial College when, inter alia, the College introduced an accounting system that did a month's accounts in forty days - which (while possibly faster than CAPSA) was not a success. That and other hair-brained schemes, like replacing the College Secretary with a Managing Director, meant that academics wasted at least some of their time focusing on the idiocies of the central administration rather than devoting themselves to research. The result was a perceptible drift down the RAE league table. Of course that drift has since been turned round spectacularly. Here I note that one of the first actions of a new Rector was to enable the Managing Director 'to implement his stated intention to return to a position in industry', and to appoint a new College Secretary.
Imperial recognized, if a little belatedly, when change was not working, and took appropriate action. In the light of CAPSA and similar, there may well now be a case for our central administration to rethink its strategy, to remember that it is an administration and not a management, and to recall that Cambridge is not like other UK universities and that structures that might work at, say, Sheffield, Southampton, Nottingham, and Kent (to choose a few universities at random) may well not be suitable here. In particular, it may be appropriate to halt, and indeed reverse, the drift by which academics seem to be having less influence in decisions - a drift that would increase if, say, the role of the General Board were to be downplayed. For myself I was rather taken by the suggestion of Colin Humphries at the last discussion that 'new academic Pro-Vice-Chancellors [be] created and put in charge of the various branches of our central administration'.
For better or worse those at the top of the administration need to remember that the University could perform its key functions of teaching and research with its academics but without the central administration - not vice versa. Less empire-building and more service please.
Dr G. JOHNSON:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, last year I contributed to the Discussion on the Fourth Report of the Board of Scrutiny in a spirit of cheerful irony. I know my remarks were appreciated by a number of members of the Regent House because they kindly told me so; but that they were not taken seriously by the Board is evident from paragraph 40 of the Fifth Report which wilfully misrepresents what I said. So this year I will draw upon my plain-speaking Yorkshire background and try again: this is a dismal and incompetent Report and it will not do.
The Board has a clear remit: it is laid down in Statute that it should 'scrutinize on behalf of the Regent House the Annual Report of the Council, the abstract of the accounts of the University, and any Report of the Council proposing allocations from the Chest' (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 10). The Ordinances extend this remit by adding the words '(including the Annual Report of the General Board to the Council)' to the work given to the Board.
In its short history, the Board has never shown the slightest intention of doing this job properly. It has produced a series of written Annual Reports of its own which give little evidence that the members of the Board have ever read carefully, let alone tried to understand, the documents they are supposed to scrutinize. Rather, they have pursued at random bits and pieces of business which one or other of them, or one of their chums, has felt strongly about regardless of its relevance to the task in hand or of the appropriateness for consideration by this particular Board. As the list of recommendations attached to this year's Report shows, this smacks of beating up matter with a populist tinge to it which simply distorts the regular course of University business. The Board pronounces what ought to be on the University's agenda with incomplete knowledge, and without any responsibility for carrying things through in a rational order of importance.
The Board has invariably expressed itself in a tone of mocking self-righteousness, trying to persuade members of the Regent House that it is sniffing out scandal galore in our society. But the Board's method has been consistently slip-shod: its Reports have shown high selectivity in the use of information and the Reports resort too easily to partial revelation and innuendo to achieve their overall effect. It reminds me of the criticism that Mr Simpson once made of the historical skills of Lytton Strachey in his book, Eminent Victorians. Strachey's purpose was simply to denigrate some of leading figures of an earlier age. But he did it by an ugly and vulgar process: with considered and calculated cunning, he selected from his victims' writings and letters a half page here or a half sentence there which, quoted in isolation, would sound supremely ludicrous and artfully encourage the reader to marvel at Strachey's refreshingly revisionist and damaging view of the great men and women of the past.
Our Board is good at this and takes it one step further. Often, having published some tit-bit or other about beds at Madingley or Tripos Examiners' spreadsheets going adrift or books not catalogued in our Library, it goes on to leave a question hanging: well isn't this ludicrous? Aren't those responsible a bit dim? Surely they must be hiding something we ought to know about? Yet the questions the Board has raised that I am familiar with have simple and reasonable answers, and I know that in some cases these have been passed on to the Board (or at least to its Chairman). But the Board has chosen to ignore them: despite taking up hours of senior officer time in inquisition, the members appear not to have gained one jot of understanding of the business in front of them. Nothing is ever put in context, ever comprehended, or ever explained.
