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Tuesday, 15 January 2002. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:
The Report of the General Board, dated 28 November 2001, on the establishment of a Professorship of Environmental Systems Analysis (Reporter, p. 375).
Professor A. D. CLIFF:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as Head of the Department of Geography. I welcome this proposal by the General Board. The Professorship will enable the Department to develop, with the Department of Earth Sciences, interdisciplinary research and teaching in the field of environmental systems science. Because the atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere, biosphere, and land surface function as an integrated system, environmental problems require interdisciplinary analysis. There is an increasing focus on environmental systems science, both globally and among UK Research Councils. Major international universities have created centres or institutes whose purpose is to foster in this field collaborative research which transcends conventional discipline boundaries. With their broad spectrum of research in both physical and social sciences, the Departments of Geography and Earth Sciences are ideally positioned jointly to address many aspects of environmental systems science, and this new Professorship will provide key leadership for the Department of Geography in this field. I commend the proposal to the Regent House.
The Annual Report of the Council, dated 28 November 2001 (Reporter, p. 267).
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Governance Committee are rumoured to be going to report to us at last this term (2). There has been no consultation, which augurs ill for the future of our direct democracy. I do not recollect a Notice in the Reporter inviting us to write in, or even to come and give evidence to this Committee.
I shall do so, nonetheless. 'I do not … despair of the academic republic', said William Ince contemplating the effect of the Test Act 1871, in a sermon preached on June 11 1882. I do not despair of it either. I submit that there is nothing much wrong with our constitution, except that it is currently observed mainly in the breach. Its proper operation is being frustrated. The problem is that power has drifted from the hands in which the constitution places it, to hidden places where it has no business to be. Dare I whisper that we are paying the price now for a history of poor appointments to senior administrative positions over many years (with some honourable exceptions)?
The Council is asleep on the job. Pro-Vice-Chancellors appointed on the Vice-Chancellor's nomination, rubber-stamped by the dozy Council, join him in a hot little huddle at the power-centre of the University and receive enormous extra salaries. The present system is bound to encourage those ambitious for preferment to make themselves pleasant by not making difficulties. Smoothness seems to be at a particular premium.
The Council should be monitoring the performance of the administration. A sleeping Council is putty in the hands of the senior administrative officers. The Council devolves parts of its duties by acts of delegation under Statute K,9 and then supinely accepts the welcome suggestion that that means it cannot interfere with what its Executive Committee or its Appointments Committee has done in its name.
(7)-(11) 'Public bodies should not use taxpayers' money to avoid dealing with poor performance' said the Controller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office in November 1999. Is that not just what we are now doing in relation to CAPSA? Is Malcolm Grant the Planning Lawyer, Chair of promotions committees, member of the General Board, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor with special responsibility for this poisoned chalice going to be that bold, fearless independent knocker of heads together that we need? How can he criticize the General Board or the Vice-Chancellor who nominated him as Pro-Vice-Chancellor? Is he going to make the sort of smooth reassuring noises we have heard from him recently in this forum? What would you do if you wanted your K or your headship of House or a shot at Sir Alec Broers' job? I see Professor Grant is here and I wish to reassure him that I should not be taken to intend personal criticism; merely to point to the problem.
Note that we are now reaping the adverse financial consequences of accepting all those flashy offers of funding for new buildings (and who is now paying for the Marconi building?) If money is tight, perhaps we might consider a review of how much we are giving in secret extra payments to a favoured few Professors and senior administrators.
(12) Now that the Grace is safely through, I hope the parlous state of things in the administration is going to be attended to before worse disaster strikes, and that it may be possible to pull back from the brink we have been brought to. However, it seems that the Unified Administrative Service is no such thing. Large numbers of administrative staff appear to fall outside it. In the Faculties and Departments many Heads of Department consider themselves not the Registrary to be the line-managers of even quite senior administrators. Why was that nettle not grasped while these 'reforms' were being devised?
There is another area of concern in the realm of administration to note at (12). In the Newsletter of December 2001/January 2002 you may read that the Board of Graduate Studies no longer has a Secretary of the old kind (which approximated to 'civil servant to the University'). Now there is 'a new management team . . . led by the Secretary'. A note under the photograph on p. 13 of the Newsletter of December 2001/January 2002, identifies the two 'new recruits in the Research Services Division' who 'have joined the Technology Transfer Office and are funded by the Cambridge Massachusetts Institute (CMI) to manage its intellectual property? (Whose intellectual property is not clear from this sentence.) These are more examples of the mushroom growth of new 'managers' in the United Administrative Service.
I cannot be the only person who gets creepy feelings down the spine at the use of that word in this University. I would feel better disposed to the arguments of our 'administrators' that the word 'management' has a good sense as well as a bad sense if it did not always seem in practice to be accompanied by moves to line-management and top-down control; and if I believed that those who end up at the tops of these 'lines' would be the most talented and the best trained (and the least anxious to be there).
I shall be sad if the good faith of those of us who helped to get the UAS Graces revised and 'through' is to be betrayed. The piecemeal change we see all about us is at present simply adding to our problems by way of still more threats to the freedom of scholars and teachers in the University.
(14) May the University be told in a Notice please whether the ECJ judgement has yet been back to the High Court and what was the outcome and how much this whole exercise has cost the University? It is ironic that the CAPSA mess makes it plain that we cannot easily fulfil the annual requirement to show whether we are less that half funded by public funds, which would entitle us to refuse to comply with the Public Procurement Directive in that year. The Annual Accounts seem rather late this year, but in any event they are not framed so as to enable us to answer that question. There are those weasel words that even if we were free not to comply, 'the University's procurement arrangements would continue to be guided by the principles of good practice that the regulations embody'. Who is going to believe that?
(23) 'A plan was developed for University land in West Cambridge so as to provide future options as part of implementation of the Regional Planning Guidance issued by the Government in November 2000.' Watch that one. Remember the scheme to tack onto Cambridge a town nearly as large as the present one, which is still quietly evolving behind the scenes.
And if we are so short of space why are we still allowing industrial and commercial use of our laboratories? And how do we know we are short of space since no one has to inform the Treasurer or anyone else that they are making these 'deals' with industrial 'partners'. I am tired of murmuring that this affects our VAT returns and we might be in serious trouble if our VAT returns were subjected to full scrutiny. (One of the subjects on which I am supposed to have tried to 'derail' the Council.)
(24) Staff. A great deal depends on the success of the attempt to bring some professionalism into the way we treat our staff.
I think we all hope that Personnel will put at the top of its list of priorities the massive problems of unfairness and inequality of treatment and the easing of the climate of fear in which all categories of staff work. I cannot tell you how many staff of all kinds get in touch with me with stories of appalling treatment and tell me that they are afraid to identify themselves (to Personnel or anyone else) because they fear reprisal. And, looking at what has happened to me, who can doubt that they are justified in hesitating to allow their names to be associated with questioning the way they have been treated? That Stress at Work note in the Newsletter of December 2001/January 2002 is not good enough, Personnel Division. We do not need counselling. We need a climate in which we dare to raise our concerns and can expect something to be done about them promptly and sensibly, without being beaten up by the system if we do.
(26) Development and those ethical guidelines. I ask again for publication of the full report of the working party. We indicated that there were areas where further work was needed. Why has the University not been told that?
(31) The new 'starry' agenda of the Council is an agenda which the administrative officers can make selective. Members of the Council will not bother their pretty heads with items they are told are just for approval. And as for the Business Committee: it must actually begin to meet. It must meet regularly. It must consider the wording of Notices and Reports, discuss them properly, edit them. Otherwise the Council is simply being flabby again. The administrative officers can easily go on running the affairs of the academics if they get to write the script.
In 1998-9, in the K,5 invocation (not mine) which eventually led to the expectation that some control would be exercised by the Council over the conduct of litigation on behalf of the University, the Vice-Chancellor's deputy remarked that 'the good order and management of the University depend' on allowing administrative officers to act as though they had personal authority. This good order and management, Professor Hepple said, 'would be prejudiced if the officers were only able to act with the specific authority of the Council'. Think on that, as they say in the north.
(32) 'The Council have for some time been concerned about the flow of information between Faculties and Departments and the University centrally. They have asked the Registrary, as a first step, to hold discussions with the Chairs of the Councils of the Schools to seek to identify ways in which communications might be enhanced internally. They have also been advised by the Registrary that he is considering how best to publish electronically the agenda and minutes of the central bodies, and consultative papers they issue.' Just get on with it, man. Our own internal 'Freedom of Information Act' is long overdue.
People sometimes ask me what I am trying to do in these speeches and whether I am not going 'over the top'. One of the things I am attempting is to open up for all of you to see, things about which there is neither communication nor transparency. The Sunday Times of December 23 in a piece about Elizabeth Filkin's report on Keith Vaz and the Hindujas, commented that 'Mr Vaz and his supporters have used every trick in the book to frustrate her inquiries and hide the truth'. Even before her first report was published, Elizabeth Filkin 'became aware of whispering campaigns against her within weeks of taking the post in 1999'. She 'believed that those who had undermined her investigations included ministers and senior members of more than one party' (The Times, December 6). I merely invite you to compare her fate with mine.
When you have been 'briefed against' yourself you gain insights into the workings of the processes which make self-regulation difficult and may in the end lose the University its autonomy if we go on in this way. Peter Bottomley, who served on the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges for five years, wrote in the Evening Standard of 5 December that 'what is unhealthy is the growing habit of obstruction, delay, and occasional flat refusal to co-operate'. Certain patterns of behaviour are common to MPs and dons, among them the territoriality and self-interest and lack of largeness of vision which often make it genuinely difficult for those on committees to see any need to listen, still less to act. It is widely said that, although I am obviously right in a good deal of what I say, because I am saying it, nothing can be done. That is just silly. Stop treating me like Cassandra and listen to the arguments on their merits.
