< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 29 May 2001. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:

The Second Report of the Council, dated 14 May 2001, on the office of Commissary (p. 696).

Ms V. WORTHINGTON:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'The Council have considered whether the Commissary should consider complaints of unreasonable delay in University procedures affecting students.' One can only hope that the seventeen months between the first and second Report have been spent productively and wisely.

As CUSU Student Rights Officer, I see it as most important that we support the proposal before us today. Cambridge does lag behind universities in the area of complaints procedures. Other institutions have had such guidelines in place for sometime. The office of Commissary is essential for many reasons. Paragraph 6 of the current proposal is certainly supported by CUSU. Students need someone to turn to who is completely neutral, someone they would not encounter for any other reason, or in any other part of University life. As you all know, complaints come in many forms, and it is not easy for people otherwise attached to Colleges or Faculties, to remain impartial.

I would once again, however, emphasize the necessity for students to be made aware of any changes in procedure. As you can see, there are not many students here today, and there will not be many reading the report of this Discussion in next week's Reporter. Whilst I update my Student Rights Website, it should not fall to CUSU to publicize such things. At present our Student Handbook, produced by the Old Schools, contains a lengthy paragraph concerning disciplinary procedures, describing in detail punishment and fines. There is a considerably shorter passage mentioning the Septemviri and appeals. No mention of student complaints. Perhaps some updating of the Student Handbook, as well as of the Statutes and Ordinances, would be useful.

For most students it is not clear where the authority of the College stops and that of the University begins. This adds much fog to an already foggy atmosphere for students contemplating placing a complaint. It is not clear to me, from reading this Report, what powers the office of Commissary would actually hold. I think this needs to be expanded upon and explained further. If this is going to work, and be effective, it needs to be made absolutely clear what would and what would not fall within his jurisdiction. For example, what could and what couldn't students take to the Commissary? Again, it is essential that these things are clarified. We look forward to the Report on complaint procedures, which we hope will not take quite as long to produce, and support, in principle, what is presented to us today.

Mr M. COAKLEY:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this Report is to be broadly welcomed, and I hope that my comments here will not delay its passage through the Council, for that is not the intention.

Under these proposals, as recognized in paragraph 9, students suffering unreasonable delay in future University complaints procedures will have no recourse save the courts, a situation that is not desirable for them nor for the University. There is a suggestion that this problem can be primarily addressed by considering ways of ensuring our procedures are sufficiently swift. We are a great University with many achievements. Yet the speed of our procedures in the past has not tended to be one of them. The matter of the creation of a student complaints procedure, for example, has been circulating for nearly twenty years. Yet it is only because we are being required by the QAA to adopt one that progress is being made. Nearly two decades of effort on something so basic and glaring and yet it still takes external coercion for us to deliver.

Within the University we have some extremely competent and hard working officers. Those members of the Regent House who sit on our committees are generally sympathetic to student problems. Yet when it comes to things like a student complaints procedure, independent welfare support, central social facilities, a student nursery (thirty years of talk and no results so far), and so many other issues, we have a system that is manifestly incapable of delivering progressive change without significant coercion.

We have let our students down in the past most notably by the poverty or absence of our complaints procedures and the lack of provision to give them truly independent welfare support and advice. It is vital, as highlighted by Ms Worthington, that clear and student-friendly information on how and when a student can turn to the Commissary will be widely available.

To be effective this Report relies on an internal student complaints procedure, something we are being compelled to adopt, and I hope and believe we will. However, as it has decided not to concern itself with unreasonable delay, it also relies upon provision of an ombudsman or similar, something eminently sensible in itself.

I would ask that all those who will still be on the Council next year, and all members of the Regent House with influence over this matter, try to ensure that the ombudsman is not unreasonably delayed till it dies in the system like so much in the past. Thank you.

Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in a brief intervention at the Discussion of the First Report on 1 February 2000 I said I would reserve any comments on this proposal until the promised reviews of Statutes K, 2 and K, 5 had been completed. The Council had said in their Report 'The conclusions of these reviews will be taken into account in framing any legislation formally proposed in due course in relation to the office of Commissary'.

In breach of this undertaking, the Council have now framed legislation before their Report on Statutes K, 2 and K, 5 has even been discussed. Will they therefore please withdraw this Report so that deliberations can proceed in the orderly manner promised? Or are they just telling us that they do not intend to take any notice of what we say here anyway?