So how can the Board be helped and the Regent House properly be served by it? Well, first it must stick to its brief, and here I have hope for the Proctors. They (together with their colleagues, the Pro-Proctors) are ex officio members of the Board. That was a deliberate and considered decision of the Wass Syndicate, of which I was a member and which proposed the creation of the Board. The Proctors are ancient officers in our constitution; they are responsible for good discipline and they should see that the whole of our body politic is kept in good heart. They are particularly well placed to advise the Board not just of its duties (and the limits to them) but of the rights and responsibilities, properly discharged and fully accountable by other means, of other officers and bodies within our system of government. The Proctors, with their wider angle of vision, should be able restrain any ambition of the Board of Scrutiny to be a carrier of small complaint or to puff itself up as a little witch-finder general.
Secondly, the Board having received, and carefully considered the Report of the Council, etc., and undertaken any necessary enquiry, should submit at the appropriate Discussion, through its Chairman or other nominated spokesman, its collective opinion about the Report before the University. This way the substantive points, if any, could be taken up expeditiously and dealt with in proper time. The submission of a separate written Report of the Board, some months later, is not much use to anyone. The Board may not 'feel comfortable' (that weaselly phrase from current caring political rhetoric) about this suggestion, but I think the Regent House would pay more attention if the Board did, in fact, proceed in this way. Oh - and the Board ought sometimes to have the grace to comment on things well done in difficult circumstances, or even have the courage to say there were no matters which it wished especially to draw to the attention of the Regent House. In particularly grave circumstances, it could, as a last resort, submit a written Report to the Regent House.
The Board of Scrutiny was proposed by the Wass Syndicate in the hope that it would improve accountability within our system of government and that it would help, in contemporary circumstances, to strengthen self-government within Cambridge. We are very fortunate here in being able to pursue so freely our calling as scholars and teachers. We have excellent opportunities and most of us seize them avidly. We are also fortunate in that we have a system of government which, while far from perfect, encourages participation and involves, as a matter of course, extensive consultation. The Board has a part to play in this if it chooses; but if it cannot find a better way of discharging its duties than that which it follows at present, its influence on our affairs will be, quite rightly, minimal, and rather than adding lustre to our constitution it will be dismissed as a distraction.
Mr D. HOWARTH:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am the incoming Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny.
I would like to begin simply by thanking my predecessor, Dr Potter, and the outgoing Secretary, Mr Frank King, for their sterling work in producing the Report.
I would also like to thank those have made helpful and constructive comments this afternoon. The Board will take their remarks into consideration in the course of the year.
Turning, however, to the remarks of Dr Schofield, in most audit and best value procedures the auditors and inspectors are given an opportunity to discuss directly with those whom they audit the conclusions they are coming to. This does not always happen in the relationship between the Board of Scrutiny and the Council. The Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny is not invited to the meeting of the Council which discusses the Board's proposed Report. Perhaps many of the points at issue this year between the Board and the Council might have been resolved had this discourtesy not been repeated.
I agree, however, with Dr Schofield that a purely accountancy-based scrutiny should not be the limit of the scrutiny to which an organization such as the University should subject itself. Scrutiny of the policies and the policy-making procedures of the University are also important. These are not within the remit of the Audit Committee, but they are within the remit of the Board of Scrutiny, because the Report of the Council (and that of the General Board) is an account of the results of those policy-making procedures.
In that regard, in the present circumstances, perhaps it is not the Board of Scrutiny which is surplus to requirements but the Council itself.
As for Dr Johnson's remarks, I look forward to receiving from him a reasoned account of his views and any supporting evidence he might have to substantiate them.
Mr C. R. J. BAILEY (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):
Mr Deputy Vice Chancellor, I would like to speak in support of the views expressed by the Board of Scrutiny in paragraphs 15 and 26 of its Fifth Report, and consequently to urge members of the Regent House to ensure that Recommendations V and VII of this Report are implemented swiftly.
The saga of reform of the College accounts stretches back to 1923. Members of the Regent House will recall that in that year, following a financial crisis in the higher education sector, a Royal Commission of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge published its Report on a 'comprehensive enquiry into the resources of the universities and colleges and the uses made of them'. The Report looked at the practices of the Colleges and made a number of recommendations for reform, adding that 'it is most important that all improvements and economies which can be secured shall be secured in all colleges alike and maintained permanently in all colleges in future years'. Amongst these recommendations were that 'college accounts should be kept and published on a uniform basis' and that 'rents of rooms should be fixed at their full economic value'. While this might seem like irrelevant digression, it is not, since the effects of the Report of the Royal Commission are still with us. Only last year a working party of the Bursars' Committee cited it in justifying large rent increases, and the College accounts are still presented to the University in the form prescribed in 1923.