The Newsletter of December 2001/January 2002 invites suggestions for names to be placed on wall plaques around the University to commemorate 'the great and the good'. I would favour the strategic placing of gargoyles as reminders of the instigators of some of the disastrous changes now in progress. Names on request.
Dr R. L. TAPP:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the remarks I wish to make cover both Reports although they are mainly directed towards the Report of the General Board to the Council. These Reports testify to much activity and debate about the functioning of our University. But one must question the effectiveness of our administration in dealing with areas of particular concern, such as the equality agenda, and in changing entrenched views that have prevailed for decades. These problems form a thread that runs throughout these Reports and stretches from disadvantaged applicants, seeking admission as students, through problems of communication within the University itself, continuing through attempts to codify and modernize the traditional ways in which things have 'always' been done, and attempts to introduce a career structure and fair methods of promotion within the academic structure. It would seem that the administrative structure of the University is beginning to change in response to increasing external and internal pressures, albeit very slowly and under protest. That is to be welcomed, but many changes that are urgently needed remain unaddressed.
Perhaps the most important is the chain of delegated authority and responsibility. This includes procedures that allow individuals with delegated power to take effective action, and procedures protecting the rights of individuals damaged by such action, allowing them to seek rapid and effective redress. At the moment, I believe the balance to be unfairly weighted against an individual seeking redress. A major reason for this lies in the immense power wielded by Heads of Department who are, to all intents and purposes, the immediate and often the final arbiters of what happens to the personnel in their care. The mechanisms for redress, available to the individual should things go wrong, are complicated, biased, and ponderously slow.
It is sadly the case that many Heads of Department are poorly informed about the ways in which things are, or can be, done and about the codes, policies, and strategies of the University. This can be a particular problem when the Headship of a Department is linked to the Chair of that Department; a person appointed for their expertise in research is likely to be faced with a complex web of administration for which they are untrained, unprepared, and unenthusiastic. Should such a person come from another university, unaware of the idiosyncrasies of the Cambridge system, then the potential for serious harm is very great indeed.
The Annual Report of the General Board touches on this difficulty in section 32, where it reveals its concern about the flow, presumably the absence of flow, of information between the Faculties, Departments, and the University centrally. Surely the situation could be improved by introducing two measures: a requirement for Heads of Department to train in administrative and personnel skills and a regular digest of information, in plain, unambiguous English.
It is remarkably difficult to find out how our com-plex system is supposed to work, particularly to get an intelligible explanation. I am a disabled person, registered as medically blind although I prefer to regard myself as partially sighted, and it is right that I should declare that I have a personal interest in the equality policies, particularly the disability policy, of the University. I recently sought reassurance that the cost of providing special equipment to compensate for my blindness would not fall on my Department. I should say, in explanation (and this, by the way, is a good example of a very powerful deterrent for a disabled person seeking help and a very effective way of inducing severe depression) that my Head of Department had pointed out to me, in conversation, that any money taken from the Departmental budget to buy or modify equipment for disability purposes would reduce the money available to my colleagues and harm the research status of the Department. The answer I received to my enquiry from central administration was that my Department could 'request non-recurrent funding' to cover the cost. This is both worrying and surprising since the Department of Employment, who are providing the lion's share of this particular Access to Work provision, clearly expect my employer (i.e. the University) to fulfil its obligations and ensure that the software and equipment provided under the scheme can actually be used effectively at the place of work. One is left somewhat confused about where the responsibilities and obligations actually rest. The answer I was given is probably best translated as: there is no specific fund in the University for Special Needs; a request will have to be made to a particular committee; and that you may not get the money!
It is distressing, perhaps even alarming, to find that not a single section in these Reports is devoted to equality issues, particularly as the Vice-Chancellor himself is leading the initiative on equality of opportunity and since the Schneider-Ross report has so recently pointed out the need for urgent reform. In the general area of disability, it must be admitted that there has been some movement with the setting-up of a Disability Resource Centre under the guidance of the newly appointed University Adviser on Disability. There is still, however, much talk and little action. There is even less forethought and awareness of equality and disability issues in forward planning.
My dear Grandmother, who reared my sister and me in her two-roomed apartment, used to say: 'Judge people not by what they say but by what they do.' That yardstick is a good one and by it the University is failing its very few disabled staff. The Report of the General Board to the Council (section 19) deals with the introduction of Senior Lectureships. It fails to mention that no provision was made for a disabled applicant, nor that the procedures were hastily modified 'on the hoof', significantly overrunning the published timetable. To complain about this, using the provision of Statute K, 5 proved impossible; it was held that the promotion procedure had its own appeal mechanism, making it inappropriate to deal with any complaint under Statute K, 5, even though the inbuilt appeal mechanism does not allow appeals against the structure of the promotion mechanism. The report mentions changes introduced for the subsequent promotion round, one of which was to define more clearly the criteria used for promotion. In the first round, these definitions were, apparently, left to the Appointment Committees of the various Faculties, which must raise doubts about the comparability and fairness of the exercise across the University as a whole. The definitions of the criteria were apparently decided at the first meetings of the Appointments Committees and, being confidential, were not available to guide applicants initially or at appeal. The reason for such secrecy is unclear, but it is typical of much of the mystery that shrouds important academic and administrative decisions.
In section 17, the Report of the General Board to the Council deals with the setting-up of a Research Policy Committee, which, inter alia, advised the Board on the implementation of the Joint Working Party on Copyright. The preamble to Recommendation 4 of the Joint Working Party says 'the long established practice - an important guarantee of academic freedom - is that copyright in works created by an academic staff member belongs initially to the individual. This is true as much of teaching materials as of research writings….'. The recommendation is that this basic rule should not be changed. And yet, when I was removed from the teaching duties I had discharged successfully for many years, all of the teaching material I had created was taken, modified, and used without my consent and despite my protests. The University had advised me that it owned the copyright of my material, since it was created by an employee of the University. Hitherto they had waived their rights of ownership, but not in my case, even though a newly disabled member of staff was struggling desperately to retain those duties he could do well. My Head of Department seemed unaware of 'long established practice' and the flow of information from Department to the University centrally was woefully inadequate.
Section 4 of the Board's report mentions a Code of Practice on examination issues. Such codes are of very limited use unless they have the status of a Statute, and it is not clear that this one does. I discovered, to my surprise, that the Code of Conduct on Disability is advisory only. It lacks the status of a Statute and cannot be enforced. It may be followed or ignored to suit the whim or political convenience of 'those in authority'. It is virtually useless for protecting a disabled employee or ensuring that good practice is actually followed. Despite the recommendations in the Code, four and a half years elapsed between my registration as a disabled person and the first visit to my place of work by Occupational Health. Perhaps they just didn't know about the existence of the Code? I certainly didn't for a very long time!
This example of delay is not exceptional. I am still waiting a date for the hearing of a Grievance, under Statute U,VI, that I lodged with the Vice-Chancellor in September 1998. Indeed, the University seems incapable of acting quickly to intervene in Departmental or Faculty affairs. The poor flow of information may mean that the Central Administration is just not aware of what is going on. If this is the case, it is even more important to ensure that we have excellent and informed administration at the Departmental level.
My remarks have come full circle and I close by reiterating my conviction that we need to train our Heads of Department and make information much more widely available in unambiguous, plain English. My Grandmother's precept can be applied as much to institutions as to individuals: they should be judged by what they do, not by what they say. Perhaps it is time for an Administrative Assessment Exercise. Were that to occur, I fear that the University would not fare well.
Professor M. J. GRANT:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, my remarks are in response to the two statements we just had from Dr Evans and from Dr Tapp, and relate to the Report of the Council. Dr Evans and Dr Tapp both referred to the problems of the University in relation to governance and Dr Evans has very helpfully, I felt, given us some introductory thoughts about the way in which the University should reform its processes. I should like to say that the work of the Committee on Governance has reached the point where it has shared a draft yesterday with the Council of the University and will bring that draft also tomorrow to the meeting of the General Board. Should the General Board be willing to accept that draft it will be ready for a process of consultation throughout the University. Dr Evans's comments are only marginally premature in that wider consultation process that is to follow, and will be taken full account of.
Also yesterday the Council gave consideration to an action plan for the carrying forward of the University's response to our two CAPSA reviewers. That will be returned to at their meeting on 28 January and will have attached to it not only the steps and the responsibilities for carrying forward those recommendations but also a timetable for achieving their outcomes.
Secondly, I want to touch on the issue of communication that both Dr Tapp and Dr Evans have referred to. To a large extent I share their concerns. I cannot accept that communication within this University is open and transparent in a manner which enhances our ability to work together as a self governing community. Indeed the improvement of communication within the University is one of the items that will appear in the action plan that will go to the Council at the end of the month.
Finally, my personal position. I welcome Dr Evans's assurance that there was no personal criticism in her remarks and I look forward very much to the continuance of that self discipline which so aids effective communication. It is one which I shall happily reciprocate. She does ask however whether I am going to 'knock heads together'. I think it is right that I should suggest that this implies a fundamental difference between us in the way in which reform can be achieved. To me 'head knocking' is an admission of failure; it is also a heavily top down approach to change within an organization. It is also potentially incompatible with the employment status under European and national law of those within the University's employ. I may be accused of smoothness but I do stand ready to do as I have done in other contexts within and outside the University which is to try to bring about change by support, by encouragement and by consensus. Those are qualities which we shall test, no doubt severely, over the coming months. Finally I can assure Dr Evans that the High Court has indeed ruled on the point of European law. I know that not in my capacity as Pro-Vice-Chancellor but in my capacity as a lawyer, and I shall be happy to pass on to her a copy of the judgement.
Mr S. J. BUCK:
Fellow members of the Senate, this is a short speech, but it includes a number of long and frankly tedious documents, which are unfortunately necessary to the argument. It calls into question, among other things, the validity of the Ballot referred to in Paragraph 12 of the Annual Report of the Council for 2000-01.