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, time has been wasted unnecessarily over this important scheme to provide a final-stage avenue of recourse, and to no purpose. The proposals for enlargement of the office of Commissary have been with us for over a year. On 1 February 2000 a Discussion was held of the Report of the Council on the Office of Commissary (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 348). One is tempted to repeat the remarks made then, since they do not appear to have been attended to with any degree of openness of mind. But I will make a fresh speech, for things have moved on in the big wide world, and the context in which these proposals come forward is now quite different.

Why are we not creating an all-purpose ombudsman function which can deal with people's problems comprehensively without wasting months on disputes about what is or is not within the Commissary's jurisdiction? For that is what is going to happen, believe me.

Paragraph 7 (p. 697) is fine until we come to the exceptions. As far as I can see, there has been no attention to the important points raised about these exceptions publicly and behind the scenes by various student sabbatical officers and others, and by me. Look at the excuses for creating this narrow and unnecessarily complex jurisdictional framework (p. 696).

(a) If the student or member of staff is not satisfied that the objection on the merits has been dealt with, it solves nothing for the Commissary to conduct the equivalent of a 'judicial review'. Unless that 'amend' has real scope, all this can achieve is to send the matter back to the bodies which made the decision in the first place, where they will presumably make the same mistakes again.

(b) The statement that because outsiders seeking to question why they were not appointed to posts have no standing to go to the Commissary, no one inside the University may either, cuts from under all our feet a means of dealing with the grotesque injustices which are poisoning the community. It means that University officers will not be able to go to the Commissary over their treatment at the hands of the still untrained promotions committees (see THES, 25 May) and neither will administrative staff or short-term-contract scientists who are members of the University be able to challenge unfair decision-making affecting their own working lives and prospects (that is what is hidden in the 'etc.' under (b) on p. 696); and see 7(c) on p. 697. Now that, since 25 April, as you could see if the General Board minutes were on the web (Reporter,p. 405), the General Board seem to have snatched back control of reform of promotions procedures from the Personnel Division and propose to delay things indefinitely by 'consulting' out of sight of the Regent House, this is going to be still more important.

(c) The procedure for the review of undergraduate examination results is untested as yet, and I already know of serious problems with which it will not be able to deal. And the student complaints procedures appear to have gone off to hide in the bushes again.

Look, too, at the framing of (10). The idea is that this will be adversarial. (The member of staff or student 'against' the University.) Worse, it will automatically be assumed that any person or persons complained against 'are' the University and to be defended by it at its expense, no doubt with leading Counsel (our half a million pounds a year on legal expenses will easily absorb that). Representations will be made 'on behalf of the University by a person or persons appointed by the Council'. The student or staff complainant will be left to face these monsters alone or with such 'representation' as he or she can find or afford. I will gladly volunteer to help, for I observe that senior voices go all shaky and incoherent at my appearance, but I am, after, all, a mere amateur.

But these will, or should, be situations where a member of the University is coming to the Commissary to say that there has been muddle, incompetence, delay, unfairness. Surely there should be scope in the Commissary's function for everyone to get together round a table and try to find a solution informally? Surely there should be a means under this new Statute of calling to account for mismanagement and maladministration? Should my Faculty Board be allowed to retain in being its minute of 22 May, asserting that it 'cannot allow' University teaching officers to choose who to talk to? But how can that be challenged?

This has the makings of a wasted opportunity. And what are we doing creating a 'quasi-visitatorial' jurisdiction (which the University will certainly 'use' in court to try to deny staff and students rights of access to the courts; I have been present when they have tried that already)? In the world outside Cambridge the Visitor is on its way out.

There is no reason why we should not give the Commissary an 'ombudsman' function without restricting access to him to members of the University (fairer to our assistant staff?) (see my article in the Guardian today).

Recent correspondence between the Secretary of State and Universities UK (formerly the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals) gives a strong indication of the emergence of something quite different. UUK's 'Information for Members' (14 February 2001) gives 'Guidance on the implemen-tation of systems of independent review of student complaints'. It is asserted that 'Universities UK and SCOP were able to assure ministers at the end of 1999 that all Higher Education Institutions now had adequate internal student complaints procedures based on joint guidance by both bodies'. (An exclamation mark. How did Cambridge get into this 'all'?). Work is in hand, in the confidence that the need is now to provide for avenues of recourse after internal procedures have been exhausted.