Returning to the present, higher education is once more faced with a potential financial crisis. Undergraduate students are already paying over £1,000 a year in tuition fees, and if suggestions such as those in the Greenaway Report are accepted, students will pay additional top-up fees of £4,000 to £5,000 a year. The cost of education is threatening to become a grave barrier to access. Education in Cambridge is rendered even more expensive by the collegiate system. Colleges receive approximately £2,700 for each undergraduate student of public money in replacement for the undergraduate College fee, and levy a further charge of £1,700 to £1,800 a year on postgraduate students. Additionally, most students have no choice but to purchase College services such as accommodation and meals. Yet at a time when students are having to think ever more carefully about the cost and value for money of higher education, the very report which recommended 'improvements and efficiencies' in the use of College resources has prevented monitoring of the Colleges' accounts due to the now obsolete and uninformative form it prescribed for their presentation. It is not even possible to tell what services the Colleges are meant to provide with public money, because the agreement between the University and the Colleges on this matter remains secret.
Calls for a solution to this bizarre situation are not new. Dr Findlay has previously addressed the compelling legal and ethical reasons for publishing the accounts in a form which comply with standards of recommended practice (Reporter, 1996-97, p. 1007, Reporter, 1998-99, p. 516 and p. 578) and the Board of Scrutiny have addressed the same issue in four consecutive Reports, including the one we are discussing today. In response to these urgings, some Colleges now prepare their internal accounts according to standards of recommended practice, and the College Accounts Working Party was formed in 1997 as a subcommittee of the Bursars' Committee to look at the wider problem (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 631). It appears that this working party has put a great deal of time and effort into producing a unified form of College accounts over the last three years. However, I am reliably informed that it is likely to be another year before any result emerges from the working party, and that there is no guarantee that the proposed form of accounts will be compliant with any standards of recommended practice. Since these standards represent the minimal acceptable level of disclosure for accounts, this begs the question of whether the working party has been addressing the problem it was established to address.
So that is the sorry saga of the attempt to encourage accountability and openness amongst the Colleges. Three years from when the University recognized that something should be done, nothing has been done. The only hero now capable of cutting the Gordian knot of the College accounts into a meaningful form appears in the unlikely guise of the Finance Committee, a quarter of whose members are also College Bursars. Should they so choose, the Finance Committee can recommend that the College accounts be presented in any way they see fit, and since neither the Colleges nor the University Council have chosen to provide leadership on this issue, the matter is now in their hands.
But why should the Colleges be required to submit their accounts according to standards of recommended practice?
If the University is to play an effective role in the forthcoming debate about higher education funding, it must do so from a position of authority. This will not happen when there are still questions about 'the public perception of Colleges as secretive, unaccountable, and obscenely rich'. Quite aside from being seen to drag its feet in complying with what most see as straightforward legal and ethical requirements, the University will have little moral authority in speaking on student finance when its own arrangements remain secret, and its Colleges are free to remain unaccountable. It is now left to the Regent House to assert its authority as 'a self governing body of scholars' and ensure that Recommendations V and VII of the Fifth Report of the Board of Scrutiny are met swiftly and that the Finance Committee recommend that College accounts be presented according to standards of recommended practice. These measures are essential to ensure that the University can legitimately describe itself as an open and accountable organization.
Dr G. R. EVANS (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this is a narrow squeak. The Council sent back the Board of Scrutiny's Report to be rewritten at certain points, partly to the brief of one or two members of the Council. I am glad this met resistance. That our constitutional watchdog should be invited to trot at the heels of the Council is outrageous. As the letter of 21 September 2000 from the Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny to the Council puts it, 'the concerns expressed by members of Council seem to lie in the domain of disagreement with our views rather than in what we said being inaccurate or misleading. Plainly, the correct action in such cases is for Council to give a considered response to those views in the usual way'. Indeed, and I hope this episode will stir indignation in the Regent House. The indignation might be the greater if they had heard, as I have, more than one call in high places for the abolition of this committee which presumes to question.
The Report, now at last published and up for Discussion, calls again and again for more transparency, and also for plain English (2). It is indeed 'important for obscure jargon to be glossed'. It would be better not to use it at all. See 'to leverage' in the thicket of the latest 'CMI Ltd' material on the web page.