The problem is that although according to University Statute A (Chapter III, Section 7) Computer Associates and certain other unestablished staff are members of the Regent House they are not automatically promulgated as such and hence are disenfranchised by being excluded from the University's governing body.
I discovered my name was not on the alleged Roll on 9 November last, two days after the alleged promulgation. My administrator was adamant that it was nothing to do with him, but suggested I take it up with the Registry. The content of two letters to the Registrary seems to have been mostly ignored, receiving dismissive responses.
I shall not read this correspondence out but it is available, together with the substance of this speech, at http://www.cus.cam.ac.uk/~sjb1/regenthouse/.
I appealed to the Vice-Chancellor:
I am writing to you in pursuance of Statute K (Section 5).
Contrary to Statute A (Chapter III, Section 7) the Registrary has promulgated a Roll of the Regent House which omits the names of a significant number of members of the Regent House, specifically many unestablished staff with appointments as listed in footnote 1 on page 6 of Statutes and Ordinances 2001, and particularly me, a Computer Associate. I cannot be sure how many have been omitted, but those cases I have been able to check and the Registrary's explanation of his (mis)reading of Subsection 7(e) confirm my claim.
I enclose copies of my letters to the Registrary and his replies. Our two exchanges of letters have taken almost three weeks (I wrote back by the next day and delivered my letters immediately by hand). As you know, I am required to write to you within thirty days, so no significant discussion has been possible.
My initial letter to the Registrary (13 November) was written in response to the explanation given to me by Registry staff (and quoted in my letter). My letter also clearly shows that I have read Statute A and have picked out Subsubsection 7(e)(ii) as applicable. The patronising ('not quite correct') and pedantic first paragraph of the reply (14 November) ignores this. Perhaps the Registrary is trying to be clear. The second paragraph loses all grip on reality, however, inventing the phrase 'institutions which are independent of Faculties' and consequently inferring that Subsubsection 7(e)(i) must apply to me. In fact, the correct reading is the reverse: Subsubsection 7(e)(i) ('members of Faculties') clearly does not apply to me as I am not a member of a Faculty, but Subsubsection 7(e)(ii) ('other members of the University ...') is an alternative and its conditions have to be considered for (all) those who are not members of Faculties. The Registrary then argues that membership of the Faculty of Law is necessary, whereas, of course, membership of any Faculty would be sufficient. There is no logic in his arguments.
I am a member of the University, but, unfortunately, the rest of Subsubsection 7(e)(ii) is extraordinarily poorly expressed. The word 'approved' occurs twice. It seems to refer to the prior occurrence in the preamble of Subsection 7(e) and hence to the footnote, especially as (1) there is no mechanism specified, either here or in Ordinances, for getting approved and (2) newly appointed staff are not invited to apply for approval. If it does not, since the Registrary does not deign to vouchsafe any useful information among his 'advice' it is impossible for me to tell whether it is necessary to be approved separately under Subsubsection 7(e)(ii). It seems to me that it would be an intolerable bureaucratic burden on the Council or the General Board to specially approve potential members every year and that this surely can not be what is intended. I do know, however, that some Computer Associates who are not members of Faculties are members of the Regent House. There can be no nondiscriminatory reason why then all Computer Associates should not be approved, and I can only deduce that 'holders of Computer Associate appointments' must be a 'class of persons' as referred to in Subsubsection 7(e)(ii). Certainly the Registrary did not raise any objection to this, but of course he was preoccupied with Subsubsection 7(e)(i).
In either case, as a Computer Associate (whether or not a member of a Faculty, in fact) I am a member of the Regent House and the Registrary is required to inscribe my name on the Roll.
The Registrary's second reply (29 November) again ignores what I write and fails completely to address my argument, which I find extremely insulting. He uses the broken record technique of simply repeating his already refuted irrelevancies about Faculties. Then he apparently falls back to a new position, which he did not mention in his first letter, from which he wields Section 8, claiming that it is 'not possible' in any event to amend the Roll at this stage. Clearly the Statutes are a whole; Section 8 was approved on the assumption that Section 7, which places the onus squarely on the Registrary, would be observed and that the draft would be correct or at least very close. To use it to exculpate the refusal to correct the kind of major systematic error I have discovered is surely not what the Regent House intended. As for whether it is 'possible' to amend the Roll, I draw your attention to the current reissue of ballot papers due to another administrative error: such things are possible.
Given the above obligation ('the Registrary shall inscribe ...') it can only be that Section 8 is intended to handle minor corrections, such as misspelt or incomplete names, previously unnotified changes of College, and inclusions and exclusions of those who become or cease to be entitled close to the promulgation. A simple comparison of the Rolls for this year and last year makes it clear that misspellings and incorrect Christian names are a common mistake and (incidentally) itself warrants a full investigation of the accuracy of the process which generates the draft.
Furthermore, it is wholly unreasonable to expect staff, any staff but particularly computer support staff, to have nothing better to do than read the Reporter at one of the busiest times of the year, the beginning of Michaelmas Term. If staff are expected to check up on the University Administration's competence it has a duty to bring it to their attention more directly. It is quite unrealistic to expect staff to be familiar with the whole of Statutes and Ordinances in order to discover their rights and privileges; the Administration has a duty of care to be responsible for looking after staff interests and should point out, for example, the advantages of being a member of a Faculty.
You will notice a thread of complaint in this letter about the way the Registrary has dealt with me. His letters are authoritarian, unhelpful, patronising, and they insult my intelligence. His replies are not prompt, and if they are posted on the day they are dated the UMS service from the Old Schools is significantly less efficient than between other Institutions. He has not brought to my attention the recourse to Statute K (or any other) and, given its deadline, the delay of his responses is even more culpable.
I do not appreciate this from somebody who should be a colleague working for the same organisation and who is responsible for implementing my rights and privileges as a member of staff.
I claim the Registrary has acted contrary to Statute A (Chapter III, Section 7), resulting in the disenfranchisement of a significant proportion of members of the Regent House. I call on you under Statute K (Section 5) to correct this by declaring the current Roll of the Regent House (promulgated 7 November 2001) invalid and instructing the Registrary to promulgate a correct Roll for the Academic year 2001-02 immediately. I also challenge the constitutionality of any ballot, election, or other business of the Regent House until this is done. If any of this letter or its argument is unclear I stand at your disposal either in writing or in person to clarify it.
and received the reply:
1. Statute A.III.6 requires the Registrary to promulgate each year a list of the names of those who are members, for the ensuing year, of the Regent House.
2. Statute A.III.8 provides for a draft list of names to be published not less than a month before the day appointed by Ordinance for the publication of the substantive list. At the same time it is required that the Vice-Chancellor shall fix a time and place for hearing publicly any objections there may be from members of the University to the inclusion or omission of any name on the list. The Vice-Chancellor is required to determine the matter and his or her decision is final. The dates for publication of the draft list (the first weekday in October); and of the substantive list (the fifth weekday in November) have been defined by Ordinance (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 112).
3. These dates of publication are thus precisely defined and that the Vice-Chancellor has no power to vary them.
4. On 1 October 2001 I appointed the Registrary, under Statute D.III.7(b), as my deputy to hear any objection on my behalf. Notice of that appointment was published on 1 October 2001 (Reporter, Special No 2, page 4), and it was at the same time announced that the Registrary would hear objections on Friday 19 October 2001 at 3 p.m.
5. In a letter dated 6 December 2001, Mr S. Buck, a Computer Associate in the Faculty of Law, has represented to me under Statute K.5 that there has been a contravention of Statute A.III in that the Registrary omitted his name in error from the Roll of the Regent House published in draft on 1 October and substantively on 7 November. He asks me to revoke the Roll for the year 2001-02 and to reopen the process for the inscription of names and the publication of the Roll.
6. This objection is therefore to the omission of a name from the list and it is on that submission that I shall rule. Mr Buck also suggests that the footnotes to Statute A.III.7(e) are ambiguous and misleading, and that he ought to have been entitled to have his name included without having to follow the procedure set out in Statute A.III.8 so as to ensure that it was.
7. I have studied carefully the papers submitted to me, and before stating my decision I outline briefly the statutory background to the composition of the Regent House.
8. Statute A.III.5 defines the composition of the Regent House as being those persons whose names are contained on the Roll currently promulgated. Statute A.III.7 states that persons in certain categories are entitled ipso facto to inclusion on the Roll. Amongst these categories are the following:
|(b)||... University officers;|
|(d)||Fellows of Colleges, provided they conform to certain conditions of residence;|
|(e)||members of Faculties, and other members of the University approved by the Council or the General Board, provided that they hold an appointment in the University or a College which has been approved by the University for this purpose.|
9. Statute A.III includes, as a footnote (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 6) a list of those appointments whose holders are qualified for membership of the Regent House under Statute A.III.7(e). These do not include unestablished Computer Associates who are not members of Faculties and hence Mr Buck's name was not included on the Roll when the draft list was published on 1 October. (Reporter, Special No 2, pp. 38-63). In short Mr Buck has not, as an individual, been approved by the Council for membership of the Regent House, nor does he belong to a class of persons which has been so approved.
10. It should be noted that Statute A.III does not empower the Vice-Chancellor to exercise any discretion in adding other names to the Roll, nor is there any provision for additional categories of membership beyond those defined in the Statute and its footnotes. The dates of publication are precisely defined and the Vice-Chancellor has no power to vary them.
11. Finally the procedure for making representations as to the wrongful or erroneous omission of names is set out in Statute A.III.8, and Mr Buck did not avail himself of it.
12. I therefore find Mr Buck's representation to be unfounded, and that his name has been validly omitted from the Roll.
13. Although I am not required to do so I also comment on Mr Buck's contention that he ought not, at a busy time of year, to be expected to acquaint himself with the provisions of the University's regulations nor to follow the contents of the University Reporter. Since it is upon such a basis that the proceedings of the University are conducted, including the responsibilities of membership of the Regent House, I do not accept this contention.