The stocktaking in the Gowar consultation paper clarified the realization that universities are extremely limited in what they can do by way of setting up independent external review. Institutions with Visitors are obliged to use their Visitors (unless a new provision is 'positioned' in the sequence at the stage before resort to the Visitor was allowed). Statutory corporations cannot act outside the statutory framework of the 1992 Act. (The Gowar paper says that 'present legal advice suggests' that the 1992 universities have 'no power to provide for such'.) It has been suggested that such institutions should agree to a change in their articles of government to provide them with those powers as an 'enabling change' and that 'the Privy Council and the DfEE would explore the feasibility of producing a new 'model article' for that purpose'.

The terms of reference of the Gowar working party were to report on 'the feasibility of a Panel or Panels of independent persons to act as a forum for reviewing student complains and disputes arising from public interest disclosure complaints, in higher education institutions in the UK, when all internal procedures have been exhausted'. This took forward work already begun on the recommendation of both the Second Report of the Nolan Committee (May 1996) and the Report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (the Dearing Committee) (June 1997) that there should be adequate internal procedures in each HEI for dealing with student complaints, and with public interest disclosure complaints, and a procedure for independent review when those internal procedures had been exhausted. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 overtook part of this work, but it is an employment protection only. The CVCP recommended that HEIs should include students in their 'whistleblower' codes but not all have done so. There remains an area of concern about 'whistleblower' protections for staff.

In the year since the Gowar report went out for consultation the tide has changed.1 A suggestion which is now beginning to find favour is that the Visitor system should be replaced by some form of 'ombudsman' provision. In 1998 the public sector ombudsmen in England submitted a paper to the Minister for the Cabinet Office suggesting the creation of a Commission for Public Administration. Uniting the public sector ombudsmen in England into some form of single body, it was suggested, would simplify and streamline the existing structures.2 The Parliamentary Ombudsman identifies two functions for himself in his annual report: to obtain a remedy for those who have suffered injustice and to work to ensure good standards of public administration. These are the two needs which emerge again and again in complaints and grievances in this University, coupled with a third which can be central for an individual, and that is the prevention of injustice. Along with inclusiveness in terms of those entitled to go to the ombudsman should go (pace Gowar) inclusiveness of as many as possible of the types of dispute which arise in universities (including the large category of maladministration). The consultation paper on the Review of the Public Sector Ombudsmen in England discusses the recommendation of the creation of a college or 'Commission' of ombudsmen and an alternative model in which a single ombudsman might be appointed, with a number of deputies.3

And there is a problem beyond that of providing for a structure in which this is to be done; it is not easy to find the right person or persons to do it. They need to carry weight, to be respected figures. They also need to be willing to knock heads together. And, judges aside, it is difficult to become the sort of establishment figure who gets offered that sort of job, if you make a habit of doing that.

Those of you not interested in our constitutional history (which is unwise) may skip the next bit and go straight to what I propose at the end. Under the 1877 Oxford and Cambridge Act, a Committee of the Privy Council was set up, styled 'The Universities Committee of the Privy Council' (s. 44). It was to consist of the President of the Privy Council, the Lord Chancellor, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the two Vice-Chancellors, if members of the Privy Council, 'and such other member or two members of the Privy Council as Her Majesty from time to time thinks fit to appoint in that behalf, that other member, or one at least of those two other members, being a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council'. Any three members of this Committee could discharge its functions, provided one was the Lord Chancellor or a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. (That would presumably allow the other members constituting the quorum, who would form the majority, to be the two Vice-Chancellors. No provision is made for the Committee to have to be unanimous.) The main function of this Committee was to act as a court of appeal where a petition was received challenging a proposed Statute. This remains among the provisions of the 1877 Act which were applied for the purposes of the 1923 Act (Schedule, s. 47-9).

In 1923 (Schedule, s. 46), it appears that any person or body 'directly affected by the Statute' could appeal against its approval. The monarch is given discretion to refer the Statute to the Committee (s. 47) and also discretion to make 'rules of procedure and practice'. If the monarch chooses not to refer to proposed Statute to the Committee when it is challenged it must be 'laid before both Houses of Parliament', and the same thing must be done if the Commissioners do not disallow it after they have considered the appeal. Only if neither House presents an address to the Queen within four weeks praying her to withhold her consent is it lawful for the Queen in Council to approve it by Order (ss. 47-9).

