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Tuesday, 30 April 2002. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:
Topic of concern: The failure to allow a Discussion at the outset of the planned radical changes to the Governance of the University.
Dr G. JOHNSON:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this Discussion has been called over an apparent misplaced concern about the process adopted by the Council to consult members of the University about proposals for changes in the University's governance arrangements. The topic lists the Council's failure to provide for a Discussion at this preliminary stage. As chairman of the Governance Committee of the Council and the General Board I thought it might be useful to set this concern in context.
The Governance Committee was established in 1999 as the successor to the Council's Working Party on the second Nolan Report. That Working Party initially considered and made proposals to the central bodies on matters arising from the work of Lord Nolan's Committee on standards in public life. As the Governance Committee, it continued and developed that work, recognizing that Cambridge's governance arrangements were unique and must ensure that education, learning, and reseach prosper, while apparently lacking elements that were considered best practice in other leading universities and public bodies in this country and overseas. Then last year additional attention was focused on our governance arrangements by the reports of Professors Shattock and Finkelstein.
Against this background, and from the deliberations of the Committee, the Council and the General Board earlier this year authorized the publication of proposals for change. They also authorized widespread and wide-ranging consultation, using for the first time in a deliberate way both the web and a series of seminars held in seven different places in the University, to which there was an open invitation. The Council did not at that stage provide for a Discussion because the proposals were preliminary, in effect a 'green paper', and because they knew that a Discussion would be required when firmer proposals, the 'white paper' if you like, were ready and had been published. That preliminary process has been successful in engaging a large number of persons and groups, Faculties, Departments, other institutions, and the Colleges. Over one hundred written submissions were received and at least 133 people contributed electronically. I think that we can be pleased that we have been able to elicit such a wide range of response and that we can learn much from the process.
Now it is time for the proposals to be developed in the light of all that comment. I anticipate that the Council will authorize publication of a Report to the University later this term. It can be expected to be a substantial document, including, subject to the authors' agreement being obtained, the submissions made last term. I expect that it will be the subject of formal consultation through the Colleges and the Faculties, and that it will be put up for Discussion early in the Michaelmas Term. I expect then that the Council will put forward Graces and will arrange for a Ballot during the second half of the Michaelmas Term. I say that this is what I expect simply because the Council have not yet had an opportunity to consider the response to the consultation. However, the Committee which I chair has done so and this is what we see as the best way forward.
Whilst there has been clear agreement on some of the proposals in the original document, and clear disagreement over some others, there has also been a wide range of views on many, and the Committee, the Council, and the General Board will need, it seems to the Committee, to engage in a further round of consultation on what they see as a package that will be likely to command general support. This is neither surprising nor worrying. Our governance arrangements are special. They support a level of academic excellence not obviously achieved by many other universities in this country over such a wide range of disciplines. They have developed over a long period, and they embody elements that the Council and the General Board know are regarded by many as of fundamental importance. However, what is now necessary is that they are reviewed and adjusted as the University, through its proper procedures and well-established mechanisms, decides what is appropriate and necessary to ensure that the University continues to be in the forefront of scholarship world-wide, and that the University continues to command the confidence of its members, its staff, its students, its partners, and its other stakeholders.
So, Madam Deputy Vice Chancellor, I look forward to another round of consultation and to an informed Discussion later this year at which the views of colleagues can contribute to this process.
Dr D. J. CHIVERS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am given to understand that since the earliest days of the University the Proctors have been elected annually to represent the Regent Masters and provide an independent and democratic oversight on their behalf. Our ex officio membership of the modern Board of Scrutiny no doubt stems from this tradition.
Had there been explicit indication that the recent consultation process on University Governance was going to lead directly to motions for substantive change in the form of Graces or otherwise, then as a Proctor I would have been amongst the first to insist that a Discussion took place. In fact Section 1.2 of the Consultation Paper states quite clearly that ' The Paper is a consultative document.' and later, at 11.2, that 'The Council intends to report formally to the University on the outcome of this Consultation in the Easter Term 2002'.