12 December 2001
I could have appealed again, of course, to the Chancellor, or, rather, I could have attempted to persuade forty-nine other (or is it fifty?) members of the Regent House to appeal in writing within seven days ...
Instead I shall rebut each of the Vice-Chancellor's thirteen points here. (Those who have not been taking notes may find this fully intelligible only in the Reporter or the Web pages mentioned above.)
References to Sections, etc are to those of Statute A (Chapter III).
1. Since the Roll of the Regent House has by definition (Section 7) the names of all those entitled inscribed on it, the Registrary seems also to have contravened Section 6 by publishing a different list instead.
2. The date for promulgation is specified by Ordinance, so it can be changed (more easily than if by Statute, which requires the assent of the Queen in Council).
3. It may be that the Vice-Chancellor has no power to alter Ordinances, but the University does.
4. 'Friday ... at 3 p.m.' - an hour or perhaps two at the end of the week is hardly sufficient given the number of scribal errors my comparison revealed, even if there were no factual or interpretational mistakes.
5. My letter appealing to the Vice-Chancellor objects to the omission of a number of names, not just mine. Although I did ask him to declare the (alleged) Roll invalid, I did not ask for any process to be reopened, only for a correct Roll to be promulgated.
6. Again, not just the one name, so the subsequent ruling is an incomplete response to my appeal under Statute K.5. I referred only to one footnote in my letters and at no stage suggested that the `footnotes' to Subsection 7(e) are ambiguous and misleading; I did describe Subsubsection 7(e)(ii) 'extraordinarily poorly expressed', of course, and this may be what he is referring to. I was not objecting to the procedure set out in Section 8, but to the failure of the University Administration to adequately bring this (alleged) obligation to my attention.
7. The Vice-Chancellor may have studied the correspondence submitted, though the preceding two items tend to suggest otherwise to me, but he has apparently never studied the Statutes ...
8. ... as he misquotes Subsection 7(e). I must admit I forgot to submit a copy of Statutes and Ordinances as part of my appeal.
9. Here this is more misquoting and the omission of any reference to the separate Subsubsections (i) and (ii) makes this paragraph hard to follow. The clause 'These do not include unestablished Computer Associates who are not members of Faculties' is almost unintelligible. The (now singular) footnote makes no reference to Faculties whatsoever. Is there such a thing as an established Computer Associate? In fact, the footnote plainly includes (item (iii)) Computer Associates, without specifying whether they should be established or not. (N.B. it is not the person but the post/appointment that is established/ unestablished.)
10. It is not clear to me why any of this should be noted. I asked the Vice-Chancellor to declare the (alleged) Roll invalid and I maintain that this requires no particular power. In fact the declaration would have been redundant: the (alleged) Roll simply is invalid, and a (correct) Roll is required if there is to be a Regent House this year. My proposal that the Vice-Chancellor should instruct the Registrary to promulgate a Roll immediately was perhaps ill-advised, as the Registrary seems not to be accountable to anybody.
11. This seems rather a futile point, as the rest of this ruling seems dedicated to determining that the answer would have in any case been no.
12. This ruling appears to be justified only by the first clause of the second sentence of Paragraph 9.
13. How many members of the University are familiar with all the regulations (presumably meaning Statutes and Ordinances) of the University? Like other members of the University (I suspect), I rely on Administrators to see to administration and do not, for example, check the Reporter to see if my job has been advertised vacant without my knowledge. Does the last sentence imply that as I do not study every page of every Reporter I am not of sufficient calibre to deserve to be a member of the Regent House anyway?
[At this point Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor intervenes to inform Mr S. J. Buck that he is running out of time. Mr S. J. Buck remarks that his observations are to be 'taken as read' and can be found at http://www.cus.cam.ac.uk/~sbj1/regenthouse/.]
I asked the University Draftsman eleven days ago to provide me with an analytical elucidation of Statute A (Chapter III Section 7). When I delivered the letter she was in no doubt as to her interpretation. This is no surprise as she must have formed her opinion in mid November, but, now two months later, she has still not managed to write it down.
Consequently, I call on the Council to establish the correct interpretation of Section A,III,7, and ensure that this is implemented for the whole of the academical year 2001-02, including the reworking of any business of the Regent House since the alleged promulgation of the alleged Roll on 7 November 2001.
The Annual Report of the General Board, dated 28 November 2001 (Reporter, p. 267).
Dr D. R. J. LAMING:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the General Board announces the establishment of eleven Professorships and plans to revise the procedures for personal promotions, but does not otherwise say anything about promotions during this past year. Fortunately Professor Grant has made good this deficiency in a speech on 13 November (Reporter, pp. 297-298). Professor Grant is both a member of the General Board and of its Promotions Committee, but emphasized that his comments were made in a personal capacity. I, personally, welcome his speech warmly. It makes debate possible, for the first time, about the fairness of our promotion procedures. To paraphrase part of what he said 'in the promotion round just completed there were 51 applications for Professorships, all but two from candidates who already held Readerships; 31 of those applications were successful. There were 103 applications for Readerships, of which 64 were successful.'
To judge from the content and tone of the remainder of Professor Grant's speech, he does not appreciate the significance of these figures. I will explain. At the beginning of the last promotion round there were 207 Readers, all of whom (presumably) hoped one day to be Professors and, moreover, hoped to be promoted soon. Of the 49 who applied, 63 per cent were successful. So why did the remaining 158 of them not apply? That is the first question needing answer. With so high a success rate amongst applicants, the 158 would have actually needed to know that they had no chance of promotion this year. A mere belief would not have been sufficient. So, prior to submitting applications for promotion, the 207 readers divided into two groups, 49 who had a high chance of promotion and 158 who had none. How did these 207 potential applicants know what their chances of promotion were, for most assuredly they did know?
The answer is simple and widely known. Members of Promotion Committees take their chosen candidates to one side and orchestrate their applications, while others are told 'Do not apply this year; it will be your turn when Buggins has been promoted.' The very high success rate amongst those who do apply is thereby explained - they have a sponsor rooting for them in committee. If there were no collusion at all between members of Promotion Committees and potential applicants, then I calculate that the probability of so extreme an outcome as Professor Grant's statistics reveal is about one in ten raised to the twenty-seventh power. It is not that there is some collusion in the matter of promotions - it is the norm! That is what the Board meant when it said, in a rejoinder to a previous speech of mine, 'It is true that Heads of Departments and Chairmen of Faculty Boards can (and surely should as part of their job) sometimes encourage someone to apply for promotion.' (Reporter, 1999-2000, p. 484). Provided the Heads of Departments and Chairmen of Faculty Boards are in no position to influence the outcome of the applications they encourage, that is fine; but when they sit on the Promotion Committees that consider those applications, the General Board is actively encouraging collusion between members of those committees and favoured applicants.
In its Notice of 25 November 1996 the General Board said that it believed its proposals to be 'fair, transparent, workable, and acceptable to the University.' (Reporter, 1996-1997, p. 235). The statistics revealed by Professor Grant show the present procedure to be quite the opposite of fair, unless by 'fair' the Board cynically meant 'fair as between different members of Promotion Committees rooting for their favoured candidates - candidates who apply out of turn can get stuffed!' Neither is the procedure 'transparent' - quite the opposite, because the critical factor in securing promotion, sponsorship by a member of the Faculty Promotion Committee, lies entirely outside the Board's published criteria. The statistics cited by Professor Grant relate, of course, only to this past year. But the Board has similar statistics from previous years that it has kept carefully hidden from scrutiny. That is to say, the Board knew, if it had looked, and certainly believed, if it had taken care not to look, that its procedures were ultimately indefensible and it followed the cynical course favoured by less than honest authorities everywhere.
To return now to Professor Grant's speech. He went on to describe the procedure followed by the General Board's Promotion Committee, reviewing all the work undertaken by the Faculty Committees. 'In the great majority of cases, as the figures I have given demonstrate, the General Board's Committee came to a conclusion identical to the Faculty Committee.' (Reporter, pp. 297-298). Although he did not actually say so, he seems to have envisaged that his description of the procedure carefully followed in committee, and this final statement, would attest to the accuracy with which applications were re-evaluated. Actually, it attests to something quite different.
The documentary basis of the Committee's evaluation of each candidate consists chiefly of the Case for Promotion and the Faculty Committee's ratings (these two will match) and the set of referees' reports. The question at issue is, therefore, whether the General Board's Committee reads the referees in a manner that is consistent with the Faculty Committee's ratings. Now the applicants comprise a rather narrow spectrum of academic achievement. They all have four (or it may be six) referees of international standing to write about them, so the fact of those references, of itself, tells the Committee nothing. The referee is instructed that: 'A personal Professor is appointed in recognition of an established and significant international reputation for what is widely acknowledged to be outstanding research and scholarly distinction in the forefront of the relevant discipline or interdisciplinary subject.'
That verbal formula is interpreted by the referee according to his or her experience; and the referee's comments, formulated with respect to that personal understanding, are subsequently interpreted by Committee members according to their understandings. Moreover, since different referees are variously generous in their words of praise, their reports are like uncalibrated measurements - they provide Promotion Committees with virtually no basis at all for distinguishing within the narrow range of academic attainment represented by the applicants.
I am sure that Professor Grant has experience of a referee, writing enthusiastically about an unfavoured candidate, being disparaged in committee; but in case he demurs, I will remind him. In the minutes of the General Board's Promotion Committee dated 27 September 2001 it says, concerning Dr Evans's application for promotion, 'the 2001 references were more positive about the general strength of the case, but were not unreserved, nor as authoritative as some of the earlier references.' I have seen those references and, bearing in mind the lack of informativeness of such reports, ask: How could the General Board's Committee have come to such a conclusion? It is not the case that they declined to recommend Dr Evans for a Professorship because 'the 2001 references were not unreserved, nor as authoritative as some of the earlier references'; on the contrary, her 2001 references were said to be 'not unreserved, nor as authoritative as some of the earlier references', because that was the best excuse the Committee could find for not offering her promotion.
