< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 13 February 2001. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:

The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 29 January and 17 January 2001, on arrangements for health and safety matters within the University (p. 427).

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Minute of the Committee for Safety, 21 November 2000 (13): 'Two Improvement Notices were issued' after an 'incident' in Engineering'; '11/12 July - Health and Safety Executive visit to follow up five complaints or incidents. Incident 1 concerned a spillage of mercaptoethanol ... Incident 2 concerned unsealed asbestos in a Cold Room ... Incident 3 concerned a technician who had received an electric shock. The University avoided prosecution ... Incident 4 concerned radiation badges which were not being checked/changed on a regular basis. A prohibition notice was issued ... Incident 5 concerned a complaint about lack of training and risk assessments for manual handling'; 27 October: 'The Local Inspector and Specialist Inspector visited the University, following up from the Biochemistry incident. This was not a good meeting for the University'. 'And lots more', as advertisements say.

Health and safety for a considerable period remained under the protection of the General Board and was serviced by the Secretary General. We evidently needed that new Division.

Health and safety has not been, even by Cambridge's appalling standards of incompetence, one of our better performances. We are at real risk, where we do not even know what outside concerns are working in our labs (the great Embedded Lab Mystery), that the University will be sued not only by its own employees but by the outsiders within.

Those criminal charges left over from when we lost the radioactive isotope still lie on the file, and was there not an article in Varsity about more radioactive material leaking away somewhere subsequently? But it is not only the big dangers to which we expose ourselves by failing to run our systems of protection properly. That Minute makes it clear that individuals are being failed by our procedural carelessness, too. Fire safety arrangements for disabled staff and students are in danger of being frustrated for lack of a speedy means of arranging for funds to be made available to put telephones in the 'refuges' so that help can be called for. A couple of years ago I myself was knocked unconscious by a fall down the stairs in my Faculty ('was she pushed?', asked several friends). The then Faculty Administrator, who has now been elevated to Secretaryship of a Council of the Schools, did sent in the required report, but without telling me. I have only now been able to see and seek to correct the details, which do not match my recollection. With some kinds of accident, medical confidentiality and the asking of consent would seem to come into the picture too.

We not only need to clean up our act; we also have to think much more broadly about the span of health and safety issues in the University. It runs from taking better care in the labs over handling of dangerous chemicals by students (on which scary stories abound) to protecting our staff from the high degree of stress experienced, not only in the CAPSA débacle but also much more widely because of the bullying and bad treatment of staff we can no longer deny since the publication of the Schneider~Ross report. All these things are actionable.

I will not run the risk of more square brackets by making any derisory comment on 'the Committee for Safety has served the University well for over twenty years' (p. 427). I think the facts do that for me. (If you look at the mildly mutilated speech published on pp. 438-40 you can fill in the first bit in square brackets from the word in inverted commas in the penultimate line. There is an invocation of Statute K, 5 in progress on that question of the authority of our 'advisers' to make decisions. The single missing word is 'rank'. I do not know why that is thought likely to be defamatory, unless taken in its sense of 'smelly'.)

How are we to ensure that any new Health and Safety Executive Committee and Consultative Committee for Safety are more effective in this promised new 'proactive safety management culture'? (Which is M.B.A.-speak for what?) It is proposed to appoint them by the same processes as we use for other committees, that is by co-option and nomination. My own illustrative experience at the hands of the Committee on Committees and the Council is not yet over. I was reappointed before Christmas to the Student Matters Committee, but unaccountably replaced on the Working Party on Student Complaints by a continuing Council member, who is on leave all this year and will therefore be absent from all its meetings. I was removed from the Working Party on ethical guidelines for accepting benefactions which had met only once and had only just begun its work. At its first meeting the new Council put me back on the ethical guidelines Working Party but took me off Student Matters, where the Students' Union had said it wanted me, as well as keeping me off the Student Complaints Working Party although the students had asked for me there, too. I will say nothing about the discourtesy of issuing an invitation and then withdrawing it after it has been accepted. So when this crowd of bunglers gets to work choosing members for these new Committees, what confidence can the Regent House have that they will do it intelligently or even consistently and not reverse all their decisions the next time they meet?