Discussions are an important part of our democratic tradition. They provide an opportunity for members of the Regent House and the Senate and certain other members of the University to express opinion and offer information, from which proposals can be revised and, if necessary, fly-sheets can be written and votes cast at a ballot. It is because Discussions are important that they must not be abused or taken lightly. While substantive change to the Statutes and Ordinances indeed demands a formal Report and Discussion, leading in due course to a Notice and Graces, and then if necessary, voting, there is no indication here that the Council intends to circumvent this process. The Council has not failed to call a Discussion. They have conducted a survey of opinion on a difficult and complex issue, using an open and public process, and in preparation for their eventual formal Report to the University. If the Council may not, quite properly, conduct such a survey before making a Report, then one is driven to suspect that the constitutional cart is in some danger of getting thrust before the constitutional horse and that our democratic tradition is in fact being abused by an unnecessary and premature Discussion today.
Mr J. M. R. MATHESON:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I thought that it might be helpful to the Regent House if I, as a member of the University Council, explained why I supported the decision not to schedule a Discussion on the governance proposals early in the consultation process. It is first, however, worth noting that what the Council decided was passive: we did not schedule a Discussion. We did not, as today's topic of concern suggests, disallow a Discussion. As today's Discussion demonstrates, it is open to any ten members of the Regent House to request a Discussion on a topic of concern to the University. This seems to me, if anything, an underused process and one which might perhaps remove the temptation for speakers to digress from the topic in routine Council scheduled Discussions on Reports. It might also help to break down the apparent sense of frustration in some quarters that the Council controls every agenda. Whilst we have responsibility for much of what happens, we ultimately operate on behalf of the Regent House and to its agenda.
When the mechanisms for the governance consultation were discussed by the Council, I was initially of the opinion that at least two Discussions would be appropriate - one early on in the process. The main argument against was that an early Discussion would add little if anything to the less formal processes being proposed. This argument seemed to me reasonable and, since most members of the Regent House have little if any time to spare, unnecessary duplication was not likely to be helpful. It certainly seemed necessary to have a less formal process at this stage than the normal Report, Discussion, reply from the Council, and Graces. The consultation paper contained ideas at an earlier stage of preparation and with much less clear unanimity of support from members of the Council than would be usual in a Report, and there was a clearly felt need to obtain the views of as many people as possible.
The major disadvantage of not having a Discussion has been that ideas other than those in the consultation paper have so far received less publicity than they might have done. I had expected that the website would present a more dynamic view of the consultation process with ideas from the seminars being added as these took place. When it became apparent that this would not happen, Stephen Cowley and I arranged the setting up of a newsgroup (ucam.change.governance) to enable electronic discussion of the issues. This was (and still is) advertised from the top level web page on the governance changes (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/change/).
Despite the somewhat cumbersome user interface (the best which could be managed in the time and with the resources available), this produced some interesting and useful debate and helped me (and I hope others) considerably in forming a clearer view of a number of aspects of the proposals. I hope that, in the process, we have also gained useful experience in the use of computer-based communication as a way of facilitating discussion (with a small d) in the University. This should of course augment not replace Discussions (with a capital D).
Looking ahead: we now need the ideas generated in the feedback to this initial consultation to be made public within the University to inform the next stage of debate and consultation. The challenge which the Council and Regent House face is to find a set of proposals which will have widespread support, as opposed to a set of compromises which satisfy no one.
Dr D. R. J. LAMING:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to explain why I put my name to the call for this Discussion, notwithstanding that I am a member of Council. My explanation will include comments on the present proposals, which is the real reason for this Discussion.
The volume and variety of business for which Council is ultimately responsible is increasing at an ever-faster rate. The time is long past when Council could exercise an effective oversight over all of its responsibilities, and many matters are handled for practical purposes solely by subcommittees. Some reform of our governance is urgently needed. While the present proposals contain many helpful changes, they also contain some controversial measures, concerning especially the balance of authority between the Regent House and the administration, measures that need the most careful and wide-ranging examination before they are put to a vote. This Discussion has been called to support that examination.
The proposals in the consultation paper are detailed to the point that many members of the Regent House might feel that Council is presenting them with a fait accompli. The feeling of an ordinary member of Council, a member who does not sit on either subcommittee, is surprisingly similar. I have, of course, had an opportunity to comment on these proposals in Council at an intermediate stage in their formulation. But the proposals are the work of the two subcommittees, not of Council as a whole, and it is all too easy for those subcommittees to disregard comments that they do not like. It is therefore important that the Regent House engages in a wide-ranging debate.