But the really important matter is letting us see into our own affairs. Even members of the Council do not see the Minutes of the General Board. Can we have Recommendation XI implemented at once please?
I want to concentrate in the remainder of this speech on the issues raised in paragraphs 29-40 of the Board's Report, but without losing sight of this key theme of transparency.
I welcome the Board's comment (29) that as the much-needed changes in administrative arrangements go forward, we in the Regent House should be able to read about them before not after the event and have an opportunity to comment. For these administrative changes are also, as the Registrary as the head of the administrative service fully understands and accepts, governance arrangements and, as the Board says (38), the promised Report on early 1999-2000 on issues of Governance 'seems not to have appeared yet'.
The first question for the Governance Committee is whether there is room for improvement in the University's government by making changes of practice and expectation, so as to get the existing system running efficiently. Only when it can be seen to be operating properly in its present form will it be possible to see clearly whether constitutional changes are needed.
The governance of the University of Cambridge has the task of helping to make it possible for it to fulfil its statutory charitable purposes of fostering education, religion, learning, and research. That core purpose is spelt out in more detail from time to time in the University's mission statement. But in one substantial respect, at least, times have been changing. The University's activities are broadening beyond its central charitable purposes to include an increasing proportion of work involving links with industry.
The Statutes and Ordinances make almost no provision in this area, except for a brief note about authority to enter into contracts on behalf of the University. It is a growing area, not only in the proportion of the University's energy and resources it takes up, particularly in the administrative service, but also in the proliferation of types of question it raises. One most urgent task is to give systematic thought to the constitutional and governance questions, and above all questions of purpose raised by institutional and industrial partnerships and multi-funder institutes in which the University has a stake.
Not all the members of the Regent House fully understand their constitutional role or their collective powers. There is a tendency for individuals to be apathetic about governance issues until a matter arises which affects them personally. I hope we can build courses into staff development to get everyone not only informed but interested.
The creation by the Wass Syndicate of a unified administrative service has proved to be not merely a tidying-up operation but an engine of far more radical change in the running of the University than was brought about by alterations in the academic framework of governance. Its consequences are only now really beginning to be felt.
The 'servant and master' pattern of line-management and collegiality are in principle structurally incompatible. Cambridge 'makes it work' at present by regarding the Registrary as having a kingdom in which he rules. But this is not, and cannot be, an entirely separate kingdom, since what happens in it affects the whole University, and in reality some academics are now also 'managers' within the University. It is important for the University to have an open debate about the difference between administration and management.
In practice immense but unconstitutional personal powers of decision-making have been in the hands of the officer who holds the post of Secretary General, in particular over recent decades, because the General Board has not in practice supervised the drafting of papers coming before it, or always thought through adequately the kinds of questions which would come back from the University when a proposal was put into operation. Members of the Regent House, and especially Heads of Departments and Chairmen of Faculty Boards, have assumed, and on occasion asserted, that the Secretary General was speaking for the University or 'was' the University when he made a decision on his own authority.
We need some ground-rules and protections to discourage seepage of powers into the hands of individual administrators. I am not against that happening. I just want it to be visible and reviewable. A grid-plan of powers needs to be drawn up, together with a flow-chart of decision-making, to build in protections to ensure that decisions are taken with proper authority and after discussion by or reference to the body with decision-making powers.
Statute A, III, 4 provides for the University to delegate its powers, but only to a body and not to a person. There is provision for the Vice-Chancellor to create deputies to carry out under delegated powers any duty assigned to him by Statute or Ordinance, but if he does so, 'the name of any person so appointed shall be published forthwith' (Statute, D, III, 7(a)). So there could have been no such creation of a deputy unless such publication could be pointed to. There is also provision for the Vice-Chancellor to appoint a deputy to act in any matter or to perform any duty assigned to him under Statute or Ordinance (Statute D, III, 7(b)). The intention here would appear to be to provide for one-off occasions. In either case the deputy must be a member of the Regent House. The use of powers of delegation needs a fresh look and overhaul of practice is essential.
All governance structures have to strike a balance between speed of decision-making and the need for checks and balances which may slow things up. Throughout the century the Cambridge University Reporter has carried expressions of disquiet on the slowness of our decision-making processes. On the other hand, Cambridge, with Oxford, is the only surviving academic democracy, and the Regent House is rightly tenacious of that privilege. Those who are keen to move forward will naturally be impatient of the slow process of putting a Report to the University, with Discussion and Grace.
