< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 5 December 2000. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:

The Report of the Council, dated 20 November 2000, on the management of the University Centre (p. 214).

Dr J. P. DOUGHERTY (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the present short Report proposes the discharge of the University Centre Syndicate, and that of its sub-committee, the Management Committee, on which a number of persons, including myself, laboured over many years. In opposing it, I know I am in danger of sounding like a former leader of a particular political party. Members of the Regent House will, however, quickly spot what is going on here.

A glance through the pages of Statutes and Ordinances and through the listings of membership printed in the Reporter quickly reveals that all the University institutions, big or small, operate under controlling bodies, variously called Syndicates, Boards, or Committees. The only exception I have noticed is the Estate Management and Building Service, which is run by the Finance Committee. So, you name it! Aerial Photography, the ADC Theatre, Fenner's, the Hamilton Kerr Institute, Kettle's Yard, the Scott Polar Institute … the list goes on. All have Committees that accept responsibility for their conduct. The reason why our self-governing community of scholars runs this way is that we prefer it to autocracy. The present Report suggests that we depart from that style, offering instead (to quote from the annexed letter) 'the direct line management solution'. The buck would stop not at a responsible Committee, but with a Principal Officer, in this case the Registrary. It is to him that the professional involved, the General Manager, would report. And from him, one supposes, the Manager would seek the sort of advice and support that a Committee would have offered.

If that is to be the Council's policy, why bother with all these Committees? If the Curators, Directors, or whatever, of the ADC Theatre, and of the other institutions I referred to above, are all competent professionals (as no doubt they are), why not let them do their jobs under direct line management? But in that case, given that we have a professional Librarian, why have a Library Syndicate? Why have a Botanic Garden Syndicate? Why then have Faculty Boards? Why even have the Council? I can assure members of the Regent House that the reasons given in answer to these questions apply, mutatis mutandis, to the University Centre. This is a University, not the Army!

Let me turn to matters specific to the University Centre. Perhaps it is being thought of as relatively small or peripheral, as some of these specialized institutions are. But that is not so. It is a business with a turnover exceeding a million pounds. The type of business involved, catering, exposes the University to serious legal liabilities on several fronts: food safety, licensing laws, substantial contract matters with function customers, employee safety, and customer safety. Employee remuneration is on a different basis from the rest of the University staff owing to its link with the success of the business. These are of course professional matters for a professional Manager, such as we have now. But in the outside business world, responsibility on this scale would rest with a Board containing seriously involved Directors, which would oversee the Company, and from time to time hire and fire the Manager.

The annexed letter says that 'the basic aim of the Centre [is] the provision of services to members within an agreed budget'. So far as catering is concerned, that budget can be approximately balanced only by undertaking extensive external business, since student and employee catering is intrinsically unprofitable. In my day, that was what the Finance Committee expected. Members accept that such a cross-subsidy is desirable, but it also creates a conflict of interest between accessibility of the space and services to the members and the needs of the functions. This is an example (out of many) of matters in which Managers have been advised by the Committee.

It may be that the Centre has had the good fortune to be passing though a quiescent time recently, leaving the Syndicate content to do very little. But that is no reason to seek its own abolition, which would be regretted later. The present Ordinance only requires them to submit an Annual Report and Accounts, leaving them to decide what else to do (if anything). This could be achieved in a single meeting. The Ordinance provides for a Management Committee as a sub-committee (a common arrangement, cf. the Council and its Executive Committee, but not the only possible model). The Syndicate can delegate such of its business to the Management Committee as it wishes, including delegating nothing. So what would be accomplished by the proposed change can, de facto, already be accomplished at the will of the Syndicate. Why, then, do it? I think the only answer to that is as part of a wider political aim, and one that cannot be recommended to the Regent House.

The Report points out that more demands would be made on the Manager's time. That is indeed very much the case, and I can confirm that the post of Manager is a demanding one. However, the suggestion made to alleviate that is not a good one. Some aspects of food safety are matters for relatively long-term planning, for example, maintenance arrangements for equipment, the mode of staff training, and the appraisal of suppliers. But the securing of food safety demands day to day managerial presence; it is primarily a matter of staff discipline, for the avoidance of short cuts and dealing immediately, on the spot, with any incidents. This can only be done by the Manager and his senior colleagues. I suggest that delegating this to an external person is quite inappropriate.