Dr Johnson and Professor Grant have given a series of seminars to explain the proposals. They have also received letters from various people and there is a website asking some simple Yes/No questions, with a small space for comment. If it were the case that the subcommittees had an open mind about what should be done - that is, if the 'consultation' were a real consultation - that might be a reasonable way of proceeding. But the governance proposals are already formulated in such detail, that the 'consultation' presents a rather different complexion. To put the matter bluntly, the task addressed by Dr Johnson and Professor Grant is not so much consultation, but to deliver the Regent House's acquiescence. This exercise invites comparison with the appointment of Joseph Goebbels in 1933 as Reich Minister for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. His task was to deliver the acquiescence of the German people to the Nazi programme. He was given complete control of the media - newspapers, films, theatres - in Germany. Happily the University of Cambridge is not Nazi Germany. Proposals here have to be put to a vote. But the propaganda exercise is of the same kind.
Dr Johnson and Professor Grant have the resources of the administration and of the Press Office at their disposal. The proposals were aired in Guardian Education (12 February 2002), together with an alternative view of the matter, and in CAM, whose editor was not so concerned with balance. In his piece in Guardian Education the Vice-Chancellor complained about 'some of our well-meaning, if rather dogmatic, senior academics, who will fight till the last to keep the University in intellectual aspic.' Now the Vice-Chancellor chairs the General Board and has a chairman's influence over that body. Five years ago the General Board introduced revised procedures for promotion that, it claimed, were 'fair, transparent, workable, and acceptable to the University' (Reporter, 1996-97, p. 235), but which preserved, in their effect, 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. Since then the General Board has resolutely resisted all calls for a promotions procedure that would indeed be 'fair and transparent'. There, if anywhere, is a group of 'senior academics, fighting till the last to keep the university in intellectual aspic.'
The consultation document says, among other things, 'that academic self-governance is important in ensuring the vitality of teaching and research in Cambridge, and should be maintained and strengthened.' That is a 'good' thing to say; almost every member of the Regent House will agree with that. But the Council's subcommittees do not. They do not mean that bit about academic self-governance being 'maintained and strengthened'. They mean exactly the opposite. They propose that the elected representation of the Regent House on Council should be reduced, both proportionately and in absolute number of members. That is why the remark is a 'good' thing to include - it puts the reader off the scent. But I hope no one will suppose this is an honest document. It is propaganda, and members of the Regent House should be on their guard against its deceits. But the proposals will still be passed by default unless the Regent House takes sufficient interest - which is the reason for this Discussion.
In comparison with the facilities and support enjoyed by Dr Johnson and Professor Grant, those who disagree with elements of these proposals have relatively little opportunity to put their case. Responses to the questionnaire will be summarized by Dr Johnson and Professor Grant and their summary will be coloured by their pre-existing point of view. Moreover, it is well-known that the manner in which a question is put - the same question, merely different phraseology - shapes the frequencies with which different answers are elicited. There is a newsgroup for those who are aficionados of newsgroups - I suspect only a few. And there are Discussions. The fact that relatively few people attend is beside the point because the speeches are printed verbatim in the Reporter, where they are read by many, very many. Moreover, in a university nothing is quite so efficacious as a carefully considered argument that people can read in hard copy and chew over at their leisure.
The consultation document is deficient in this respect. While it is widely acknowledged that our government has wobbled recently, the consultation document does not spell out what these present proposals will achieve, or how, or why. The Council's subcommittees would do well to study the Board of Scrutiny's submission as a guide how to set out that argument. A formal Discussion is the medium above all others in which to promote a wide-ranging consideration of these proposals and of their consequences for the future of this University. In order to promote a careful and detailed examination, Council should have scheduled this Discussion without it having to be requested by fourteen members of the Regent House.
There still remains the question: Why these particular proposals?
Although Council has the ultimate responsibility for the administration of the University, in practice power and influence is, for the most part, exercised by a rather smaller, informal group of people. That smaller group works, of course, within our governance structures; it does so by selecting the chairmen of influential committees. In default of any other explanation, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the proposals before us now are just those changes, which that smaller informal group would like to see. They would make that group's task easier - not better government, but easier government.
There would, for example, be no more calls for a Discussion such as this, and no ballots. Fifty signatures are at present required to promote a Grace from within the Regent House. That has happened once within recent years, so it is already known how difficult it will be to collect fifty signatures.