The expectation that proposed Statutes should be laid before Parliament is real. There is an example of the making of a Statute in the mode prescribed by the 1877 Act in the Reporter of 6 June 1922 (p. 1040). 'The Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of the University of Cambridge, did, under the provisions of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act, 1877, on 17 day of November, 1921, make a Statute'. 'The said Statute has been submitted to his Majesty in Council, and has been published in the London Gazette, and has also been laid before both Houses of Parliament in accordance with the said Act, and no Petition or Address against the same has been presented'. Now 'His Majesty' is pleased, by and with the advice of His Privy Council, to declare 'his approval of the same'. The modern formula is much briefer and does not appear to include attention to these stages, but it still happens.

This Committee seems no longer to be kept regularly in being, but (I have checked with the Clerk to the Privy Council), in principle it still exists and with it this provision for appeal to the State against either university's proposed creation of a Statute for itself. I believe this to be a badly-framed Statute, displaying an arrogance and a refusal to listen to those whose interests are affected, which will neither provide for Cambridge what the State is probably going to provide for other universities nor leave our staff and students free to seek other avenues of recourse. I have said informally to the Clerk to the Privy Council that if this is sent to the Privy Council for approval, I shall propose to use the old device, get them to revive the Universities Committee, and try to get the thing re-examined. Better to withdraw it, as Professor Edwards has said? And do the job properly but rapidly.

1 See G. R. Evans, Resolving complaints and grievances in universities: the way forward, Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, Report No. 8 (2000).

2 Review of the Public Sector Ombudsmen in England: a consultation paper, Cabinet Office, June 2000, 1.3.

3 Ibid, 2.6ff.

 

The Report of the Council, dated 14 May 2001, on Statutes K, 2 and K, 5 (p. 698).

Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, when illness prevented me from attending the Discussion on 17 February 1998 (at which some cosmetic changes to Statute K, 5 were proposed) I wrote to the Registrary to say that had I been able to be present I would have argued that it was no longer appropriate for the vice-chancellor to be expected to act in a judicial capacity, and, secondly, that Orders should be included with Statutes and Ordinances as being within the K, 5 jurisdiction. I gave my reasons, and said that I thought a substantial revision was needed, and that he was free to show my letter to the Council if that would help.

This Report shows no evidence that the Council have considered my points. The lesser point is easily explained. There has been uncertainty in some quarters over the distinction between an Order and an Ordinance, but as there is no dispute over the fact that they are both formal decisions by the Regent House as governing body there is no reason why they should be treated differently under K, 5. Adding Orders to the Statute where appropriate would also have the advantage of avoiding any dispute as to whether an Order was, or was about to be, or was not, an Ordinance.

The second point, about the judicial role of the vice-chancellor, is more substantial. Happily, since 1998 I have myself experienced a representation under K, 5 which was concluded in a satisfactory manner by the present Vice-Chancellor. As was stated in the Reporter of 21 March, I had represented to him that the General Board was acting ultra vires in establishing so-called 'Research Professorships', this being a prerogative of the Regent House. I released him from the obligation to reach a decision within ten days, and in due course he accepted my representation, the first successful one, I believe, since K, 5 was introduced in 1926.

I mention this partly to make it clear that I am not about to criticize the present Vice-Chancellor - far from it - and partly to emphasize that these events have not altered my opinion that the vice-chancellor is no longer the appropriate officer to determine K, 5 representations. I formed this view at the time of the arguments about the breach of Statute F through the cessation of publication of the Trust Fund accounts. I need to give a summary of what happened, but I shall try to be brief.

In 1983, as a Council member, I wrote a letter to the Registrary complaining that the Council was being kept in ignorance about certain financial matters and that this was partly because the University Accounts were being published in a form which breached Statute F. I made little progress in getting matters righted, so at the Discussion on 4 June 1985 I aired my disquiet, particularly over the non-publication of the Trust Fund accounts, since, as I said, 'my private efforts both before and during my membership of the Council of the Senate have been to no avail'.

In their reply the Council said they had consulted the Financial Board, who said they were not breaking the Statute. The Council agreed with them. I wrote to the Registrary saying both bodies were wrong, attaching a detailed memorandum giving my reasons. The University purchased an Opinion on the basis of which the Council then recommended altering Statute F. In the ensuing Discussion on 13 May 1986 I had little difficulty in demolishing the Opinion, and suggested that an interpretation of the disputed Statute be sought from the Chancellor under Statute K, 2.