The new Health and Safety Executive Committee and the Consultative Committee for Safety thus appointed are apparently 'to give management effect to the safety policy and strategy developed by the Director of Health and Safety'. The Council is 'the principal policy-making body' according to Statute A. It does not, as that Annual Report 2000, with the pretty cover with the angel on it (p. 28), misleadingly says, 'decide' the University's policy. It is supposed to propose it to the Regent House, which remains its master. Have we really had a Grace empowering this Director to make policy on behalf of the University of Cambridge without review or report back to the Regent House? I do not recollect it, but perhaps we have.

Rapid-reaction does seem to be vogue of the moment in the University where the political will is there. I am not against getting on with things. It is just that it seems a little selective and I personally cannot, for all the reasons just given, have automatic confidence in the wisdom of those to whom we find we have entrusted powers. There is already an 'immediate action-plan' for the implementation of the brand new Schneider~Ross report, while the long dragging story of the non-reform of our promotions system remains on the furthest back burner. (The University has now made a formal representation to the High Court, which means that in future every University officer discontented with the outcome of a promotions application has an obligation to invoke Statute K, 5. The Statute you will need to cite is Statute U, I, 1(c), which reproduces the words in section 202 of the Education Reform Act 1988. That requires the University to treat its officers according to the principles of justice and fairness. Any procedural flaw in the conduct of the promotions procedures for officers must now be alleged to be a breach of the Statutes and Ordinances. So we now have a two-pronged appeals procedure. They are not going to tell you that because when you all invoke Statute K, 5, it will cause chaos. It just takes a letter to the Vice-Chancellor.)

Back to fast-track 'improvements' to our practice, and from this point I think it relevant to set the issues raised by this health and safety Report in the context of Schneider~Ross plans to deal with the stress and bullying, which are also health and safety issues.

Like the handing over of health and safety 'policy-making' to an individual (quite different from handing over operations), Schneider~Ross's 'action plan' did not come before the University for Discussion; it was released to the press before it was published in the Reporter (and its getting into the Reporter at all was a narrow squeak). Some of us might have wished to say a word or two on that patronizing assumption that those who used to be our colleagues, but who are increasingly behaving as though they were our line managers, must be encouraged to develop their 'nurturing potential'. As perhaps the most prominent victim of the University's cock-ups in its treatment of its staff, I do not want 'nurturing'. I am not a baby. I want fair play. I want to be allowed to call to account as an equal those senior figures who increasingly hide or go all shaky when confronted with me. Some cannot even control their breathing for panic when they find me on the other end of the telephone and have to think fast enough to answer a question. These people have to earn the right to respect by knowing their business. Is the future handling of health and safety in the University going to be any better if we hand so much power over without insisting on accountability?

How are these new health and safety committees to be held accountable? I see nothing in these proposals to indicate that if we have another criminal prosecution under the health and safety legislation senior figures in the new hierarchy, or the members of these committees, will be called to account internally.

Glance through this same Reporter again for an awful warning about what could happen if we build in no protections. Look at the proposed CAPSA review (pp. 403-4). 'The Council have authorized the Chairman of the Audit Committee to recommend an individual' to oversee it. But the conduct of the Audit Committee is in the frame. I am sure its Chairman will choose with care. In the terms of reference I see nothing about calling to account, only some fudgy stuff about the important task of learning from what happened. There have been several calls in Discussions for heads to roll. And what is to be done to ensure that everyone gets a chance to have an input and that our more vulnerable assistant staff are protected from reprisal if they give evidence?

And what will become of any recommendations of the CAPSA review, or of the review I called for (and still hope will be put in hand) of our criminal prosecution for losing that radioactive isotope? In theory that kind of thing ought now to be made available to us all in compliance with the Board of Scrutiny's recommendations. Read p. 405 (Notice on the Fifth Report of the Board of Scrutiny): 'The Council and the General Board have previously agreed with the principle of making unreserved items on their agendas and minutes more widely available.' So we have at last (in very small print) the huge concession that these documents are no longer confidential. But that does not mean you can see them. I have asked.