Particularly significant are the problems that the consultation document does not address. According to Statute the University has three principal administrative officers. Two are effectively redundant. The former duties of the Secretary General are now undertaken by the Academic Secretary. The Treasurer continues to be a member ex officio of a number of University bodies, but the office of secretary to the Finance Committee is shortly to pass to the Director of Finance. It might be supposed that the Treasurer can still report to Council the advice provided by her subordinates. But advice is not transmitted effectively in that way. An example will illustrate the point.
On 28 January 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded in mid-air, 73 seconds after lift-off. This was a much, much more spectacular disaster than our CAPSA 'go-live' and received a correspondingly more thorough and rigorous investigation. I am concerned here with the human reason for that disaster, but I must first explain the engineering failure.
Lift-off was assisted by two solid-fuel booster rockets, about 149 feet long and 12 feet in diameter. The casing of these rockets was constructed in sections, with a consequent problem of ensuring a gas-tight seal between sections that might flex, one with respect to the next. The seal depended on two rubber O-rings, about one-third of an inch in cross-section, running around the joint. The O-rings were compressed and the integrity of the seal required them to decompress within perhaps a fifth of a second of any increase in the clearance between adjacent sections of the casing. At the temperatures normally obtaining in Florida, this worked. But rubber loses its resilience at low temperatures, and overnight before the launch the air temperature dipped well below freezing.
It was recognized within NASA that the O-rings were 'critical' in the sense that their failure could cause loss of life or of the entire vehicle, and the engineers at Morton Thiokol, the manufacturers of the booster rockets, met together to protest that the launch should be postponed. But this launch had already been postponed four times and their line manager at Marshal Space Center retorted 'My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?' So seven astronauts were sent to their deaths.
There are two elements here that reappeared in our CAPSA disaster. First, the shuttle had never previously failed. So, while the Morton Thiokol engineers could express grave anxiety, none of them could categorically state that the launch would fail. There were also many who feared that CAPSA would collapse when put into operation, but, again, none of them had actually experienced a 'CAPSA go-live'. In both cases that lack of certainty - this is my second element - provided an opening for managerial concern about a programme slipping behind schedule to overrule protest. The only protection against such managerial pressure is someone at the highest level of decision-making who appreciates the risks involved.
CAPSA 'go-live' is past history and is not going to be repeated; but there are other problems on the horizon. This University is facing an increasing operating deficit. Last year a deficit on the Chest, estimated at £4.4m, turned out to be £7.9m, and an expected surplus of £1.5m in non-Chest income became a deficit of £5.6m (Reporter, 2001-02, Abstract of Accounts, p. 38). As of June 2001, the deficit on the Chest that was estimated at £4.4m, and turned out to be £7.9m, was forecast to increase to £10m in 2004-05 (Reporter, 2000-01, p. 870). At this time of increasing deficits we need the best financial oversight we can obtain.
The successful management of this University depends chiefly on the abilities of the relatively small group of people who make most of the decisions. But it is proposed that the Vice-Chancellor shall be 'responsible for the overall direction and management of the University and its finances, and be given the necessary authority to discharge these responsibilities directly or by delegation.' Tinkering with our governance structures, while leaving that smaller group of people in place to function as before, leaves our self-government effectively unchanged. The governance proposals merely make it more difficult for the Regent House to reclaim control.
It is important for the future of this University that the Regent House has the maximum opportunity to explore the cons, as well as the pros, of what is being proposed. That is where this Discussion plays an important part.
Dr R. L. TAPP (read by Dr G. R. EVANS):
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the administration of our University should be like a good air-conditioning system - units regularly serviced and replaced, working almost silently in the background and creating the best atmosphere for both work and recreation. If, on the other hand, the system has been badly installed and its maintenance neglected, its deficiencies are felt throughout the entire edifice. We seem, alas, to have reached this latter state and individuals are beginning to open windows for themselves, ignoring, perhaps despairing of, the central unit.
My own experience of our administration is mainly related to disability and the system has comprehensively failed in most areas.