The Report also proposes amendment to the Ordinances in respect of the constitution of the Appointments Committee for the office of General Manager. This is the one aspect of the current Ordinances which is in my view unsatisfactory. As I have indicated, I prefer the Board model for the administration of the Centre, by analogy with the business world. In that context, there can be no doubt that the Board should also be responsible for making the appointment, and so constitute the Appointments Committee for the Manager. Under the present system, when the Appointments Committee has met, the members (other than members of the Syndicate) were people who virtually never set foot in the place, and seemed to know nothing about catering; one even said so in the hearing of applicants! So my recommendation for change, if there is to be any, would concern that point only. In the event that the present proposals are adopted by the Regent House, I would urge that the appointment should be made by the Finance Committee, for which there is a precedent in appointments to the staff of the Estate Management and Building Service. The present proposal is no improvement, and is also questionable in that a body unknown to Ordinances, the Centre User Group, is involved in nominating two members.

I appeal to the Council, and especially its newly elected members, to re-think the proposals and, I suggest, drop them in the wastepaper bin!

The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 20 November and 1 November 2000, on Teaching and Research in Education, and on Homerton College (p. 216).

Dr G. JOHNSON:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak this afternoon in my capacity as Chairman of the Faculty Board of Education simply to say that the Board welcome this Report and its recommendations.

It is clear from the text of the Report itself that the review of the Faculty of Education in Cambridge in the broadest sense has been of long duration and very thorough. Those of us who have been involved over the past six or seven years have all along been persuaded that it is inconceivable for this University not to have a role in the education of school teachers; and that given, the Faculty must, in its own teaching and research, strive for the highest possible standards to compare with those of the other Faculties and Departments in the University.

A great deal has already been done to move the Faculty in that direction in recent years. We have seen significant administrative reorganization in the Faculty; undergraduate and graduate courses have been re-shaped and developed; greater emphasis has been put on research; and important appointments have been made at both junior and senior levels to raise the profile of the Faculty within Cambridge, nationally and internationally.

The Faculty Board support the developments set out in this Report. Convergence between the existing University institutions and Homerton College (itself recognized as a leading, if not the leading College of its sort in the country) in relation to teaching and research in Education will lead to a massive strengthening of both parties and points to a bright future for the whole subject area in Cambridge.

Finally, it is my personal view that, for this University, the appropriate way in which to respond to demands for continuing education depends crucially on the contributions made by the major Faculties such as Engineering, Law, Medicine, Architecture, and Business. With a strengthened School of Education, that Faculty also will be enabled to play its full part in a Cambridge strategy for life-long learning.

Sir DAVID HARRISON:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I rise to welcome the Joint Report on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Homerton College, of which I have the privilege of being Chairman. As it happens, I contributed (with twenty-four other speakers) at the Discussion in October 1976 on the Report proposing that Homerton should become an Approved Society of the University.

I believe subsequent history has amply justified the approval then given by the Regent House. I am particularly happy to note (but of course not name) a number of distinguished members of the Regent House who did not support the 1976 Report who have been able to support today's proposals. There can be no doubt that on the basis of the national assessments of teacher training Homerton is the best all-round provider of teacher training in England. The outstanding results of these external assessments are regularly published in the Reporter. Moreover, in research, the 1996 rating of 3a, alongside the University Department's 4, puts Homerton well ahead of other (and commonly larger) teacher training departments in the former public sector, and the equal of such well-established universities as Glasgow, Leicester, Liverpool, Reading, and Swansea. The proportion of research-active staff, at 84 per cent, was also outstanding by national standards; and the College expects to exceed 90 per cent next year and so approach the proportion we come to expect in this University.

Homerton is a free-standing Institution of Higher Education in its own right with a long history. The Principal is, in some sense, a mini Vice-Chancellor, although I will not repeat such language in this place. The College's evident success owes much to its place in Cambridge, ever since its arrival here in the 1890s to take over the available buildings of Cavendish College which was closing its own doors. The benefits of location have, of course, been much enhanced as an Approved Society over the last twenty-five years. The Trustees readily acknowledge these benefits, both formal and informal, and are appreciative of them.