I have been telephoning round the Old Schools to find out what actually has to be done in the light of 'It will be implemented as soon as practicable in the light of available resources'. It seems it would be quite easy to set this up so that these documents go on to the web straightaway. But there appear to be no plans, and unless a lot of fuss is made you can bet that we shall wait for years and years when we need not wait a week. And watch them move the 'reserved business' boundary further and further up the agenda.

Yet here is a chink through which we may begin to get more accountability on the implementation of these health and safety proposals, but it is only a chink and, as usual, it will be widened only with enormous difficulty.

I see that the Vice-Chancellor or a duly appointed deputy is to chair in this new 'proactive' health and safety environment. Leadership means setting an example. Staff Development is unable to tell me whether the Vice-Chancellor has registered yet to see to his own 'development'. A Vice-Chancellor who admits to a 'lack' of the 'necessary … skills' (Guardian, 30 January 2001, article on Schneider~Ross report) should be first in the queue for the new courses. I have read recently the suggestion of a job-share between me and the Vice-Chancellor (Varsity, 2 February 2001). I look forward to seeing you at those courses, Sir Alec, for I for one have already begun signing up to find out what is on offer. I am keen to hone my skills. May I challenge you to do the same for when we share an office?

 

The Report of the General Board, dated 17 January 2001, on the ownership of intellectual property rights generated by externally funded research (p. 429).

Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am glad to see the General Board submitting a policy for the approval of the University. I hope that, if it is approved in this or any amended form, the practice will be followed of placing it in Ordinances (perhaps without paragraph 4); there is already a related policy notice in Ordinances (p. 166), 'Research in University laboratories in the interest of outside bodies', which was approved by Grace 4 of 18 March 1950.

In this connection the Registrary has occasionally, with perfect justice, quoted Statute A, IV, 1(a) to me, and I hope I might be allowed a moment to recall its origin. It says, 'The Council shall be the principal executive and policy-making body of the University'. This disastrous emendation to our constitution is part of the Wass Syndicate inheritance, the University having approved two of its proposals which were obviously incompatible, that the Regent House should be the governing body (Statute A, III, 1) and that the Council should be the principal policy-making body.

The Syndicate did not foresee that this would lead to demarcation disputes, and feebly suggested that the way the Regent House would have 'its ability to act as the final arbiter of University policy' strengthened was to make the Council send it an Annual Report for discussion and, if necessary, voting on. This unworkable solution ensured that the Regent House has become a policy-regretting body, so it is good to see the balance being tipped in the other direction.

Anyone observant enough to notice that these Statutes were drafted by the Statutes and Ordinances Revision Syndicate of which I was a member (Third Report, Reporter, 1992-93, p. 767) might also notice that the Syndicate was scrupulous in its adherence to the wishes of the University as expressed in the 1990 ballots on the Wass Syndicate's proposals. I am happy to see from my copy of the ballot paper that I voted against both proposals.

MS V. WORTHINGTON:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, if it hadn't been for a certain column in Varsity, I would not have known it were possible for me, or any other student, to be here today. Just as I wouldn't have known the subject of this Discussion. From what I have seen, not many students actually read the Reporter. This is undoubtedly most unfortunate, seeing as Discussions, such as of the ownership of intellectual property rights, most definitely affect us. This is why I decided to speak and put forward my opinions on the Report, which I know are shared by many of my contemporaries. I do not claim to understand all of it. However, paragraph 5, concerning students' work, is something of great importance.

It is undisputed, is it not, that Cambridge has an access problem. Students of today are put under more financial pressure than ever before. Tuition fees, high rents, living costs, and the prospect of top-up fees. We are not paid for what we do. We are not employees of the University. Thus, I find the suggestion of Cambridge moving towards claiming students' intellectual property quite unbelievable. Forcing us to sign away our rights will not happen without a fight. We work hard in order to obtain a degree. We put money into the University. Is it so unreasonable for us to have the possibility of making a profit from what we produce during our time at Cambridge? Is this not a little greedy on the University's part?