So, we have the General Board's Committee carefully examining sets of references that tell them virtually nothing about the relative merits of individual applicants. I make no criticism of their care and attention to this part of their duties, but merely point out that they are wasting their time. If the references do not distinguish adequately between the different candidates, no amount of application by committee members can compensate. As Solomon Kullback put it forty years ago, 'There can be no gain of information by statistical processing of data.' (Information theory and statistics, p. 22).
At this point Professor Grant will, I imagine, protest 'How can the General Board's Committee (or anyone else) reach a decision about the applicants if the referees' reports are, as I claim, uninformative?' The answer is simple. Experiment shows that people who believe they are making real, though difficult, judgements, but in reality have no basis on which to judge, do not protest that there is no way in which they can decide; instead they are vulnerable to even the slightest hint from elsewhere. Indeed, they have no defence against extraneous suggestion. In the present promotion round, the General Board's Committee had no basis for disagreeing with Faculty Committees' ratings (except for its own intrinsic bias) and simply borrowed the assessments that were passed up to it.
The critical action is within the Faculty Promotion Committees where members seek support from their colleagues for their favoured candidates. As an empirical matter, it is not true that a personal Professor is appointed according to the criterion quoted above. A personal Professor is in fact appointed in recognition of the power of sponsorship within the Faculty Committee; and that sponsorship may be given, or withheld, for a variety of reasons that do not bear mention. An applicant may well satisfy the published criterion, may even have an honorary doctorate from some other institution, but if she (or he) lacks the necessary sponsorship in the Faculty or the General Board's Promotion Committee, she is not promoted.
These criticisms have been put to the Board before and it has repeatedly refused to address them. I cite two examples:
|(i)||There is, first, a determination not to examine a candidate's work. 'while some members of a Faculty Committee may have personal knowledge of a candidate's work, they should not allow this knowledge (which may be incomplete) to outweigh the opinions of the referees, who have been chosen as experts in the field.' (Reporter, 1998-1999, p. 106). The referees' reports, as I have pointed out, are virtually useless in comparing one candidate with another; and this 'not examining' a candidate's work removes all restraint on the biases of Committee members.|
|(ii)||Second, 'Dr Laming asserts that Faculty Promotion Committees are rife with bias because, he appears to believe, only candi-dates supported, or encouraged to apply, by their Head of Department or Chairman of Faculty Board, have any chance of promotion. The Board reject this assertion.' (Reporter, 1998-1999, p. 106). Does the Board still reject that assertion? - in the face of the statistics revealed by Professor Grant?|
These examples (there are others) raise the question of the Board's honesty in administering our pro-motions procedure. The more senior of the Board's members would have known that the Board's replies were deceitful, because, as members of Promotion Committees, they were engaged in such orchestration themselves.
The revision of our promotions procedure has been characterized by a complete abdication of leadership. Given the repeated criticisms of unfairness, the General Board could, at the least, have privately enquired to see whether any of them were justified. It chose not to do so. When I put that to the Vice-Chancellor in person, he jumped down my throat. And if the Board did not understand the substance of the criticisms, it could have enquired, again privately. Instead, it cynically relied on the fact that its critics did not have access to the statistics that were needed to expose the Board's deceitfulness beyond doubt.
There was no one in authority who seemed to have understood what it means to assess an applicant's research. That is culpable. I explained in a previous speech on 19 January 1999 (Reporter, 1998-1999, pp. 335-337) how we might engineer a promotions procedure that looked at each applicant's work directly, free from managerial bias, and with observers to ensure fairness at each stage. Instead, the General Board has been determined to preserve, so far as possible, the patronage that formerly existed when consideration for promotion was contingent on one's Head of Department putting one's curriculum vitae before the Faculty Promotions Committee. The handling of our promotions procedures parallels the CAPSA fiasco, but over a longer period of time. CAPSA affected very many people and could not be hidden. Unfairness in the matter of promotion is less obvious and affects far fewer; but in the long term, it is the more serious for the future of this University.
Professor M. J. GRANT:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I rise to respond to Dr Laming's statement. I start by welcoming, as he does, the opportunity to debate the fairness of the University's promotion procedures. I also wish to thank him publicly for his courtesy in sharing with me in advance a draft of his remarks in today's Discussion, and allowing me the opportunity to prepare some comments by way of response. He will be aware that in responding I am bound by the confidentiality of the process and that I cannot comment on any particular case, in particular that of Dr Evans to which he refers.
Dr Laming asks why 158 of the University's 207 readers did not apply for promotion to Professorships in the recent round. He believes it must be because collusion is the norm. Indeed, he calculates that, if there were no collusion, the probability of this outcome is about one in ten raised to the twenty-seventh power. There is an obvious fallacy in this argument. It falls at the very first hurdle, which is his attribution of a single motivation to a highly varied group of individuals. It assumes (a) that all 207 Readers desire immediate promotion, such that they would all have lodged an application unless they knew that they had no chance; (b) that for a Head of Department to offer advice to prospective candidates is necessarily collusive, and (c) that all or most Heads of Department do act collusively.
Let us start with (a). I think Dr Laming may have overlooked the complexity of human motivation. There are likely to be many reasons why potential candidates did not put their names forward. For many of them, perhaps as many as 100, only two or three years have yet elapsed since they were elevated to their Readerships. They may feel they have scarcely yet had the chance to demonstrate the further development of their research that they might feel would justify a further promotion. As I said in my remarks last year (Reporter, pp. 297-298), for many candidates the prospect of promotion is not so much a matter of principle as a matter of timing.
Personal modesty and selflessness also plays a major part, often especially for those whose tenure of their Readership has been long and distinguished. Colleagues, particularly it seems in Cambridge, are often reticent to advance their own case. Nobody likes the prospect of being rejected. There were some cases in the last round where I felt that the case for promotion might have been strong some years before an application was actually made. In short, applicants are realistic about their prospects. I simply do not recognize Dr Laming's community of 207 promotion-hungry University Readers.
As to (b), it is also I believe wrong to imagine that providing advice to prospective candidates is necessarily collusive. A Head of Department who set out deliberately to engineer the promotion of an unmeritorious candidate, and who failed to act in an impartial manner, would in my view be proceeding not only unprofessionally but corruptly. But it is quite wrong to confuse that scenario with the duty of a Head of Department to play a positive and strategic role in staff development. That duty indeed is one to which Dr Tapp referred earlier this afternoon.
Any potential candidate should be entitled to seek and receive fair and impartial advice from a Head of Department, and to draw on that person's wisdom and experience. They may be advised that the case looks strong; or that it might be enhanced were they to await the publication of their next major book, or the outcome of their current major research project. No Head of Department - or for that matter anyone else - can give unconditional advice. They know the ultimate decision is not theirs. Equally, a candidate is under no obligation to accept that advice, but he or she must surely be entitled to seek it and receive it.
It follows that I also reject Dr Laming's third assumption, (c), that collusive activity is the norm. Indeed, I cannot find a shred of evidence to suggest that collusion occurs at all, or that it would succeed if it did. This is a peer review process, with the usual checks and balances. No individual, no matter how eminent or powerful, has the capacity to generate a desired outcome. Faculty Committees are, certainly in my experience, made up of independently minded people who would show little inclination to bend to the will of a collusive Head of Department. Moreover, the General Board appoints an independent member to each Faculty Committee.
When Dr Laming goes on to suggest that the process is unfair because the 'critical factor', by which I assume he means collusion, is outside the General Board's stated criteria, he loses me entirely. This is an insult not only to all those who participate in the process as members of Faculty Committees and the General Board's Committee. It also insults all those who were promoted. These are world class scholars. His implication that their success was due not to merit but to collusion is quite puzzling, and I hope that he will reflect on it and in due course withdraw it.
Let us now turn to his assumption as to the documentary basis of the committees' work. This I think is a simple misunderstanding. It overlooks the candidate's personal statement and publications list, without which the committee could not do its job at all. Similarly, his comments misunderstand the nature of references. Some indeed offer the committee little assistance, because, as I said in my remarks in November, they assert rather than prove. But properly considered and constructed references are invaluable. They are not uncalibrated measurements. They assess with rigour and in considerable detail the candidate's research and contribution to knowledge. They make comparison with other scholars, and with promotions practices elsewhere. They speak of achievement and potential, and of academic leadership.
I do not therefore need to address Dr Laming's rhetorical question of how a decision can be reached on the basis of uninformative references, because once again I reject his opening assumption. But I do challenge his belief that the General Board's Committee has no basis for disagreeing with the Faculty Committees' ratings. Of course it does. Its job is to moderate standards across the University. He and I both should have serious cause for concern if there were no check against the possibility of one Faculty Committee adopting a less rigorous approach to its work than another.
Perhaps the most troubling of Dr Laming's accusations is that of bias. He jumps effortlessly from an argument that there is a capacity for individuals to be biased in promotions (as indeed there is in the exercise of any judgement) to a conclusion that not only does bias therefore exist, but that it is rife in the Faculty Committees. This is a serious imputation of bad faith based on no evidence. I unhesitatingly reject it.
I am not convinced that we yet have a perfect promotions system. It has its flaws, some of which, from experience I have had in other universities and elsewhere, strike me as almost inherent in any evidence-based system, but others of which can be dealt with through ongoing improvement and refinement. But I do not recognize in our system any of the defects which Dr Laming attributes to it. He has been robust in his criticisms. I hope he will forgive my robustness in dismissing them.
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I can play 'variety of styles' too. I am pleased to hear Professor Grant's first set of elegant and clever reassurances. We shall see how Dr Tapp's test applies when we see whether what they do matches what they say. If Professor Grant can get results with gentleness he is a better man than I am and will earn my respect. As the record in the Reporter shows I tried that way for years. Mildness used to be my middle name too.