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in matters of this sort both parties need to gain from the proposal. The report of the General Board's Working Party, under the chairmanship of Professor Schofield, covered much of the University's side. For my part (and this echoes the Chairman of the Faculty Board), I would only wonder about the place of the subject of Education in Cambridge, faced as it is by national pressures for increased critical mass, particularly in research, if Homerton did not exist.

For Homerton, the Trustees look for an even closer association with the University, and in the Report the Council is right to expect an early application from the College for a more permanent status as an Approved Foundation. I don't believe the Trustees need to declare too much of an interest in making such an application because, if it is successful, they would be on the way towards putting themselves out of a job.

I commend this Report to the Regent House.

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, one always feels a little awkward about criticizing quality of performance in a whole subject area in the University. Yet this Report implicitly does it for me. I need only quote it. It says that what is proposed 'is now necessary to produce success of the standards appropriate to Cambridge teaching and research' (with a blink at the forthcoming Research Assessment Exercise). We must separate the question whether we should continue to offer courses in Education from this present proposal to bring in Homerton's staff and the College itself.

I was not quick enough when this came before the Council to ask whether we had gone into the way all this will sit with the 'Transfer of Undertakings' legislation (Reporter, p. 217). Did we get the professional help of the new Personnel Division before we published the words 'under the provisions of the appropriate legislation'? No? May we have the truth about that, and something more detailed in the Notice in reply? What principles are we working to?

Will the qualifications and publications-lists of the Homerton staff, who are to 'transfer from the employment of the College to the employment of the University' at the end of this academic year, be made available for inspection? If the standards in the field of Education here have been so lamentable as to bring about the crisis to which this is the proposed solution, why should we be prepared to take those who have been conducting some of this teaching at Homerton to our collective bosom without examining individual cases? I set the benchmark of normal achievement for a plain Lecturer a week or two ago (Reporter, p. 233) for just this kind of eventuality.

Or will they all be getting Readerships and Chairs on the same tide of uncritical goodwill? For it would not look good, would it, if it turned out that the new Department of Education had no one of that calibre coming to it from Homerton? Now that the new shocking pink promotions procedures are slowly circulating to eligible officers (it is to be hoped for the last time under the control of the General Board), it is apparent yet again that although there has been no review of the major flaws in the procedures, the General Board's 'control' has been ratcheted up a notch by one of its own working parties. Success on appeal at the final stage will now take candidates back to the General Board Committee which did not promote them in the first place. We cannot have any more egg on General Board faces as with the last year's three who succeeded on appeal, can we? But the Homerton transferees will not need to worry. Political will is all and I am sure that a suitable proportion of them will get speedy if not instantaneous promotions. For does not the General Board have the power where it has the will (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 587)?

Moreover, these lucky incomers, if they become academic staff, will be given the proper University offices which we are still denying to others who cannot yet speak here as of right, or vote. They will get leave entitlements (Statute D, II, 5). I learn that a form has been invented, without authority, apparently 'requiring' officers to identify something very like an 'approved research project' for their period of study and reflection. O tempora; O mores. But perhaps some of those new academic staff we shall be getting will need that, in order to get started on building up their research experience. Is this to the benefit of the University, as Sir David Harrison would have us believe?

I hope this will be given hard thought before it is graced. But I doubt if it can now be stopped.

The Principal of Homerton and I used to stand in awkward adolescent silence at a bus stop on the outskirts of Birmingham in the early 1960s, she in the year below me at the school we were travelling to. I had hoped that, as Chairman of the Council of the Schools which contains the History Faculty, she would have been of help in putting on some pressure to get me 'transferred' out of the History Faculty, but nothing seems to be happening about that 'transfer', even though my own RAE input would surely be of value to some institution in the University. Perhaps I should have overcome my youthful shyness and made an effort to put the junior girl in that bleak Midland city so many years ago at her ease at the bus stop. She was heftier than me of course.

But it would be useful now to have someone who cared enough to try to resolve the present ugly impasse. Again, the 'political' will can do so much, as in the present Report.