Just last week the Vice-Chancellor was quoted as saying, 'I want Cambridge to be an intellectual elite, not the social thing or the money thing'. Yet money does seem to be the thing at this University. As one respondent to the equality audit replied, 'All that matters is how much research money you can bring in'. Of course, seeing as students haven't yet had an equality audit, there is nothing I can draw on from a student's perspective.

May I also suggest that before implementing such ridiculous and selfish measures, you may care to give more thought to where the University is acquiring this external funding in the first place?

Indeed, there are two levels of life at Cambridge. The staff and the students. Why should we be bound to the same terms on ownership of intellectual rights, when there are so many other areas of blatant unfairness and inequality?

The JUNIOR PROCTOR (MR R. J. STIBBS):

Mr Deputy Vice Chancellor, may I welcome the publication of this Report and commend the statement of policy to the Regent House. I would, however, hope that the Report signals the beginning of a wider debate in the University about intellectual property rights and copyright. In their response to the Fourth Report of the Board of Scrutiny in December 1999 (Fourth Report of the Board of Scrutiny: Notice, 15 December 1999 (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/1999-2000/weekly/5795/3.html)), the Council stated, under the heading of Intellectual Property Rights: 'The Council and the General Board intend to publish a consultative paper during 1999-2000, and if at all possible by the Easter Term 2000'.

Could the Council and the General Board assure the University that the delay in the publication of such a consultative paper will not be prolonged?

The Council's response was to paragraph 32 in the Board's Report (Fourth Report of the Board of Scrutiny, 23 June 1999 (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/1998-9/weekly/5779/23.html)), which stated:

'32. The topic of 'links with industry' must be seen not only to cover the relationship of the University with science- and technology-based industry but also with the publishing industry, and it is perhaps felicitous that the University's Joint Working Party on Copyright, chaired by Professor W. R. Cornish (Herchel Smith Professor of Intellectual Property Law) will be publishing their report this summer. In addition, the University has received valuable advice commissioned by the Vice-Chancellor from Sir Alastair Morton on many aspects of IPR'.

I must declare an interest here as I was a member of the Joint Working Party which produced the report for the Council and the General Board in July 1999. One of the recommendations of the report was that it should be published in the Reporter. I hope that such publication will be in time to inform the wider debate.

A very important development in the administration of intellectual property rights was heralded by the Council's and the General Board's announcement in the Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on Research Services (Reporter, 15 December 1999 (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/1999-2000/weekly/5795/14.html)), which stated: '5. The General Board have agreed to establish a committee to advise them on issues relating to research policy, including general matters concerning industrial liaison, consultancies, and intellectual property rights'.

There appears to have been a lack of urgency about the establishment of this Standing Committee as members of the Regent House will look in vain in the Officers Reporter (Reporter, Special No. 3, 3 October 2000 (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2000-01/special/03/), Part II: Members of University Bodies) for details of the membership. This is perhaps not surprising given the continuing problems in the cen-tral administration in respect of accommodation, recruitment, and retention. However the Standing Committee has now been established and has been meeting since late last term. I hope we can look forward to an informed and constructive debate between the Regent House, members of the Standing Committee, and the Research Services Division on the issue of intellectual property rights, so crucial for the future direction of research in this University.

Dr A. MYCROFT:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, during my work for the Computer Laboratory, I create copyright of various forms: lecture notes, research papers, and computer programs. Each of these is protected by copyright legislation. The University plans to claim ownership of the last, but not the others. Perhaps it is argued that computer programs are hieroglyphics (now there's an interesting simile to explore) and therefore of a lesser order than 'proper words'. But what of music (normally written, and protected by copyright as digital symbols on paper, or in - oh dear - a computer)?

Or of sculpture? Or of an architectural or engineering design? Or of the proposed text of a legal treaty?