In the first place, there is little information about the policies adopted by the University and no easy way, that I have found, of locating what does exist. Those key administrators, Heads of Department, are not given an adequate manual, on appointment, containing a synopsis of policy with guidance notes. They do (or did) receive something that could form the basis for such a manual, a pamphlet called 'Heads of Department: Clarification of role' and which, with the addition of policies, reports, and other key documents as appendices, and with the provision of an index, could form the basis of a more comprehensive manual. Such documents should also be available electronically on a suitable website. Induction courses for new Heads of Department are badly needed and it should be a condition of employment that they attend.
In the second place, the policies that do exist often have an ambiguous and misleading status. For example, the Vice-Chancellor has advised me that the University Policy on Disability and Employment is an advisory document that does not rate as a Statute. Such policies give essential courses of action that must be followed if the University is to treat its disabled members lawfully and fairly. They must have a higher statutory profile and there must be an obvious responsibility for Heads of Department and others to apply them.
In the third place, there is, or has been, confusion and misunderstanding throughout the system. The recent report of the Joint Working Party on Copyright, for example, clearly establishes that in our University copyright remains with the author, both for teaching and for research material. Yet in my experience even the most senior administrators have not understood the position and given dogmatic advice that is clearly wrong. The confusion and misunderstanding also stems from the poor flow of information between central and Faculty administrators, something that was acknowledged in the most recent reports from the General Board and the Council.
Fourthly, but most importantly, is the striking failure of many administrators to accept and exercise responsibility. In my experience administrators can, and do, deny or duck responsibility because there is no clear system of delegation. We badly need a system of line management of the type found in modern business where the administrator at each level accepts clearly defined responsibilities and is held to them. I can remember, at the beginning of my career, learning with some surprise that our top administrators were paid more than our top teaching and research Professors. This was justified, at least in part, by the heavy responsibilities they carried. What puzzled me then, and it still does, is that there seemed to be no penalties when serious mistakes were made or when policy was either not originated or applied. How would we fare, I wonder, if we had an Administration Assessment Exercise.
In my view, we need some urgent administrative reform, but that does not mean making major changes in the extensive administrative system that already exists. What is needed is to end the inefficiency and to dispel the complacency that infests the present structure. Our air conditioning system needs a few units replaced and a long overdue maintenance. A few pipes need to be unblocked but the system is capable of functioning well in its present form. I would advocate five objectives within the present framework:
More thought about policies;
Better line management; and
Acceptance of responsibility.
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I was on the 'Nolan' Committee of the Council. We agreed that it was essential to put forward our preliminary thoughts for Discussion. And we did. The successor to that committee should have done so too.
'Summarily fire' staff making critical comments. The Auckland University Vice-Chancellor recently sent a warning to academic staff that that was what he would do if they presumed to speak out of turn. 'We all work for the same 'company'', he said, meaning that we have to sing the same company song or we shall put off investors, sponsors, and prospective partners.1 The New Zealand Herald ran an article headlined 'University gags academics with sacking threat'. I won't mention the New Zealand origins of 'out-of-context Grant' the Pro-Vice-Chancellor who has recently had nearly as much to say for himself as me in Discussions, because that would be out of context (see his speech published 27 March). But I do think it is fair to ask how long it will be before a Chief Executive Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge in a Discussion-free University where 'consultation' takes the restricted form we have recently seen, does something similar. Publication of alternative views, as Dr Matheson admits, is of value, and that we get only through Discussions. Dr Laming is right about how widely Discussions are read.
The Sunday Times recently ran a piece on the value of company songs for getting everyone to pull together. That would be in the spirit of the Cambridge Plc proposed by the Governance Committee. Every morning there would rise from the streets of Cambridge at 8 a.m. as we all cycled towards the Senate-House Yard the loyal strains of a contented workforce fully committed to company policy.
We'll please our Great Leader
The V-C knows best
There's no need to question
Or put to the test.
We teach what we're told to
'Degrees' are our business
We buy and we sell.
'Research' is our product
We'll get the result
Just tell us your wants
And we'll gladly 'consult'
And we in the offices
Enjoy the way CAPSA
Still takes us all day
We love being managed
And governed by fears
We want our top earners
To enjoy their careers
And a refrain? 'We're in the market?'