Dr J. M. WHITEHEAD:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to speak in strong support of the recommendations contained in this Report. The teaching of undergraduate courses, has, for the past twenty years, been the joint responsibility of the Department - now the School of Education - and Homerton College. What have appeared to the students as integrated and coherent courses of a high standard, as witnessed by the high OFSTED ratings, have only been achieved through complex bureaucratic structures. The transfer of monies between two financial independent bodies, to fund the teaching of the students by the University, has involved intricate formulae of daunting length, which have had to be revised periodically. Even more problematic has been the status of the students, which produces a number of anomalies. For example, during the first year of their course B.Ed., students who have not matriculated into the University, are regarded as University students for Proctorial purposes and are entered into the student database; however, they are not regarded as University students for the purposes of issuing examination numbers. The integration of the teaching functions of the School of Education and Homerton College will rationalize a system that already exists 'on the ground', remove cumbersome layers of bureaucracy, and establish the status of the students as University students for all purposes. All of which is, in my view, highly desirable.

Joint provision of the P.G.C.E. course does not have such a long history and the problems encountered are different. Here, one of the main problems is the great confusion generated by a proliferation of brand names. Partnership schools and others in the Education world, including the Education press, are unclear as to whether the courses are run by the Department of Education, the School of Education, Homerton College, the Faculty of Education, and, in some cases, the Institute of Education. A single Department, whatever that Department is called, providing University courses and trading under one name, will clearly be a great advance and should eventually get rid of the confusion.

One of the present strengths of the School of Education is its great breadth of expertise, covering most of the many subjects and disciplines within Education, in terms of both teaching and research. The major subjects of the school curriculum are represented, as are the foundation disciplines of Education, along with expertise in special needs, school improvement, and management. This breadth of expertise, however, has been achieved at the expense of depth; in many cases areas are represented by a single person. One of the greatest advantages of the proposal is that the integration of the staff of Homerton College with that of the School of Education will not only increase the breadth of expertise, but, more importantly, it will increase the depth of expertise in most areas, enlarging both teaching and research teams. This higher critical mass will not only allow greater flexibility in teaching provision, thus making it easier for individuals to find time to do further research, but is also likely to contribute to increased research activity by providing greater opportunities for collaboration.

In conclusion, Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I believe that these proposals, if implemented, will be a great step forward for the study of Education within the University, marking, as they do, the end of the prevarication and half-measures which represent the compromises that have dogged provision in this area since the introduction of teacher education within the University in 1879. I hope, therefore, that the Regent House will lend its support to the proposals contained in this Report.

Professor A. J. BADGER:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wish strongly to endorse this Joint Report on the future of the School of Education and Homerton. I speak as the Chair of the Working Party established by the Council to see if it was feasible to implement the findings of the Working Party of the General Board, chaired by Professor Schofield, which recommended a process of convergence between the Department of Education and Homerton.

I am sorry that my respected colleague, Dr Evans, who is also a member of the Council, has sat through my many reports to Council on the progress of the Working Party and failed to raise the objections that she has raised this afternoon. I am rather surprised that she says she was not speedy enough to raise the question of the handling of the transfer of employment under the appropriate legislation, given the opportunity afforded on the two separate occasions when the Council has specifically discussed the draft Report.

I can assure her that the Working Party consulted the new Director of Personnel about the transfer of employment procedures. I can assure her that under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE), there will be two Appointment Committees, one to consider Chairs, one for ordinary staff members, which will scrutinize each Homerton staff member's curriculum vitae and research record.

The Working Party I chaired firmly believed that the proposals now before the University constituted the only feasible way of sustaining a research and teaching presence in Education in this University. Convergence offers a way of sustaining a large School with diversified research strengths that has a realistic chance of obtaining a 5* rating in Research Assessment Exercises by the end of the decade. I would agree with the President of Wolfson, that it seems to me unthinkable that, at this particular time, the University should withdraw from this field of teaching and research, which is so important to the country's future. A more formal link with Homerton brings real research strength, especially in the field of inner-city education. In the light of the University's current concerns about access, it is also important to note that 80 per cent of the Homerton intake of students is from the state sector and that both Homerton and the School of Education have long-established and close links with schools in the state sector.