Oh, no, said the Council, for 'the fact that differing interpretations have been put forward serves to emphasise the ambiguity of the present wording', so the Statute needs changing. I retired exhausted, and the Statute was changed so as to condone the illegal suppression of the Trust Fund accounts. Happily, reason prevailed a few years later and the members of the governing body can once again read the summary accounts of the funds they hold in trust (though the objectionable Statute-change remains).

These events demonstrated, first, that Statute K, 2 is itself useless if one is conducting an argument with the Council about the interpretation of a Statute, because they can conveniently refuse to use it, as they did with me, on the very grounds that K, 2 exists to resolve, namely an uncertain interpretation.

But my main point concerns K, 5. During the long argument over the Trust Fund accounts I did of course several times consider representing to the Vice-Chancellor under K, 5 that Statute F, 1 was being broken. The reason I did not do so is that the prolonged defence of the non-publication by the Financial Board and the Council, acting I suppose on the advice of the principal administrative officers, had rendered it impossible for the Vice-Chancellor - any vice-chancellor - to approach the matter with an open mind. He had chaired the Board and Council meetings, he had signed the Reports, he had approved the Notices, no doubt he had listened at length to the advice of the administrative officers. I do not think it reflects badly on the particular Vice-Chancellor, whom I held in high esteem, that I was not prepared to make a representation to him under K, 5, but it certainly reflects on the inappropriateness of the vice-chancellor any longer being expected to act in a judicial capacity.

This has probably been so ever since he was provided with an office in the Old Schools, certainly since he ceased to be a head of house, and even more so now that various outside bodies peddle the absurd notion that a Cambridge vice-chancellor is some kind of chief executive or managing director. The concerns are similar to those raised nationally about the continuing dual role of the Lord Chancellor.

I have a last point of detail to make. K, 5 gives a complainant thirty days from the doing of an act in which to make a representation. But one often does not know, and could not have known, that an act has been done until some time after. For example, I had to formulate my successful K, 5 submission so as make it a complaint against the publication of the irregular act because I did not know when the General Board had performed it (indeed, their Notices did not say). It seems to me that some formal recognition of this should be incorporated in the new Statute.

So I think it is back to the drawing board for both K, 2 and K, 5, and I hope that each of the nineteen signatories of this Report will put himself for a moment in the unenviable position of an individual pitched against an entrenched administration which happens to be wrong on a matter of public interest.

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the use of Statute K, 5 has brought us better supervision of expenditure on legal fees (if not any reduction in that steadily increasing giant bill) and will make it impossible for the vagueness about what constitutes an Ordinance to go on any longer. It has put an end to the General Board's abuse of its powers in purporting to create Professors in the University all by itself. It is one of our most important and valuable constitutional provisions. Properly formulated, and conducted by genuinely independent persons not afraid to knock heads together, it could give us the accountability we badly need for the mismanagement and maladministration which is rife amongst us.

The K, 5 route would have been a more constitutional way of doing the necessary navel-gazing than that 'inquiry' into the CAPSA debacle (on which I understand we are still spending vast sums in attempts at 'rescue', although it is still not 'working' - figures please, Council). I understand Mike Shattock has been appointed to conduct that promised inquiry. For those who do not know him, he is the retired Registrar of the University of Warwick. He is not experienced in the running of a university which is a direct democracy, and I would expect his report to support more managerialism and fewer academic checks and balances. I hope I do him an injustice. We trust, Registrary, that we are all going to be able to read what Mike Shattock has to offer? Should this not fall under the requirements of the Lord Chancellor's Code of Practice on the Management of Records under Freedom of Information (http://www.pro.gov.uk/recordsmanagement/CodeOfPractice.htm)?

Statute K, 2 and Statute K, 5, deal, respectively, with the interpretation of our domestic legislation and the challenge that an act has been done in breach of that legislation, and so it is quite right that they should be considered together in this Report. It has been agreed for some years that the reform of Statute K, 5 is a matter of real urgency if we are to build accountability into our constitution. I have lost count of the number of times I and others have raised the matter in speeches.

This is such a scrappy Report to come forward after all this time. It is another ridiculus mus; all those labouring mountains to give us only this little squeak? The Vice-Chancellor (or his deputy - our present proto-Chief-Executive-Vice-Chancellor does not do these things himself) is to be allowed up to three months. The member of the University invoking the Statute still gets only thirty days, even though, in our climate of secrecy, one may well not get to know of an 'act' until after that time has expired. Our maladministrations and mismanagements to remain unreviewable after a mere thirty days of being 'got away with'? Surely that is neither 'progress' nor 'reform'?