I am less warm to his second set of elegant and clever reassurances. Dr Laming is an experimental psychologist by profession. Professor Grant is not. Yet he thinks he can 'moderate' infallibly. Someone now admitted by his own committee to have deserved a Readership in 1984 may wonder how many years she can reasonably be expected to wait modestly for a chair. Positive and strategic roles in staff development for me? Yes please. I wonder whether he might consider putting his shoulder to the wheel of procedural reform.
I am not clear why it is a 'highlight' for the General Board that individual Departments have done well in Teaching Quality Assessments and that everyone got their Research Assessment Exercise submissions in on time.
As for the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, it is unclear to me why that is a glory to the General Board, especially since it expressly excludes affiliation for interdisciplinary scholars already in the University.
(5) touches with a featherlight foot upon the mess which resulted from unclarity in Social and Political Sciences about what was the Colleges' business, and was the responsibility of the University as provider of courses and degree-awarding body. It is exactly this kind of ignorance about the ground-rules which will make our proposed student complaints procedure, also being discussed today, inoperable unless we get the Colleges to come in on it properly. What are students to do when they take a complaint of this sort to the Faculty and are met with obstinate defensive assertion? It took, I assure you, a good deal of advice and pressure from quarters I will not identify to ensure that this 'enquiry team' was set up.
(17) What is this 'programme' for research? What became of the freedom of inquiry which brought most of us into this profession? Some reading between the lines is needed at, 'The Committee recognized the merits of a more coherent and open research strategy, which would not be prescriptive, but would indicate broad strategic themes for development that could be articulated to the funding bodies.' What is going to happen inside Faculties and Department now? Those whose research is not 'strategy compliant' are not going to get promoted are they? Their work is not going to be deemed to have made the necessary impact on the big wide world.
But it gets worse. This is all to be done in conjunction with the Corporate Liaison Office, which is 'developing strategies for engagement with particular companies, including the development, with interested groups of academics from across the University, of interdisciplinary 'Thematic Research Strategies', chosen for their relevance to the achievement of both academic and industrial objectives'.
(18) The Human Resources Strategy. When are we going to have a Report on this for Discussion? Our 'human resources' are in a near volcanic state of discontent and resentment from what I hear from all categories of staff.
The situation for assistant and academic-related staff who seek recognition is at present highly unsatisfactory. There is an Assistant Staff Handbook, some years out of date. (It still thinks we have a Personnel Officer and not a Director.) It claims that 'career progression is possible'. But how?
One may apply for a Discretionary Payment. If one's Head of Institution is happy about that he will 'let you know whether or not he recommends' that you get one. There are criteria (5.8.2) but no procedural requirements.
Or you might try for a transfer. Here there seems to be some confusion as to whether what is involved is appointment to a post or advancement in continuous employment. 'All vacancies for assistants are advertised' (5.16). I believe 'all' is not exact and there is reason for disquiet at the lack of a clear rationale for distinguishing between posts anyone may try for and posts a special someone is just given.
Or you may apply for regrading. A letter is sent round to senior persons in 'institutions' but not, from what I hear, to all those who may be eligible. It is a matter of luck whether you get to see it. If you go for that, you embark on an obstacle course worse than that which faces aspiring Professors. Some regradings are of academic staff (University Assistant Lecturers) and they appear to be dealt with outside the academic promotions structure. Category C covers everyone else. From what I can discover this allows for upgradings which may move people out of one category of staff and into another altogether, even into the Regent House. The aspirant to this form of advancement currently has to show that he or she 'has enlarged the original role of the office in a way that has been of benefit to the Institution'. That is unfair if you are in a job where that is impossible but where you have performed your allotted functions superbly well. There is a desperate confusion between pay rises, personal recognition (a spot of appreciation), and the reconfiguration of posts ('scoping'?). There is also an almost total absence of transparent procedures and proper provision for appeal. I hear of instances where extra payments have been taken away when a responsibility was imported into the job description, but the job has not been regraded. A petty meanness?
I took my questions about all this to the Director of Personnel yesterday. He was very open with me and freely gave me some of the information on which I have drawn in the last few sentences. It is not denied that all this needs to be dealt with. Otherwise all those fine words about recruitment and retention are as meaningless for other categories of staff as they are for us academics. (It is what they do, not what they say.)
The new contracts which promoted members of the academic staff are now expected to sign seek to bind them hand and foot. I am sure it is worse still for administrative staff. It is not easy for them to insist and be tough with the system if it ill-treats them. There is even a gagging clause which is not only in contravention of our Statutes and Ordinances, but against the law. The Public Interest Disclosure Act and section 202 of the Education Reform Act 1988 make it wholly inappropriate in a University. An employee is not deemed to have waived the right of freedom of speech by signing an unlawful gagging clause. Look up the Public Interest Disclosure code of the ARMED project (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/armed). (ARMED stands for 'Active Risk Management in Education'. This is a HEFCE-funded project which we are not 'in' because we do not yet have in-house lawyers in the Old Schools.)
Peter Deer was also open with me about the agenda of the Personnel Committee on 23 January. The most cheering thing I learned is that it is going to consider seriously the way it has been operating, whether it has the right membership and what its priorities ought to be. Perhaps it will share those thoughts with us in a Report at an early date. It is going to be looking seriously at the treatment of disabled staff. Something has been learned from Roger Tapp's case, then. It is thinking about terms and conditions of employment for academic-related staff and about the future of our contract research staff. It is looking at those computer guidelines. It has a long agenda. I hope its members have a capacity I never observed on the Council, to stand away and get a sense of the big picture and what is urgent. I hope they will get on with it and position naggers at strategic points.
Should the Personnel Division not be allowed to make an annual report to the University in their own right?
(21) Anglia TV, hearing that the Vice-Chancellor had said that he was going to make it his personal crusade this New Year to ensure that women in the University got a fair deal, rang me last week. 'Your name came to mind,' they said. They interviewed me. I said that nothing seemed to have been done about that promise of October 2000 that everyone making decisions affecting people's lives and careers should be required to have the appropriate training. I said that the disabled and ethnic minorities are as important as the women among the disadvantaged.
Here, I see, in the regions of Health and Safety, they do propose to clarify the delegation of responsibility and require some training. But then we face further criminal prosecution if we get that one wrong.
And lastly, let me make myself thoroughly unpopular in some quarters by drawing attention once more to the question of the appointment with a proper process and an open competition of the Academic Secretary. This is not just a matter of our making an attempt to ensure that we trawl a sufficiently large pond to get the best person for the job. What about internal administrative officers, or indeed academics, who might like a chance to apply? How can it be fair to people who could have a good deal to offer in the post not even to allow them to be considered?
The Report of the General Board, dated 28 November 2001, on the establishment of two Professorships of Education (Reporter, p. 375).
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am sure these two deserve their chairs, though that remark must remain a courtesy when we have no evidence. I hope I shall not be accused of being 'personal'. I told them I intended to speak. I am sure they are well up to the starry international standard Professor Grant explained to us was required for the award of a Cambridge Professorship, and constantly in demand overseas.
There are important general issues for the University in what has happened here. These are not Research Professorships (they are not fixed term). They are not proper established chairs, because then there would have had to be a competition for appointment to them. They cannot be promotions, for there is no underlying office from which these two can have been promoted. They appear to be a new kind of Professorship in the University of Cambridge. If the General Board can be creative (and speedy) in this way it is hard to see how it can justify continuing to subject authentic University Teaching Officers to the annual torture of the promotions process in its present form. The Statutes allow the University to make Professors if and as it chooses.
I am pleased to see that it has been recognized (compare the General Board's Annual Report at (3)) that the 'Professors' at Homerton could not simply have been 'transferred' to equivalent University posts. That takes a Grace. Yet have these two not really been 'transferred'? On what salary basis have they been paid since August 1? Have they been getting a Professorial salary all this time on the assumption that that would be continuing once this little complication about the Grace had been got out of the way? They already have the title of Professor in the new University 'phone book.
Look at what has been deemed an adequate procedure here. In view of their 'seniority' the General Board 'agreed' to 'consider recommending the establishment of single-tenure Professorships for these 'individuals'. The Principal of Homerton is of course a member of the General Board. The General Board appointed an Advisory Committee. We are not told what procedure was gone through, whether these two even had to produce a curriculum vitae and a list of publications, whether referees were consulted and what questions expecting the answer yes were put to any who were. We are not allowed to see their 'trolleys' or their modestly gusseted envelopes, as the case may be. The Advisory Committee recommended that they should both be given chairs. The two individuals have said that they are willing to accept these chairs. So here before us is the necessary Grace. Is this really fair to the rest of us?
The General Board's timing is as perfectly judged as usual to cause the maximum indignation. Those of us whose applications for consideration for personal chairs have to be in today (again) and who have served in University Teaching Offices for decades, may well be entitled to feel that these two would have been lucky to have been given University Lectureships; that they should have joined us and sweated it out for the four or five years it takes to wear down the General Board and its committees to the point where it gives you a chair. Do read that delicious exposé in the Times Higher Education Supplement of 4 January of the way they treated Professor Roger Griffin; how the promotions committees were shown up by international pressure as patronizing and ignorant, how fresh evidence was admitted (in breach of the procedures!), how once more the promotions procedure is in discredited shards at the General Board's feet.
No Appeal Committee was provided for 'Professors' Rudduck and Gray, for of course there was never going to be a need for one. But the lack of robust appeal procedures is one of the major weaknesses of our present employment practice. I think it is of the closest possible relevance to that 'consultation' by the Personnel Committee about the consolidation of procedures for promotion to Senior Academic Offices that there should be some comparison of that 'scene' with the 'process' through which these two went.
With that refinement of cruelty for which the Old Schools is as justly famed as it is for its 'timing', the candidates who appealed this year were e-mailed in the middle of the week before Christmas, not with the result, but with the news that a letter was about to be written to them giving the outcomes of their appeals. We were asked where the letter was to be sent, in view of the fact that it was the middle of the vacation.