The other major concern of the Working Party was the financial implications of the proposed convergence. Concern over finance, as well as concern about research performance, had shaped the thinking of the original working party under Professor Schofield. Thanks to the very hard work of the officers of both the University and Homerton and the expected substantial assistance offered by the HEFCE for transitional arrangements, the Working Party came to the conclusion (and the Council has concurred) that the projected figures were robust enough to recommend that convergence should go ahead.

I believe the Report offers a financially viable way forward for excellence in research and teaching in Education that will benefit both Homerton and the University and I endorse it to the Regent House in the strongest possible terms.

Dr D. M. THOMPSON:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I did not sign this Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on teaching and research in education, and on Homerton College because, as Vice-Chair of the Trustees of Homerton College, I did not know at the point when the Report was signed whether it would receive the support of the Trustees. I am glad to say that the Trustees gave it their unanimous support to it last Friday. For my part, I welcome it warmly.

Fifty years ago I was taught in my first year at Junior School by someone trained at Homerton. That person influenced me greatly, and I kept in touch with her to the time of her death. She was delighted to know that I had been appointed a Trustee of Homerton College by the United Reformed Church in 1981. I think I can fairly say that she first made me aware of a place called Cambridge, and its University, and curiously enough I never seriously considered going to Oxford. Now I know that children are not so impressionable these days, but I mention the story to affirm the importance of a Cambridge presence in primary, as well as secondary, education. It will also be obvious that my teacher was here long before the relationships between Homerton and the University were as close as they are today.

The case for the integration of the teaching and research work of Homerton with that of the University is clearly made in the Report, and has been referred to already this afternoon. In this connection, I must, on behalf of the Trustees, reject utterly the implied slurs cast on Homerton staff by Dr Evans, and content myself with reminding the Regent House that the University claimed the FBA, secured by Dr John Gray at Homerton this year, as one of its own. I can also say that the Homerton Trustees are fully acquainted with the implications of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE), and that this is a vital part of such convergence exercises as the HEFCE has fostered elsewhere.

In conclusion, I want to make a brief comment about the shape of a new Homerton College. The Trustees and staff of Homerton College are clearly committed to a programme of development which has full collegiate status as its goal. To that end we wish gradually to diversify, and approval of the second recommendation will permit that. This does not pose any threat to existing Colleges - indeed it will assist the University to handle its own gradual programme of expansion; nor will it eliminate Homerton's distinctive and distinguished history in the education of teachers. What it will do is to create a flexible instrument for the developments in initial teacher training that are already under way.

However, we do believe that these developments will make the case for a change from the status of Approved Society to Approved Foundation increasingly urgent. The new College, like the present one, will continue to be one of the larger Colleges in the University. A casual reader of paragraph 13 of the Report might get the impression that self-government under a Head and Fellows is a condition of becoming an Approved Foundation. Anyone with any knowledge of the history of the University knows that self-government is the condition of securing a Royal Charter, not Approved Foundation status; and there have been several Approved Foundations governed by Trustees in the past. Therefore I trust that the Council will not impose any greater hurdle on Homerton in this respect than it has for any other institution. As the Report makes clear, the Trustees intend to pursue a process of progressive change in this respect; I hope that in due course the Council will welcome an application for a more permanent status for Homerton.

The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 20 November and 1 November 2000, on the implementation in Cambridge of the 2000 pay increase for non-clinical academic and academic-related staff (p. 219).

Dr N. A. DODGSON:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to congratulate the Council on their decision, recorded in paragraph 5 of this Report. Paraphrased roughly: the University had earlier prudently set aside a certain sum to cover this year's pay rise; the rise has been less than anticipated, and the Council have decided to use the excess funds to reward assistant staff.

Now, it would have been nice if the AUT and the other unions had been able to negotiate a larger pay rise - and I wish them well in their future campaigns to do just that. Nevertheless, as someone who has previously spoken in this forum about the position of assistant staff in this University, and knowing no more than is written in the Report, I think that the Council should be applauded for this sensible use of the excess funds.

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I asked the Director of Personnel today at what point his advice was asked in relation to the completion of the Homerton Report. Professor Badger has been a little economical with the truth about that, as about my contribution to discussion of this issue.