The question which arises in connection with the remit of the Commissary presses itself here too. How wide a range of activities should be able to be reviewed? In 1926 it was clearly understood that this Statute was there to pick up precisely the sorts of confusions and cock-ups which bedevil all our lives in the University. There has been no proper thought by the Governance Committee about the purpose this Statute ought to serve in today's University. Why not? (Possibly, Committee on Committees and Registrary, because people who give real time and effort to these matters and who have some expert knowledge have been left out of its membership?)

If the Governance Committee had done any serious thinking, it could not have made that fatuous remark about there being no need to reflect any further about Statute K, 2. At present Statute K, 2 allows only for clarification of the 'true meaning' of Statutes. Could it not be available for clarification of Ordinances and Orders too, and for deciding what constitutes an Ordinance or Order, if there is dispute about that? Then some matters needing to be dealt with under Statute K, 5 could very possibly be looked at under Statute K, 2.

Should the opportunity not be taken to extend the remit of Statute K, 2, so that it moves beyond its historic purpose of discharging the role of interpretation of domestic legislation which historically falls to the Visitor, where there is a Visitor, to provide a formal means of drawing attention to the numerous contradictions and anomalies (a) within our Statutes and Ordinances, and (b) between the Statutes and Ordinances and all those rules and regulations which are imposed on us these days without going through any proper internal legislative process? I have pointed out before that Statute B is in conflict with the rules for disciplining some of our staff which were approved by the General Board. Presumably the General Board actually created an Ordinance (under Statute C) when they approved those disciplinary procedures. But anyone with the relevant training would know that you cannot create valid subordinate legislation which is not in keeping with the intention of the primary legislation under which it sits. So what is our domestic law, as it affects our staff and students? Surely a question proper to be considered under Statute K, 2?

Finally, on K, 2, should we not also be giving some thought to the method of triggering this Statute? In my experience on the Council, when I tried to get them to use it, the suggestion was always hooted down by people who did not seem to understand why there was a question. So should Statute K, 2 be able to be invoked directly by members of the University, like Statute K, 5?

Turning to K, 5, I am pleased to see that we are to be relieved of the task of obtaining 50 signatures in seven days. I invite others to try that in the middle of August. The proposal that appeal against decisions under Statute K, 5 should go to the Commissary is a good one in itself and also for reasons they do not seem to have spotted when they passed this Report for publication. For surely, someone who cannot take to the Commissary directly a matter excluded from his jurisdiction in the 'Commissary' Statute will be able to do so on appeal from a rejection of Statute K, 5? Since we are now clear (I hope) that all sorts of procedures and rules are really Ordinances, including those of promotions committees and boards of examiners, it will be possible to use Statute K, 5 to challenge many of the things the Commissary Statute is anxious to make unreviewable. Then they can go to the Commissary anyway, if we make him a Court of Appeal from rejections of representations made under Statute K, 5.

The students at present need the assistance of a member of the Regent House in order to use this route (though I am sure that can be arranged). I am glad to see the proposal that any member of the University may in future be able to do so. (The assistant staff, too? Is this an area where we could relax the member principle at will?)

I am particularly delighted to see the Report in print in this form (ironically enough), because it underlines the shameful lack of clear-headedness in the drafting of this and the Commissary Reports. It is proposed that we send to the Privy Council for approval as though it were finished business, a Statute which is implicitly to include matters we are only just beginning to discuss (see the reference to Statute D, 5).

As far as I can see, it is not envisaged in the present drafting that the Vice-Chancellor will ever find in favour of the person making the representation. He can only reject the representation. Will the Editor of the Report and the Secretary to the Council, alias the Registrary and Head of the Administrative Service, please give some thought to getting on to the administrative officer side of this task someone who actively wants to make things better and has the creative drafting skills to helping the Governance Committee and the Council see their way? Like the appointment of the new Academic Secretary, this is a post which should go to someone with the best talent and a real will for the good of the students and staff of the University, and should not be in the unreviewable gift of the Registrary.

This Report needs to be worked up to an acceptable standard, with open consultation, into a scheme for revising Statutes K, 2 and K, 5 so that we have an effective mechanism for ensuring accountability for delay, mismanagement, and maladministration. It must not be allowed to lie on Dr Clark's desk for a year, as the Commissary Report did, before it comes back to us substantially unrevised.