And what of my soon-to-appear article containing text and a computer program? The publisher (Springer) requires me to transfer the copyright to it before publication; am I to have my papers vetted to see if they contain a program before being allowed to publish? And what about the floppy disc or CD-ROM at the back of a book on archaeology? Are these 'normal academic publishing' or not? Normality is a very dangerous word whose meaning can change drastically with time.

I would claim that all copyright we create is just that - copyright. That the University should appropriate certain forms of copyright but not others is unfair. The next target could be a claim on copyright of best-selling books (since these are certainly not the academic norm!). Will a future Professor Hawking find the University claims copyright on a future A Brief History of Time, especially if he or she has ever received external money? Particularly disturbing is that claiming copyright allows censorship - an article may not be published without permission of the copyright owner.

Now let us turn to why the University has developed this division of copyright forms (this division may as well be into the separate angels dancing on the head of a putatively valuable pin). Actually the formal origin of this proposal is very narrow - a requirement for UK Research Council funding: 'It is the responsibility of the organization and of all engaged in the research for which the resources have been provided to make every effort to ensure that any potentially valuable results obtained in the course of the research are exploited and that there is a suitable return to the organization and its researchers from any such exploitation'. But one also detects a University worry that perhaps in the past some leading individuals and companies may have managed to share valuable IPR in a way that has cut out the University and more lowly team members.

So we have this sledgehammer proposal that all externally funded projects cause some forms of copyright to be owned by the University rather than the creator. One suspects that this whole regime was invented to tackle a specific problem in some other subject area; but the result today falls unfairly on my subject where the vast majority of staff have received some form of external funding and our computer programs - core to our teaching and research - are to be appropriated by the University so that we will need to seek permission to use each and every of them for each and every purpose! I will not even be able to fix a bug in a collaborator's program and simply return it to them, since I cannot distribute my correction without permission of the copyright owner - just think how many requests for copyright release the Old Schools would need to handle! The fact that the definition of external funding is drawn so widely is worrying in itself - perhaps a project is externally funded when College resources have been used at any point? It certainly looks likely that just supervising a non-self-funded Ph.D. student will transfer your IPR to the University.

We must have taken a wrong turning somewhere.

I suggest that a modified proposal based on much current best practice in Departments is much more likely to meet the approval of Regent House than this arbitrary partitioning of quality of copyright.

One of my externally funded grants involves the University and two local companies. Before any work was done on the grant we: (i) identified any background IPR (previously invented things) which continued to belong to their owners; (ii) agreed arrangements for sharing results of foreground IPR (things invented during the project), including a committee to deter-mine whether commercial action was needed before publication. As an investigator I was free to join in negotiations and it proved best (not least to ensure the grant happened in a timely manner!) for me to waive my right to exploit my copyright in favour of a split entirely between the University and the sponsors.

Note that it might be appropriate for a sponsor to insist that a given grant will only happen provided staff on the project sign away their copyright in computer programs resulting from the project. This is agreement through mutual benefit not dictat - and is entirely analogous to the way that Springer (inter alia) insists that I sign away my ownership of copyright in articles which it is to publish. The University does not insist on appropriating copyright to my learned articles so that it can ensure that it can transfer them to Springer on my behalf; it trusts me to do it - surely it can trust me also for computer programs, music, and the like?

I would suggest amending the proposals in the following manner.

(i) To abandon dreams of 'lesser forms of copyright'. Copyright for all work will continue to rest with the creator, but he or she may voluntarily sign it away, possibly in exchange for reward as in publishing, when the contract is signed. The University does not need ownership of copyright it thinks may be valuable - it just needs enough rights to exploit it for return. (Moreover it is morally wrong to claim ownership unilaterally for some subject areas and some sources of funding but not others.)

(ii) To require principals (University, sponsor, investigators) of an externally funded project to sign an agreement (along with the University 'blue'), specifying exploitation of generated IPR. To avoid logjam effects I would recommend that the University prepares a small set of 'approved IPR frameworks' which it would be willing to rubber stamp without great delay; IPR agreements outside this framework might take longer. Note that the current proposal might be one framework (as an investigator I might choose to sign away my copyright and other IPR to the University and/or sponsor for the opportunity to work on the grant, whereas I might have fought bitterly against confiscation!). Another framework might be a lightweight agreement for projects only expected to produce 'normal' academic output, although I have already noted the danger of 'normality' here.