There have in recent years been various attempts to short-cut this process, either by putting a Grace at an early stage, entrusting considerable powers to officers or others to take the matter forward without further recourse to the Regent House; or by moving directly to do something in a way which appears to avoid the need to put a Grace at all. These practices need to be examined.
Avenues by which people's ideas can come into 'the system' are at present unclear. This is another aspect of the problem about appointment to committees. Those who are not 'insiders' can find it difficult to 'place' suggestions where they can be taken up and expanded. 'Surgeries' might be held by the principal officers and the Vice-Chancellor, to enable members of the University, staff and students, to put forward ideas.
Incipient disputes in the University are most often visible in threats to call ballots or to call Discussions on topics of concern to the University. Sometimes these reflect genuine division of opinion in the Regent House. That is what these constitutional provisions are primarily intended to resolve. On occasion they are a sign of frustration or annoyance that the administrative service or the Council or the General Board have not consulted the Regent House, or propose not to consult it, on a matter of concern to the University. That could be avoided by a change of climate and practice and by rethinking the policy of hastening through with a Grace at a very early stage of the formulation of a scheme, with no provision for further recourse to the Regent House.
Improved practice in ensuring that there is adequate consultation at an early stage would be relatively easy to achieve. (See, for example, the Notice from the Personnel Division in Reporter, 9 August 2000 and repeated on 11 October 2000.) It is important that we build confidence in the administration. When a concern is raised or a member of staff or student criticizes the conduct of affairs, we lack a mechanism for dealing with the problem in a timely way, or indeed at all. Statute K, 5 was designed for precisely this situation, but its remit is too narrow, its time-constraints unrealistic, and it has long been acknowledged that it needs reform. Delay in dealing with such matters can lead to prolonged and expensive dispute which may become in the end almost intractable. We need a properly-constructed provision which will enable a member of the administrative service or a committee or any decision-making body in the University to have its decision revisited.
The University needs an independent forum in which persons, staff or students, who believe they have not been treated fairly can have their concerns heard. 'Surgeries' have a place here, too, as a forum for the lodging of concerns or complaints. These could provide a starting-point for review of administrative and academic 'bungles' affecting individuals of the University at large. Reasons for decisions should be available on request.
The creation of a climate of willingness to accept responsibility when faced with the consequences of a wrong or unwise decision is important. So is a mechanism for calling to account and a willingness on the part of senior administrators to take seriously the duty to use it.
These seem to me to be some of the lessons to be drawn from the points in paragraphs 29-40 of the Board of Scrutiny's Report. Please can all this be referred to the Governance Committee? (I hope they will have had some training in the University's constitution, but if not perhaps this will help.)
The JUNIOR PROCTOR (Mr R. J. STIBBS):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am flattered by the President of Wolfson's remarks about the importance of the Proctorial body to the Board of Scrutiny, but I fear that flattery might be diminished by the fact that I was lately Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny.
The Board of Scrutiny is described on our website as a group of 'interested amateurs' (http://www.dow.cam.ac.uk/scrutiny/). And we are indeed amateurs and I think we take exception to the remarks made earlier this afternoon about the fact that we do not care about the University. We are amateurs in that we are not professional and that we are not part of the administration, but we are also amateurs in that we love this University and are prepared to give up our time to spend a lot of care and effort to improve it.
We also take exception to the remarks about lack of praise. If you look at our Report you will find in paragraph 3 we note 'we are particularly pleased that'; and in paragraph 31 we note 'the trouble taken'; in paragraph 36 'we welcome'; and in paragraph 38 'nevertheless we welcome'. We also take exception to the description of wasting officers' time. We have found that both in formal sessions and informal sessions that our exchanges with the officers of the University have been productive and have been attempting to move forward in the best interests of the University all items under discussion. And we will continue to do this in the future.
It should also be noted that at this Discussion this afternoon there are not many people present compared with the packed house at the CAPSA Discussion; we have only a dozen people here. But among that dozen there are all the previous Chairs of the Board of Scrutiny (save Dr Potter who is on leave and whose speech has been presented by Professor Smiley) who have come here to add their wisdom and care about the future of the University to this Discussion, so that we hope that we will be able to proceed in co-operation with members of Council in future and continue our good relationships with the officers of the University.
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Cambridge University Reporter, 1 November 2000