What should Statute K, 5 say, in the interests of discouraging those whom it may call to account from taking it lightly? It should surely contain the following points at (a), with consequential amendments to (b), (c), and (d).

1. 'If within a reasonable period after the doing of any act or the omission to do any act at all or in a timely manner by any person or body having power to act under the Statutes, it is represented in writing to the Vice-Chancellor by a member of the University or one of its employees or an employee of a College whose interests are affected.' [A brief note here: the Research Professorships saga drags on and on, despite that successful use of Statute K, 5, with no procedures in sight to enable people to be properly appointed to such posts. Delay is maladministration and ought to be a proper subject for invocation of Statute K, 5. How that could transform things!]

I continue with the drafting questions:

2. 'The person making the representation shall state in writing the act to which he or she refers, and the contravention of Statute or Ordinance which he or she represents has taken place. Advice shall be made available to any such person in formulating the representation if it is requested.' [Otherwise accountability can be escaped on a technicality, as in the case of 'Newall's Field' in 1999, where a restrictive covenant on a piece of land was not complied with, but there was no 'inquiry'; the Vice-Chancellor dismissed the representation because he did not accept the way it was framed, and Bill Gates and Microsoft got what they wanted.]

3. 'The Vice-Chancellor or a legally-qualified deputy shall inquire into the matter.' [Of course, Dr Edwards is right that we need a visibly independent 'judge'. And some thought needs to be given to procedural requirements, in the light of experience, or to be more exact, 'experiments', over the last few years.]

4. One procedural requirement must be that there shall be a requirement of disclosure of documents and the person or body shall render account for what it did or failed to do, in writing in a form which shall be available for inspection in the Old Schools. [For how can a representation hope to 'work' in the face of the pathological secrecy of the Old Schools?]

5. 'If the Vice-Chancellor or his deputy finds that there has been a contravention the act shall be void and any undue delay in rectifying the failure shall constitute a breach of this Statute and may be the subject of a further representation.'

6. 'If the Vice-Chancellor or his deputy finds that there has been no such contravention, or that the said act is of no effect, or if he is of the opinion that the contravention has not affected the result, that the validity of the act is not affected, he shall so declare.'

Should we rethink (d) which goes back a long way in our history and is our 'unworthy minister' provision? While I may, theologically, be in favour of the principle that grace can make good the defect, I do not see why we should continue to allow the Committee on Committees and other appointing bodies to make a mess of appointment to committees without its having some constitutional consequence. (d) really says that if someone does something he was not eligible to do, K, 5 does not apply.

I end by emphasizing again the importance of this 'invalidity' Statute. Let us get it right, and get it to work. Then it can be used to ensure accountability and to check delay, mismanagement, and maladministration.

Dr T. J. MEAD (REGISTRARY):

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Dr Evans raises many points about Statutes K, 2 and K, 5, to which I am sure the Council will reply. However, one point which seems to me not to be relevant to the Report, and to which the Council may therefore decide not to reply, should not be left on the record unchallenged, for Dr Evans is incorrect. The Council have already (Reporter, p. 203) declared their intention to publish the report of the review of CAPSA.

The Report of the Council, dated 14 May 2001, on a revised constitution for the Local Examinations Syndicate (p. 700).

Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am sorry to speak again, but this is just a small drafting point. I would prefer not to see the phrase 'University Council' infecting Statutes and Ordinances, as in proposed Regulation 4. I appreciate that it is intended to clarify, but of course the attempt fails unless it is repeated throughout. If the Council do not share my opinion, at least they might prefer 'Council of the University' as being slightly less open to criticism (compare 'The Chancellor of the University' in Statute A, I, 1).

In one of the more amusing of the Wass changes Statute K, 3(d) was altered from 'the term Council shall mean the Council of the Senate, unless another meaning is implied by the context' to 'the term Council of the Senate shall mean the Council'. Though I bear some responsibility as a member of the Statutes and Ordinances Revision Syndicate for this alteration, I am now not quite sure about it. For Chapter IV of Statute A, entitled 'The Council', assumes the prior existence of that body and does not establish it. It was established on 7 November 1856 by section 5 of the 1856 Cambridge University Act as 'A Council, which shall be called the Council of the Senate' and that section is still in force. It looks as though we need to reinstate 'the term Council shall mean the Council of the Senate, unless another meaning is implied by the context'.

Of course, if the Wass Syndicate had accepted my submission that the new name of the Council of the Senate should be the Board of Regents this minor difficulty would not have occurred.