This is in part a Discussion about Discussions, which is why the topic of concern is framed this way. Look at the Minutes of the Council, now on the Web (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/cam-only/committee). (Incidentally, those Minutes are a great deal shorter than when I was on the Council. They are published only after the old format has been reduced to a skeleton.) They contain an item about the Governance Committee's proposals to alter the conduct of Discussions. The Council agreed to refer the Governance Committee's proposals to its Business Committee with one amendment which gives an alarming indication of what the rest of it contains. They agreed to withdraw 'the suggestion that officers should delete irrelevant remarks from the published record'. Who could even suggest allowing the Registrary to decide whether what you and I say is to the point and removing what he dislikes as 'irrelevant'? I can guess. My speeches would be like a Emmental cheese. So the Council, which has no authority in the matter, is apparently going to attempt to alter the rules for Discussions unilaterally without consultation with the Regent House. Are we going to allow that?
A Discussion ought to have been given us at the outset, as soon as the Governance proposals were published, without our having to call attention in this way to the fact that the marketing package 'as delivered' included only management-style 'consultation'.
I use our proper constitutional channel now to encourage everyone to read the Board of Scrutiny's submission on the Council's 'Consultation' on Governance, which can be read on the Board of Scrutiny Web page, but not in the Reporter. Had there been an official Discussion the Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny could have gone into the Reporter in the normal way in a speech like the excellent one she made on CAPSA.
The Board of Scrutiny makes an important distinction between the things which do need to change and a number of things in the 'Consultation' document for which no 'need' has been shown, but which clearly form part of a 'New Deal' in the few minds (not democratically chosen) which constitute the Governance Committee. One can only shout 'Hear! hear!' to their Proposition 1, 'The Board believes that the Council should provide rigorous justification of all identified 'needs' before proposals aimed at fulfilling them are brought forward'.
It has been widely remarked that the underpinning of the Governance Committee's paper is weak. It not only fails to demonstrate properly the need for what it suggests; it also gives no basis in research for many of its assertions. No trouble has been taken to think through the consequential amendments to the Statutes which would be needed, which would put us in danger of creating yet another layer of inconsistent domestic legislation on top of our already muddled internal rules. The widely recognized shortcomings of the type of Council and Chief-Executive arrangement proposed are summarized in an RSA report published in December 2001, Corporate governance in the public and voluntary sectors. It points out that the chemistry of the relationship between a Chairman of a Board and a Chief Executive 'is a difficult one', with a high turnover. It comments on the extreme sensitivity of members of bodies such as our proposed new Council to any requirement of training or any monitoring of performance. (And when has the performance of members of the General Board and Council and Vice-Chancellor or of the Registrary, Treasurer, Secretary General, or the new Directors and the Academic Secretary - but hey, new man, new job, give him time - ever been monitored except in speeches in this forum?)
Would it not be more sensible to begin from what we can all see, the symptoms of disorder in the implementation of a perfectly good constitution, and treat those, rather than start by amputating limbs and transplanting major organs? One would have thought that the lessons of rushed change by recent Governments would have been warning enough.
Like the country, the University is being over-governed. Report after Report carries a proposal with gigantic implications in the small print, either not perceived by the drafters, or - dare I suggest it - perfectly well perceived and forming part of a plan to change the culture of the University, to make it run more like a business.
The place for active intervention is where incompetence and idleness and arrogance is preventing our existing committees functioning properly. The way to tackle that is to reform appointment to committees; demand a higher standard of preparation and training from those given places on committees; police it; and to begin to listen to those who make those dangerous critical comments so feared in New Zealand.
Clarification of delegation is important in this connection. Shattock (in the CAPSA report) was quite right. But first we need to get a grip on the fact that our Council, not the General Board, is the working body the Regent House trusts to look after the day-to-day task of oversight.
That brings me to one change I would like to see. Many of our problems in recent years have been caused by the General Board's overweening bid for power and its resistance to the suggestion that it should be answerable to the Council when it decides to 'believe' something. So let us ensure that the General Board is kept in its place, or better still, much better, abolished in favour of an Oxford-style unicameral structure: simpler, cleaner altogether.