The dates of the appeal process were changed (in breach of the procedures!) so that it could all be over before Christmas. If either candidate had been allowed to 'succeed' that stated purpose could not have been achieved, for we should have had to go back to the committee which rejected us in the first place. Professor Grant would have had another chance to explain smoothly how much he regretted having still to lower that one evaluation which lost me my chair. Then it would have had to go back to the General Board again this Term, on which Professor Grant would have been able to endorse his own decision once more. I use his name of course merely to show how sharp the point is. As much 'over by Christmas' as the First World War if there had ever been any realistic prospect of one of the appeals being allowed to succeed.
The Appeal Committee met on 7 December, ostensibly to consider procedural questions. In the event, it disposed of both candidates' appeals on the spot. Why did only two appeal? Can it be that everyone else was content not to be promoted? Dr Laming has had some interesting things to say on that. Candidates tell me they are reluctant to appeal since appealing makes one conspicuous as a trouble-maker. Besides, no appeal at the final stage has succeeded this year or last. People know that the appeal process, at least at this crucial final ditch, now has every appearance of being a sham.
The declarations of interest by members of the Appeal Committee would make hilarious reading were the matter not so serious. 'Professor Bateson had been a member of Appeals Committee A on two occasions when appeals from Dr G. R. Evans had been under consideration in previous appeals rounds'. He did not withdraw. Professor Bateson I had asked to consider whether he could indeed consider my appeal without prejudice or preconception. It was recorded that I had 'withdrawn' my objection. 'Professor Grimmet confirmed that . . . his knowledge of Dr G. R. Evans was confined to the Reporter and the press'. It is not recorded what view he had formed as a result of his reading. 'Professor Hutchings too 'had been aware of Dr Evans through the Reporter and the press'. The view he had formed is not recorded either. Professor Williamson confirmed 'that he had been invited, in his capacity as an external member [of the General Board's Promotions Committee] by the Secretary General to speak at a Discussion in 1997 in response to issues raised by Dr Evans and there had been subsequent correspondence'. They spent a little time reflecting whether to allow him to continue. My objection did not count at all, it seems. They decided that he had not spoken in 1997 'in a personal capacity'; they quoted the 'real doubt' bit of the procedures ('whether, given the circumstances, a third party would have real doubt on the question whether the person could act in a way that is wholly free of bias') but not the bit which says that if the committee is uncertain it should err on the side of safety and disqualify the individual. So they all joined in. Not one of them recused himself and stayed out of the ring. And every single one of them had to admit to being contaminated either by previous knowledge and previous rejection of my appeals or by the high profile I have inevitably acquired as a result of campaigning for reform. I hope they all felt comfortable with that. Hands up those who think I can get truly independent and detached consideration for promotion in this University?
Both appellants were refused a hearing. The explanation given for this is that a 'hearing' does not necessarily mean an actual hearing. It is a hearing if they just look at the documents, provided 'the individual has had an adequate opportunity to make his or her case in writing'. In that case why mention the possibility of a hearing in the procedures at all? All cases have to be considered on the papers so the suggestion that there may in addition be a 'hearing' cannot be intended to involve nothing more than that.
In any case we were not given an adequate opportunity to make our case in writing because we were denied access to the evidence we needed. The Committee rejected several of the things I alleged because it said it did not have the evidence. The Appeal Committee 'could find no statement of a quota in the Minutes of the General Board's Committee' and said that 'there was no evidence to support the view that a full flush of Ps was required for promotion'. Some documents I did obtain after the closing date for appeals by making use of the Data Protection Act, but not those which would have settled certain key questions. We still do not know whether there is a 'requirement' that candidates get a full row of top evaluations before they are promoted, because they will not make those statistical grids available to candidates or the Appeal Committee.
Our two new Education Professors will not be needing reasons. They are getting chairs and they will not want to ask too many questions perhaps. The vestigial character of the reasons the rest of us are given is, however, legendary. They come nowhere near satisfying the requirements set out by Sedley, J. in his judgement against the University in August 1997. He said that reasons must explain to candidates what they have to do to improve their chances, or make it plain to them if they can never hope to succeed. All we get are assertions in standard form. What does this year's Appeal Committee say? 'In relation to a matter which is essentially one of opinion the Appeal Committee consider it sufficient for the General Board's Committee to state this'. Sedley, J. did not think so, and I shall be asking the High Court, and if necessary the Court of Appeal, to take a view on this point.
In The Queen on the application of Persaud v. University of Cambridge  ELR 480 (Court of Appeal) the issue was narrowed to one of fairness. Chadwick, L. J. quoted with approval the remark of Lord Mustill in R. v. Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Doody  1 AC 531 that:
'Fairness will very often require that a person who may be adversely affected by [a] decision will have an opportunity to make representations [and] Since the person affected usually cannot make worthwhile representations without knowing what factors may weigh against his interests fairness will very often require that he is informed of the gist of the case he has to answer.'
We must be given more of the information we are now entitled to in law, and allowed to comment on anything which is deemed to weigh against our promotion.
It was also held in Persaud at 500 that 'in circumstances in which the appellant's record of past difficulties' was not in dispute the appellant ought to have known who was taking the decision. Membership of Promotions Committees is published in the University Reporter, but candidates for promotion do not in fact know who considers their applications after the committees have performed their secret exercise about the declaration of interest.
It was further held in Persaud at 500 that it was unacceptable that the applicant:
'was given no opportunity to raise any question as to the partiality, or perceived partiality, of the person who was to make the judgement upon her work; nor to raise any question as to his or her expertise in the particular field of her research'.
That was and remains the situation not only for our students, but for me and all candidates for promotion and the Appeal Committee says it believes it to be perfectly acceptable for this to continue.
Two things have emerged which are probably going to make those Blue Book procedures unlawful. We shall see what the courts think. First, the powers of the General Board to change procedures and timetable when the process is in progress (Grace 8 of 9 December, 1998). That frustrates the reasonable expectation of candidates that when the procedures say they must be adhered to strictly, there will be no uncertainty about what the procedures are.
The second thing may be legal dynamite. Under s. 14 of the Data Protection Act 1998 you can sue the University if it fails to correct inaccurate information about you when you ask it to and if it 'processes' that information so as to cause you damage and distress. Each document in the promotions process, references, PP4, Minutes, and so on, is subject to this requirement. But the procedures say you are not going to be allowed to see these documents. If you ask for them as a data subject, and receive them, as you will, but perhaps after they have been processed to your detriment, and find that the committees have relied on inaccuracies from the referees or committees, you will be able to take legal action. And while they are letting us see what the law now allows us to see, perhaps we may at last be given the chance to comment on the opinions the referees express as well.
You can of course ask for documents at intervals throughout the process, paying your £10 fee each time. There will be chaos as you require the inaccuracies to be corrected when the committees have already got past that bit. Surely procedures which do not make provision to avoid this disaster for the University cannot be allowed to run. General Board, time for you to make one of those U-turns? Urgently? You have demonstrated often enough that you can change the rules at whim, and indeed the Appeal Committee confirms that you may.
Grace 8 of 9 December, 1998 appears to allow the General Board to do anything it chooses with reference to candidates for chairs and Readerships, as many of us know to our cost, and as these two 'Homerton Professors' have just learned to their benefit. Members of the Regent House, unpromoted Readers and others, I did warn you in 1998 that it was unwise to let the General Board have their heads in this way. But you will foolishly go on giving credence to those smooth speeches of reassurance. And you wonder why nothing ever gets reformed.
Professor D. I. MCINTYRE:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am pleased to learn that Dr Evans does not challenge the appropriateness of Jean Rudduck and John Gray as individuals to be appointed as Professors of Cambridge University. As anybody with a reasonable knowledge of Education as a field of scholarship knows, both of them are scholars of the highest international eminence in the field, people whom any university in the English-speaking world would be delighted to appoint as Professors. The Advisory Committee which recommended their appointment had a great deal of evidence from diverse sources available to it, and all of that evidence pointed unambiguously to that conclusion.
The Faculty of Education greatly prizes not only the quality of John Gray's and Jean Rudduck's scholarship, but also their impressive proven talents of research leadership. It is just over a year since Dr Evans was telling us that the staff of Homerton College lacked the academic quality necessary for them to be appointed as members of the academic staff of the University. Since then, the great majority of these staff have been entered for the Research Assessment Exercise and have been given a rating of 5. Of all the approximately one hundred units entered nationally in the RAE for Education, Homerton College showed the biggest improvement not just once, in 1996, but remarkably for the second time in a row, again in 2001. At least one of two propositions must be true. One is that the staff who have joined us from Homerton College are highly able scholars, and have demonstrated that this is so now that they have had the opportunity to do so. The other proposition is that Jean Rudduck and John Gray, who were Research Directors at Homerton College from 1994 to 2001, have outstanding qualities as research leaders. Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as a close observer of Homerton College over recent years, I can assure you that both of these propositions are true. On behalf of the Faculty of Education, I commend the proposals to the Regent House.
The Report of the Council, dated 10 December 2001, on student complaints (Reporter, p. 371).
Dr D. R. J. LAMING:
Madam Deputy-Vice-Chancellor, I welcome this Report and can only regret that it has taken so long to produce. A procedure for listening to student complaints was first proposed at the meeting of the Council on 31 January, 2000, and the Working Party was set up at the meeting of 29 March, 2000, so this Report has been nearly two years in gestation. That is much too slow, and this Report is long overdue.
I need to explain that I am a member of the Working Party on Student Complaints that produced this Report, but I joined that committee only at a relatively late stage in its work, for its last three meetings out of a total of ten. By that time the structure of this Report was more or less fixed and there remained only minor changes in wording to consider. I speak today in a purely personal capacity, and I wish to put two comments on the record to ensure that they are duly considered when this Report comes back to the Council.