We are in an alternative universe with this present Report. Please may the Regent House be told the real sums being paid to all those on the University's pay-roll as its employees? What is the point of telling us that our employees earn so much or so much when in reality some of them are in receipt of considerable extra payments, the very possibility of which the Regent House knows nothing about?

We have been putting up with this divisive business of secretly paying some of us more than others, on no very clear grounds of differentiation, for a year or two now in the case of Professors. (When will the Regent House learn how much power it really has to stop this sort of thing?)

We are also doing it for categories of staff whose ostensible salaries we imagine we are discussing today. A raft of large extra payments for senior administrators came before the Council some time ago, in the form of a note to inform us that we could go and look at the proposed sums (and who they were to go to) by visiting the Vice-Chancellor's Office if we chose. There was no discussion. I, for one, have no idea how the list and the figures were arrived at. Compare that with the laborious, even pettifogging, detail of the explanations of the plans before us.

Some of the additions to salary I approve of, because I think the addition is being earned. Others (and I shall not, of course, go into details) I certainly do not think are appropriate recipients of secret extra geld, especially when, once given as a 'discretionary' extra, it appears likely that the phantom enlargement of salary may become permanent, even if large questions about someone's capability should come to light.

Why should people in senior positions be allowed to claim the protection of privacy about their actual salaries when the rest of us on the ordinary salary spine have our earnings from the University published to the world? (I hope I do not need to stress that I am not motivated by mercenary envy; the University has learned that it cannot buy me by testing the waters with some pretty large figures.)

We must at the very least have an open process and some published criteria and a properly-constituted and accountable system for making such awards, where we are told who is making them, on what authority, and why. The Director's Remuneration Committee game can take many forms. The singling out of some for special favour is, I learn, about to take a new and alarming additional direction. The Personnel Division's Working Group on Recruitment, Reward, and Retention is hatching an 'equity share scheme' and 'merit awards'. I understand that the Vice-Chancellor has proposed that he should consider these in a small group consisting of himself, the Secretary General or Registrary, the Director of Personnel, and the Chair of the Professorial sub-committee in question ('what is a Professorial sub-committee?', I hope you are asking). The Personnel Committee has agreed in principle at its most recent meeting that an equity share scheme should be introduced so that the University's funds may be used to help some employees (but not all?) buy expensive Cambridge houses; and it has endorsed the proposal made by the Vice-Chancellor for the mode of consideration of cases.

In this University, the Vice-Chancellor does not have powers of this sort and the Regent House is entitled to know about this kind of thing and to have an opportunity to discuss it. May we please?

I shall not be able to bring such things to light in future because it will all go on where I cannot see it, buried in papers only Council members and senior administrators have access to. Some of them the Regent House may never know about. It is important that the recommendation of the Board of Scrutiny about making minutes and background papers and so on available for inspection is put into operation without delay, as, I believe, on a proper construction of Statute K, 9 they should be. It turns out, while we are on the subject, that the latest lot of legal advice says that promotions candidates should be being allowed to see rather more of that secret documentation. The General Board Committee will have to disclose documents in connection with appeals, such as mine, against its reliance on the voided documentation (see Times Higher Education Supplement, 24 November 2000). But much more important in the wider administrative frame is the need to ensure 'the right of access to all papers', specified in Statute K, 9.

This speech has concentrated mainly upon the parallel universe of our secret pay structures. May we have full details in the Notice in reply so that we are not asked to grace a half-truth about our 'official' pay scales? And may we have a Report from the new Council about the whole pay issue, including secret extra payments, so that we can examine the policy-questions? I will not go into the proposal by the same Working Party to abolish the residence requirement and allow our staff to live up to fifty miles away, except to hope that the University will be allowed to discuss that too.

The Report of the General Board, dated 1 November 2000, on the establishment of a Nycomed Amersham Professorship of Clinical Magnetic Resonance Imaging (p. 228).