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UCLES is big business (p. 700). It is run by a real Chief Executive, with line-management powers. What realistic protection of the University's interests is there in this scheme? Remember that embarrassing mess over their last proposal, and its last-minute withdrawal with the men in suits actually at the door?

I find it difficult to see clearly the implications of what we are asked to agree to here, and I have asked for clarification.

From what I saw when I served on the Council there is not a hope that these members to be appointed by nomination will be appointed with any rigour of procedure. What is the Treasurer doing in this powerful position when the very future of the office is in question in the stunned silence which follows the Discussion of 1 May? And as to the 'selection' of the Vice-Chancellor's deputy, we have no rules at all. The last time I tried to use the word 'cronyism' they put square brackets round it. But look at my digest of the CMI Ltd set-up elsewhere today to see how incestuous things are in the way the University is run at present.

The Report of the General Board, dated 25 April 2001, on the establishment of a Hitachi Professorship of Electron Device Physics (p. 703).

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in brief. The Working Party on the ethics of benefactions is looking at the way we decide as a University what gifts to accept and what arrangements to enter into with outsiders. I am concerned that it is as important that we keep an eye on 'collaborative programmes' set up between individual Departments and industry as it is for us to be clear what the University as such is getting itself into. The implications under health and safety and employment law are extremely worrying. What rules are in operation here? We glimpse this kind of thing only when, by chance, it raises an issue such as this creation of a Chair, which has to be put before the Regent House, for historical and constitutional reasons.

This has been one of our 'embedded' laboratories, like the Glaxo one in Pharmacology, an arrangement inevitably denying our own scientists bench-space in the HEFCE-funded infrastructure so as to make room for the commercial cuckoo in the Departmental nest. The Hitachi arrangement appears to have depended heavily upon the personal success of Professor Haroon Ahmed. I do not quite follow the logic by which it is asserted that therefore the collaboration should continue after his retirement. I am naturally anxious, in view of the capacity of our 'partners' to pull out when they feel like it (Glaxo again) about this 'foreseeable future' (p. 704).

In case you think I am worrying unnecessarily about where these commercial marriages may lead us, I hope I may be allowed a moment without interruption from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor to point up the problem. Such corporate giants loomed approvingly on the Cambridge-MIT scene at the beginning of the project. The Chief Executive of BP Amoco was a 'supporter'. Cambridge has a BP Institute, with a Professor and a Director known as the BP Amoco Director, so when the Chief Executive exclaimed over 'this partnership' his company stood to benefit. In 2001 BP faced two shareholder resolutions, on climate change and human rights issues (Tibet and Sudan), raised by the corporate conduct of BP, and Cambridge's lack of a policy on ethical questions arising in connection with its corporate associations left it exposed. Another comment, linking the Government with BP, came from Lord Simon of Highbury, former minister and Chairman of BP, and at that time adviser to the Cabinet Office. He described the CMI project as 'a brilliant concept for an educational alliance' which would encourage breakthroughs in entrepreneurship and new technology applications. Then came the Chairman of Glaxo Wellcome, with 'This is very good news for academia, for business and for the UK'. Glaxo had laboratory-space arrangements in Cambridge's Pharmacology Department at the time (the Glaxo Institute of Applied Pharmacology). Next was Chris Gent, Chief Executive of Vodafone Airtouch, with 'This is a very exciting collaboration'. The Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge became a Non-Executive Director of Vodafone and a few months later Vodafone was making a research deal involving giving students Vodafones on which to develop new technology for the company. Lord Simpson, Chief Executive of GEC, commented that 'The new knowledge-driven industries, like Marconi, depend heavily on getting the right people with the right skills'. Marconi was doing that directly through its own partnership arrangement with Cambridge as a major benefactor. Alex Trotman, former Chief Executive of Ford Motor Company, was also 'delighted' by the CMI development. He could afford to be, for he was to become the Chairman of the CMI Ltd Board of Directors. CMI Ltd has turned out to be a very empty vessel. It is not even making much noise.

So should we not be looking these gift horses much more carefully in the mouth, when the horses want to come and live in our stable?

No remarks were made on the following Report:

The Report of the Faculty Board of Music, dated 8 March 2001, on amendments to the regulations for the Music Tripos (p. 705).


< Previous page ^ Table of Contents Next page >

Cambridge University Reporter, 6 June 2001
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.