The Working Party has not to my knowledge examined any particular examples of complaints that might be made by students. There may be good reason for that omission, but consider its consequences. The draft provisions, as at present set out, are all somewhat abstract. Each member of the Working Party will have understood those provisions with respect to whatever examplars they happen to know of or to envisage. Different students will also read those provisions differently. So an especial burden will fall upon the Chairmen of Panels hearing the early cases, how to interpret the procedure as it is at present formulated. Their conduct of the early hearings will shape subsequent development in ways that cannot necessarily be foreseen.
The Council says that it intends to monitor complaints under these arrangements through the Student Matters Committee, and my first point is to emphasize that all the early cases will need to be examined in detail. There are several potential sources of anxiety about the working of this procedure as it is at present drawn up. First, there has been no attempt to spell out what might constitute a complaint. Since the Chairman of the Panel appointed at Stage 3 is empowered to reject a complaint as 'frivolous', the question of what constitutes a complaint is effectively at his or her disposal. Second, even though a complaint may not actually be rejected as 'frivolous', the hearing by the panel will still be shaped by the Chairman's view of the matter. Third, and even more difficult to monitor, will be the stages of 'Discussion and Advice' and 'Informal Process', because the handling at these earlier stages will be coloured by the view that a panel convened at Stage 3 might be expected to take.
The procedural regulations must go some way to identifying what kinds of complaints are to be considered. In addition, it will be necessary to examine all the early cases to ensure that the procedure is working as intended. It is the habit of committees charged with such an oversight to give a nod of approval on the recommendation of one of its members; by itself that will not do, because it is by no means certain that the procedure Council proposes will deal fairly and effectively with those complaints that actually arise.
My second comment relates specifically to Paragraph 2.2 of the Appendix, where it says: 'The student should if possible raise the complaint directly with the person responsible for the matter. It may not always be easy to do this if the complaint is about the conduct of this person.'
'Not always be easy' is truly an understatement. Put yourself in the hypothetical student's position. Most students will be quite unable to bring themselves to make a complaint, if they have to address that complaint to the senior member complained about. If the procedure is so structured as to discourage students, for any reason, from making otherwise legitimate complaints, then it is failing in its purpose. In retrospect, I wish I had argued in committee for a much more sympathetic wording in Paragraph 2.2, and I trust that this issue will be carefully reconsidered when this Report comes back to the Council.
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I was notified yesterday that the HEFCE-funded ARMED web-site (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/armed) is about to post a unit on student complaints. I hope Cambridge will consult it.
I wonder whether I am entitled to put in a complaint myself. It was I, with the student sabbatical officers through most of two years, who, at the Registrary's request, and before they took me off the working party and the Student Matters Committee, drew up the detailed proposals for a student complaints procedure of which the present emasculated remnant now appears before the University. (If anyone else had done it, I suspect he or she would have been thanked, and it might have done something to counter the unjust smear that I have only my own interests at heart in my attempts to bring about reform in the University. Too much personal effort by a great many of us goes unrecognized in the University; the plaudits are selectively awarded.) But my concern is not for my own exclusion (used to that), but for the loss to the students consequent upon the removal from the process of the one senior member who was actively fighting their corner. When they took me off the working party they put the excellent Dr Laming on it, but while he was on leave. That meant the General Board did not allow him to attend meetings until the last three, by which time the thing was more or less the skeleton you now see before you.
This reduction of a robust procedure to an almost useless vestige is the fault of the Colleges. Students should know that. Student complaints in the University of Cambridge frequently involve matters falling under the jurisdiction both of the College and of the University. That is why it is essential that we have a consolidated procedure to which all Colleges and the University sign up. The Colleges have 'wrecked' this project by refusing to co-operate with one another and the University and trying to hang onto their separate 'powers' over students. We warned of the problem of overlapping jurisdiction in the 'full' version of these procedures. 'A particular complaint often falls in both College and University areas, or in areas where their responsibilities overlap, and it would then be in the student's interest for a single process to be available under which the matter may be looked at.'
To the document before us. Why is there no explanation of the crucial difference between a complaint and an appeal? It is very important for students to understand that they must make a complaint before an event such as an examination and cannot make one afterwards. Then it becomes an appeal, and the failure to make a complaint may go against you on appeal. Dr Laming asks for an outline of what may be complained about. We provided a list in the document they cut to ribbons. I quote from a late draft of that:
'Student complaints may legitimately concern any aspect of the provision the University and Colleges undertake to make when they admit a student. They do not include non-academic matters which are not the responsibility of the University or of Colleges (being excluded from membership of a student club, for example).'
'Matters concerning student well-being which would most appropriately go to the Counselling Service would normally go there first.
|1.||Procedural: Breaches of published procedures or the rules of natural justice; delay.|
|2.||Complaints about course provision; lectures and seminars; supervisions; preparation for an examination.|
|3.||Complaints about inadequate support and feedback.|
|4.||Complaints about inadequate resources.|
|5.||Complaints about plagiarism, misappropriation of the student's intellectual property; not being advised of any funder-constraint upon publication.|
|6.||Human relations complaints where the alleged behaviour affects the student's preparation for the Tripos or other examination: relations with supervisors or other responsible officers, harassment, discrimination on the basis of any difference of 'status'.|
|7.||Complaints on health and safety matters; breach of medical confidentiality.|
|8.||Complaints of invasion of privacy; inappropriate monitoring of a student's use of the University card or University computers.|
|9.||Complaints of reprisal for making a complaint.|
|10.||Complaints of failure to give a student adequate information before taking a decision concerning the University's provision of the course or resources connected with the course.|
|11.||Complaints of failure of a responsible officer to pass on in time complaints about provision of the course, or evidence about illness or disability affecting the student's preparation, made before an examination was taken.'|
And on the borderline between complaints and appeals:
'Disturbance in exam room
Errors in question papers
Form and content/question papers different from what expected.'
We also set out in our draft complaints procedure a structure for the student to use when making a statement of complaint:
That promise of 'advice' (1.3). What training will these advisers have had? Are students going to rely on this advice and then find that something important was not explained to them? Let me quote again from the document from which the present Report was extracted: 'It is expected that those involved in implementing student complaints procedures will undergo the necessary training.'
I will now read you the text of the 'Key principles' we developed:
'The key feature of our proposals is putting the student in charge of his or her complaint. The student must be able to choose an adviser; the student must have a right to help of the student's own choice in framing the complaint and to a representative or 'friend' to be present for any hearings; the student must be able to ask for a return to the informal stage or an attempt at mediation at any stage; the student must be able to withdraw the complaint at any time; the rights of any person complained against must be protected equally with those of the student complainant, but the student must be protected from reprisal (suffering unfairly as a consequence of having brought a complaint in good faith).
Our second key principle is that fair procedures must be seen to be followed throughout. Full and up-to-date information on student complaints and appeals procedures must be made available to everyone in the University and students must be given guidance in using them if they ask for help. Complaints must be handled in a way that is sympathetic, fair, and efficient.
Our third key principle is that the University and Colleges must educate those who are to handle complaints. This is particularly important in the preliminary and informal stages where no formal procedures are in play. What is envisaged is first a simple grounding in the basic rules of fairness, and secondly education in the practicalities. This requirement should extend even to experienced Tutors and to those whose role is chiefly pastoral (or 'counselling') but who may have been acting as advocate and judge as well without realizing that that is in breach of the rules of natural justice; the role of the person the student is talking to should be clear at each stage. Any steps taken must be transparent, that is taken with the knowledge and consent of the student. Personal privacy and right to the protection of confidentiality must be respected. Confidential information must not be communicated without the knowledge and consent of the student.
Our fourth key principle is timeliness. Students have a relatively short time in the University and delay in dealing with a complaint can be immensely damaging to their prospects of getting the degrees they deserve, and to their welfare while they are at Cambridge.
Our fifth key principle is that it is important that students can have confidence in the procedures themselves; in their complaints being handled with a real openness to finding that the University or College or members of its staff may have been at fault; and that something will be done to provide a remedy where a complaint is upheld. Adequate reasons will always be given for any decision. This is in line with the Woolf principle of seeking to even up the imbalance of power and resources between the parties and it recognizes that a student is frequently in a vulnerable position and to some degree powerless relative to a member of staff and to the University or College as an institution.'
There was an explanation in our fuller document about 'Visitors of Colleges', which is, I know, a subject on which there is a great deal of student (and staff) puzzlement.
We suggested inviting Visitors of Colleges to do the following:
'(i) agree a common text to be given to all students explaining the role of the Visitor, the circumstances when it may be appropriate or necessary to go to the Visitor, and the way to approach the Visitor.
(ii) agree common procedures to be given to students, which must be HRA compliant.'
It would be otiose to continue. We must have some student complaints procedures. They are long overdue. I would like to express the hope that when these are graced work will be put in hand at once to improve them. I confidently predict that as students begin to come forward with their complaints the yawning gaps in these provisions will become apparent. There will be no adequate system of preliminary advice. Members of staff complained about will close ranks. The usual sequence of cock-up and cover-up will follow.
We said in our more detailed document: 'All procedures should comply with the QAA guidelines and as those implementing the proposed procedures learn more about what is needed, it is envisaged that there will need to be progressive revision and improvement. A Standing Committee on revision of procedures for student complaints and appeals is envisaged, open to College membership as Colleges wish.' But I predict that when the procedures inevitably 'crash' in use, students will be faced with a frozen screen on which nothing will move. Of course the remedy then is to switch the whole system off and start it up again. But when did Cambridge ever clean up its act by doing anything so radical?
Any student who tries to take a complaint which has not been properly handled to the Commissary (if that Statute is eventually approved) will face lengthy preliminary squabblings to establish where the line between the Commissary's and the College Visitor's jurisdiction lies; more battles to establish that the issue in question does not fall outside the Statute; and years more of precious youth and opportunity will be wasted. I guarantee.
The Report of the General Board, dated 28 November 2001, on the establishment of a Professorship of Accounting (Reporter, p. 374).
No comments were made on this Report.
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Cambridge University Reporter, 23 January 2002
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.