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, our constitution allows a Notice always to have the last word, unless one persists as admirably as Professor A. W. F. Edwards has been doing, either with the enticing device of making a speech again because promises made in response to it have been broken or not fulfilled (Reporter, p. 235) or until a grudging acknowledgement is wrung out (p. 202). In connection with the present proposal I just want to take readers of the Reporter back to p. 204, the Notice on the British Heart Foundation Professorship. There it is asserted that 'the Professorship was advertised'. I had wondered in a speech (p. 99), how the University could have advertised a Professorship which did not exist.

As a (then) member of the Council, I was able to insist that they produced the 'advertisement'. It is for 'a' clinical Professorship and it says that the School of Clinical Medicine is seeking to make application to the British Heart Foundation. There is vague talk of 'professorial support to be put forward by the University'. That is not, to my mind, a clear advertisement, such as is to be found in The Times of 16 November 2000 and a recent Oxford Gazette, for the Professorship of Oncological Pathology, which had been through all the hoops, and yet we say there, correctly, since the Grace had not been passed, 'The University hopes soon to be in a position to appoint a Professor of Oncological Pathology'.

I labour this point, because it is important in these times when the Senate-House noticeboard is sometimes quite crowded with appointments to Chairs made possible by gifts of money for particular purposes, that we are extremely vigilant to ensure that there are no slippery moments in the way in which the necessary constitutional protections are handled. I shall come back to that point at the end of this speech.

Constitutional protections are necessary, and not only in this important area of not taking the consent of the Regent House for granted. The present Report says (p. 228), that Nycomed Amersham have agreed to donate at least £120,000 a year for five years and have signified 'their intention to fund the Professorship thereafter'. The University already has one expensive case on its hands in the courts over a funder of a Professorship which made promises to pay regularly and then stopped. Money upfront is one thing. 'Promises' are another. If this Professorship is going to cost £120,000 a year at today's salary levels, and in the end Nycomed Amersham does not keep its promises, that is a big commitment to underwrite. I see that there is a promise that the NHS Trust will do that. But 'obtained the agreement' does not tell me much, and it is backed only by 'the Faculty Board have assured the General Board' and 'the Board are satisfied'. Was there sight of the written agreement and did we check that it was binding? This one rushed past the Council at a speed which, if it was matched on the General Board, means that these decision-making bodies cannot possibly have checked all this properly. So my first point is that the 'intention' needs to be reinforced by contractually-binding agreement, or else we need to make an appointment for a fixed term. May we have something on all that in the Notice in reply, please?

My next concern is in the area of the independence of the research. Nycomed Amersham's current Annual Report contains a big splashy patch headed, 'How will Amersham Pharmacia Biotech keep ahead of the market?' 'Our technology - developed internally and through strategic alliances or acquisitions - has given us a competitive position in all the markets in which we operate'. Is Cambridge an 'alliance'? An 'acquisition'? In the Sunday Times of 26 November, one may read of other projects Nycomed Amersham is funding. It is 'to work with a leading American hospital group'. There are to be two projects there, with a hint that 'it will ultimately be more profitable to be more deeply involved with the research itself'. As in Cambridge?

And are the Nominations Committee and the Council going to nod through yet again a proposal to put someone from the firm on the Board of Electors? The Council will no doubt stop being dysfunctional now as everyone beams round the table in mutual approval while decisions with huge implications pass unremarked under their untrained noses and no one causes irritation by trying to focus minds on issues. (You will get fewer dispatches from the front for a while. But there are other routes to reform and there are already worried faces on the central bodies as they wonder what I am going to do from outside the Council Room. I hope not to disappoint their expectations.)

Then there is the matter of the ethics of benefaction at which a new working party is beginning to look. Exercising my rights as a member of the Council, I took the trouble to ask to see the Executive Committee papers for this and other decisions to recommend to the Vice-Chancellor that he accept benefactions. There were some very worrying things in there. The suggestion that some of them ought to be followed up before we took the money was waved impatiently away.

Policy on the University's implementation of the Regulation of the Investigatory Powers Act, which came into force in October and allows it to snoop on our e-mails and even the contents of our hard disks, is not, to my knowledge, even going to be discussed with us. But I bet they will be a lot keener to intrude on our privacy than they have been to follow up awkward questions publicly posed about large sums of offered money.