(iii) To protect junior members of teams. The University might require agreements to reserve a certain fraction of IPR royalties for paying junior members some fraction appropriate to their contribution to the overall project, instead of cutting them out because they were not 'at the big meeting at the start'. Such a scheme would then more morally justify IPR waivers for research assistants and the like.

(iv) Although I have only discussed copyright in examples, these proposals are general enough to cover all forms of IPR including patent.

As an aside consider the amusing interaction of the policy as proposed and Statute U. Suppose a member of the University promulgated a document or IPR for which the University unilaterally claimed copyright. My contract of employment states that such a member would be disciplined under Statute U. However, this Statute (Chapter I, section 1) '… shall be construed in every case to give effect to the following guiding principles … (c) to apply the principles of justice and fairness'. Can varying treatment of copyright according to subject area really be just and fair?

I urge the Council to re-work the proposal using consent instead of managerial appropriation.

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, when Prince Albert was given a honorary degree, Punch covered the occasion in November 1843. The University Orator 'talked of the University as a place where lucre was abhorred as a pestilence. For a reverend gentleman on the look-out for a bishopric, these sentiments were 'pretty well'', said Punch. 'The 'heads of houses' winked at each other when the public orator touched on the topic of disinterestedness.'

Thank heaven for a proper Report so that we can discuss this important and urgent matter. I was pleased to hear proctorial endorsement of the view that we should now have a fuller debate on these questions more largely conceived. For we are tackling in this proposal a sub-set of a larger genus of problems. Hinduja money is not only built into the fabric of the new Divinity School, but also into its research work, with the setting up in Divinity of a centre 'focusing on the brothers' Vedic beliefs', as the Times Higher Education Supplement of 2 February put it; while a Hinduja sits on the advisory board of our Centre for International Business and Management and two Hinduja scholarships are available 'in collaboration with the Hinduja Cambridge Trust'. The University seems unable to tell the media who the trustees of that Trust are, and to my certain knowledge, that is making the question much more interesting to them. All this is now, while we wait to hear the outcome of the investigations in progress in India, an embarrassment to the University (to put it no higher).

Some of this is 'externally funded research' on the definition on p. 430. What does the Committee created under the provisions of the Joint Report on research services (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 238) propose about ensuring that we are vigilant not only about where we get the money from (the ethics of benefaction) but also what it is used for and who gets the benefits? The Times on 31 January carried a piece with a heading about getting 'a grip on sleaze'. The Neill Committee is mentioned as seeking to require in its recent report the keeping of 'records of contacts with those promoting external interests'. The context there was lobbying. Funding targeted research and seeking to control it through building control of intellectual property rights into an agreement with the University is a form of lobbying. 'Except where the University has agreed otherwise' and 'unless those works have been specifically commissioned by a sponsor' leaves the door wide open to that sort of 'directed' research funding, and I can see no detail in this Report about how this will be supervised so that researchers desperate for money can be protected against bullying about the eventual intellectual property rights by the corporate lawyers drawing up agreements. Once again we are being amateurish and naïve.

I learned last week that the Development Office has been working to a 'priority list' for the getting of gifts of money for specified purposes, which it believed to have been approved by the Council and the General Board. The Council never saw it in my time. Did the General Board? Lobbying questions again. What protection has there been against a big leading player making an arrangement with a commercial 'partner' and then seeking to get a given proposed 'benefaction' on to that priority list? How do we prevent avoidance of the cut-off point for asking serious questions about the source of money (£1m) being activated by getting the money 'given' in smaller portions? We should be likely to say 'yes' to the second tranche because we had said 'yes' to the first. How easy a push-over may we then be about giving up the intellectual property rights in the outcomes of the work?