Under the Statutes there are two provisions for delegation. Statute K, 9 allows for delegation to a committee or body. And the Vice-Chancellor can create a 'deputy' for himself. There is no mode of delegation to an individual. It may be that there should be. But that needs careful thought. Is it, for example, on the showing of recent years, a good idea to let senior administrative officers exercise powers on behalf of the committees they serve, which the committees then ratify retrospectively? It is at this level that we should be considering what to do, for if we give great fistfuls of undefined powers to a Chief Executive Vice-Chancellor and his Pro-Vice-Chancellors and a Council of mixed parentage (but not deciding at all clearly who gets which of those powers), our latter state on delegation will be worse than our first. The idea of a Chief Executive Vice-Chancellor is abhorrent not only because it would make our servant our master (imagine the Master of a College trying to get away with that! Would any Fellowship allow it?), but also because the wrong appointment would bring seven years of oppression.
Oxford has grasped this nettle of the need to clarify delegation (which was growing in their patch, too). They are systematically working out who is allowed to do what under what authority. Once you have got that straight (and policed it properly) you can perhaps begin to get some sort of control over what happens.
We should also begin to build in reasonable timetables. Cambridge Delay has two main features. One is the damage to individuals, staff, and students, when things drag on and on. The other is the 'opportunity cost' of administrators having to write five 'holding' letters and deal with a shoal of irritated e-mails, when a timetable adhered to could be serviced by a far smaller number.
Otherwise, please leave us alone. We are suffering from 'initiativitis' - all those piecemeal initiatives coming to us in Reports, at a stage when it is in practice very hard to get serious reconsideration. We need co-ordinated policy-discussion put to the Regent House at an early stage in proper Reports for proper Discussion, long before they begin to get Graces attached to them.
Onora O'Neill's Reith Lectures are on 'trust', and the dangers of an excess of accountability. Onora, I am all for taking the risk of trusting in order that things may improve. But are you seriously suggesting that if we 'trust' the oligarchy you saw making a mess of things while we were both on the Council, we can all sit back and watch Cambridge begin to run itself efficiently and benignly under its present oligarchy? The individuals in a system are as important in making it a good or bad system as the structure within which they operate. The proposals before us will change the system but not root out the individuals who have brought us the CAPSA mess which is the tip of our iceberg of problems. I would lay the blame at their door not that of the constitution.
In the meantime, the only true transparency we have is these Discussions, and we should have been allowed it at the outset of this unfortunate story of inadequate people trying to change a great and ancient democracy without doing their homework.
What could a Chief Executive Vice-Chancellor do? I turn to the letter our own Vice-Chancellor has just sent round to alumni who received that jolly issue of CAM with 'out-of-context' Grant's face beaming in front of a picture of the inside of the Senate-House in the traditional pose of the Vice-Chancellor. Would they be willing to talk to an undergraduate on the telephone he asks, and promise money? 'We must invest,' he cries. 'A regular gift,' he begs for. But the state of the 'company' accounts (CAPSA) still make giving money to Cambridge like funding the Dome and a new-style Vice-Chancellor will be able to stop anyone ever daring to point that out again, on pain of the sack.
The, probably fourth century, Ps. Ciceronian 'Letter to Octavian', in the face of the fall of the Roman Empire, appositely describes the present threat to our own ancient liberties: 'iam libertate rursus oppressa senatus nihil consulitur, timet multa, assentatur omnia'. That may be the last time anyone is free to speak his mind in Latin in this building.
1 The Association of University Staff (AUS), Tertiary Update, Vol. 5 No. 10.
Professor M. SCHOFIELD (read by Dr G. A. REID):
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Regent House has had thrust upon it a pretty bizarre topic for Discussion today: not the governance proposals (which is what I imagine some who want to speak might really want to talk about), but the Council's alleged failure to call a Discussion on planned changes to the University's governance. It is bizarre first because there are as yet no plans, only a set of ideas put to the University for consideration, and secondly because at such time as the Council and General Board have a Report ready containing definite proposals, a Discussion will follow as night follows day (or if you prefer as day follows night). I am told that even some of the signatories to the request for the present Discussion are a bit disconcerted and surprised by the form of words which stands above their names.