Bath University's Charter says, 'the objects of the University shall be to advance learning and knowledge by teaching and research, particularly in science and technology, and in close association with industry and commerce'. Is that going to be the thrust of our new Mission Statement and is the Regent House going to get a whiff soon of what it is proposed it should contain? It is a very long time since we were all invited to send in our thoughts and scarcely a hint has yet come back of what our big leading players intend to tell us our purposes as a University are to be for the future.

Just glance at that over-excited piece in the December Newsletter about the appointment of the permanent Director and three 'Programme Directors' to 'head up' the CMI venture. You will find advertisers' jargon here: 'exciting', 'innovative', 'key', 'unique'. (I am always telling students that writing is often stronger without the adjectives.) That £68m of public money Gordon Brown gave us a year ago has brought seven (seven) students from MIT for a year and a group of our students will be going there in exchange. British Telecommunications have now signed an agreement to become the first 'corporate sponsor' of CMI 'to undertake projects in new IT and Telecommunications Technologies'. (Like Vodafone's 'partnership' with the University? (same Newsletter)) The corporate take-over of our research by the simple expedient of giving us money for projects the funder wants done in its own interests has to be watched. They will be too nifty-footed for us. The funding big business gives for its own ends will not be so out of all proportion to the results as that giant tranche of public money, and the results will surely be what the funders want for themselves. Truly disinterested benefactors would give us money and allow us to put it to whatever use we chose in the interests of the fostering of 'education, learning, and research', which is our present legal and defining purpose.

Alas, the chances of these matters being properly considered by the Council in future has just receded still further. At our special meeting to pass for publication the Report on the present round of personal promotions, the Council decided that in future years it would not bother to meet at all. It would pass the Report for publication by remote control, by e-mail. At our last meeting there was an item under a category of 'business we are not expected to discuss at all', at which (and I apologize that I did not pick it up) we are deemed to have 'agreed' to extend this practice to other Reports to create new Professorships. This means that General Board Reports, containing who knows what curious funding proposals, will now be passed by the Council for publication with no discussion whatsoever, unless someone, receiving the Council papers late on Friday afternoon, has spotted a problem and raised it with the Registrary before 10 a.m. on the following Monday morning. (That assumes that all members of the Council can be relied upon to read the first batch of papers at once over the weekend and do not leave them for more extended consideration during the days which follow their receipt.)

I am not clear how that sits with any 'good faith' construction to be placed on the words of the Notice about the Board of Scrutiny Report (Reporter, p. 258), that 'the Council are clear that they have a duty to scrutinize all Reports before publication and to clarify any inaccuracies or confusions', and that, 'They will fulfil this duty in respect of ... all [Reports]'. Without even having them before the Council at a meeting?

I shall not be able even to attempt to stop this kind of thing now until after the event. And there are, I think, still no plans to give new members of the Council (or continuing ones) any training to help them spot such implications for our constitution. That has been scoffed at on the Council. Yesterday at 2 p.m. Professor Schofield, Dr Thornton, the Registrary, and Dr Branson as Secretary, the tiny rump of the Committee on Committees, met to distribute all the new and old Council members among the major committees of the University. (The Nominations Committee has six academic members to do a far smaller job.) The Council will, no doubt, ratify all their 'recommendations' on 11 December in the blink of an eye. I do take some satisfaction in the indications that it will now be listing its reasons and giving an account of its thinking. My procedural battle won, but too late to give me my own fair share of committees.

Still, startling reforms notwithstanding, your Council, members of the Regent House, will not get a proper induction course; it does not have to understand its job; it does not have to get even a working knowledge of the Statutes and Ordinances; it can often 'seed' its own 'big leading players' at the wish of two or three individuals, and would-be benefactors can come amongst us in the happy confidence that our watchdogs are likely to way their tails with the fatuous smirks of indulged canines everywhere.

No remarks were made on the following Reports:

The Report of the Council, dated 20 November 2000, on Reserved Fellowships at Wolfson College (p. 213).

The Report of the General Board, dated 1 November 2000, on the establishment of three Professorships of Cancer Research (p. 226).

The Report of the General Board, dated 1 November 2000, on the establishment of a Professorship of Cardiothoracic Surgery (p. 227).


< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Cambridge University Reporter, 13 December 2000
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.