An article on 'Conversation' in the Cambridge Review of 21 January 1885 (p. 154) makes an admission. 'In talking we certainly lack the flash and the epigram which is distinctive of Oxford, but it is not denied that we possess a certain bovine impressiveness in conversation, peculiar to ourselves. When cast among a dashing throng of Oxonians, the typical Cantab is uncomfortable and bewildered, and when he wheels himself forward conversation has passed beyond recall into other channels, and so he flounders, and is made miserable with a dim British apprehension that he is the subject of a joke'. The extensive press coverage of our blundering acceptance of the Hinduja money without coming across the arms-trading question mark, like the media egg on our faces over the equal opportunities audit, makes us increasingly the subject of jests about our slowness of thought and lack of grasp of the matter in hand. I was told that press photographers, who came to capture the Queen with the Hinduja brothers at the opening of the Divinity School, were amazed that the University was not aware of the imminence of controversy. File on 4 on 6 February flagged up the cognate issues about the preservation of the integrity of research and the independence of the researcher where money comes from outside on conditions militating against those things, to which we may all too easily agree, if we do not learn to think as fast as Oxford.

We are, as usual, tackling the task of tidying up our intellectual property rules long after Oxford, with its in-house legal office, has created a code of practice and put it into its Statutes, Decrees, and Regulations (pp. 74-5, pp. 550-53, and p. 121, relating to students). I am not happy with Oxford's decision to claim ownership of the intellectual property generated by students in the course of their studies. This is really not the same principle as that on which it is possible for the University to lay claim to the ownership of the intellectual property of employees arising in the course of their employment. The University pays me a salary, so arguably it is buying my time and intelligence and the fruits of my labours. In the case of the student the payment goes the other way. For his tuition fees the student gets teaching and the use of facilities and he gets examined and if he passes the examination he gets a degree. I do not see where in all that the University acquires the right to take from him or her the profits of anything marketable which he or she may discover on the way. Oxford (p. 121) says in a draconian way, 'Students shall [my emphasis] sign any documents necessary in order to give effect to the claim made by the University in clause 1 … and shall waive any rights in respect of the subject-matter of the claim which may be conferred on them by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988'. I hope Cambridge will not go in that direction. Could we have an unpacking please of paragraph 5, particularly 'Students would be required to agree in writing to be bound by the terms of any such agreements'? Thin end of wedge?

But the rest of the Oxford code would make a sensible starting-point for us too, surely? I am uncomfortable about Gracing a policy of such brevity when we have been offered no detailed code of practice or guidelines to indicate how its ramifications are to be worked out. Dr Mycroft's remarks strengthen this concern.

Despite 'to ensure uniformity of practice across the University', I fear that we shall find that guidelines are being drawn up piecemeal with such startling results as the recent revelation that the Work and Stipends Committee drew up and finalized a 'Statement of the University's policy and procedures relating to disciplinary action, grievances, and appeals in respect of unestablished academic and academic-related staff', which has been sitting there since 1998 without anyone realizing that it conflicts with the requirement that up to 2,000 members of the Regent House, who do not fall under Statute U, be 'tried' under Statute B. That includes many of our short-term contract scientists, the very people who might be disciplined over these new intellectual property proposals. They got a bit cross when I said this was another K, 5 matter, like that other breach of our Statutes in the attempt to create 'Research Professors' from the same community. But it is. We are in a hopeless muddle about employment and office in the University and membership of the University. Intellectual property rights may turn out to be affected in different ways by these different and overlapping relationships. Is anyone even thinking about that?

Mark Twain said that irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defence. 'Irreverence' includes the testing of received wisdom which is protected by section 202 of the Education Reform Act 1988 and Statute U, but not, I think, for short-term contract scientists who do not fall under Statute U. Enforcement of intellectual property rights and academic freedom are not always compatible. Personal abuse and widespread vilification for questioning received wisdom are one thing; not being able to speak out at all is another, and that is the danger if researchers cease to be free to publish their results.

Another split infinitive in a General Board Report ('so as to best serve') is depressing. I have touched on such illiteracies before. Does no-one on the General Board read my speeches?


< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Cambridge University Reporter, 21 February 2001
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.