The Council did in fact debate whether to call an additional preliminary Discussion as part of the consultation exercise, and I will own up to having been one of those members of the Council who argued against such a Discussion in that context. My reasons will surprise nobody. Discussions are not discussions. With important exceptions they have degenerated into occasions when one or more individuals - often just one - pontificate at great length and with an apparent self-righteousness and conviction of access to certain truth that in any other area of academic discourse would be regarded as more than a bit worrying in a colleague. Sometimes the pontification is almost totally irrelevant to the subject under discussion (in the Classical Tripos we print in bold at the head of all the papers: 'Irrelevance will be penalised' - why should dons be so grossly self-indulgent when they rightly expect much greater discipline in their undergraduates?). Far too often the irrelevance is larded with venomous personal attacks on named individual colleagues. But of course, while most Discussions do little to promote anything other than amazed gossip within the University, they can be represented in the national press as highly significant democratic events. Today's proceedings have already been publicized in last Thursday's Independent as an important moment in the calendar of rebellion against the powers that be, and linked as such with last Friday's open meeting on the search for the next Vice-Chancellor (attended on my count by seven persons other than members of the Council and the Unified Administrative Service).
What the University needed in thinking about improvements to its governance was surely something different: a genuine debate among ourselves (including here our alumni), not for the benefit of the press, conducted in many different forums and drawing on many different forms of contribution by interested parties, and one which did not privilege what goes on in the Senate-House on a Tuesday afternoon. I suggest that the Council's decision not to make a Discussion part of the governance consultation was therefore a reasonable one. And the evidence of the massive response is that the exercise the Council did set in train has been as productively argumentative as it should be in a democratic university.
Dr G. A. REID:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, no rational person can seriously suppose that a substantial change in the governance arrangements of the University, of the sort described in the consultation paper, can be effected without a Report to the University proposing changes of Statute. Such a Report is bound to be discussed at a Discussion (Regulation 1(a) for Discussions, Statutes and Ordinances, p. 112). The issue is not therefore whether the governance proposals, if they receive a good measure of support (as they have), are eventually the topic of a Discussion, but whether the Council of the University have acted properly in postponing that process.
Like Professor Schofield, I was of the view that a much more broadly based consultation process would be appropriate, and, like him, I thought that it was in the University's interests that the fruits of that consultation should be made available without distortion by the publication, out of a common timetable, of remarks made by those relatively small number of persons who have the courage and perseverance to come and speak in the Senate-House.
When the Regent House votes members on to the Council, they expect them to make decisions to the best of their judgment in the University's interests. They may not agree with those decisions, but they are unwise, in my view, not to have the patience to give the Council room to get on with the consultative process in the fair and open way that they have determined.
In conclusion, I would add, in response to Dr Evans's remarks, that it was I who suggested at the Council that the Editor of the Reporter not report irrelevant remarks made during the course of Discussions. I believe that remarks should be directed to the topic before the house. I shall continue to seek to persuade my colleagues on the Council to that end, and, if that succeeds, shall seek to persuade the University likewise.
Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Lloyd George remarked that praying had become for him like talking on the telephone when it slowly becomes evident that the receiver has been put down at the other end. Speaking in Discussions is much the same. But one soldiers on.
The publication of a Notice floating radical changes in the constitution of the University without first offering it for comment in the governing body at a Discussion was an irresponsible act, if only because the argument it advanced rested on a false premise. The irresponsibility was then compounded by inviting comment on the proposals from a large constituency not in a position to expose the argument, accompanied by tendentious press coverage in the Guardian on 12 February and later in CAM, not to mention one-sided seminars in the Faculties though, significantly, not in any College. The opinions of the Colleges were separately canvassed, and I trust that the Council will ensure that their replies are published in the Reporter in the customary manner alongside the formal replies from the Faculty Boards and Councils of the Schools.
I had not intended to comment on these questions until the Council published a Report for Discussion, but others have now raised objections to the procedure and I offer them my support. The false premise is the statement 'But the Regent House is not an executive body'. Anyone who published this is either guilty of a grotesque misunderstanding of the Cambridge constitution or is deliberately spreading false information for political ends. No wonder people are angry. The Council should withdraw the Notice and put constitutional questions on hold. They cannot be rushed and should not be fought over simultaneously with appointing the next Vice-Chancellor - as they will be, Statute by Statute, section by section, and line by line.
Dr D. de LACEY:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the failure to call a Discussion is a matter of significant concern to the University because it highlights deep flaws in the entire consultation process, which is being carried out at the wrong time and in the wrong way.
Let us recall the background: further back even than Nolan. Ten years ago, following the Wass Report, the University agreed to three radical changes in its government. First, there was to be a long-term, full-time Vice-Chancellor with a detailed list of duties ranging from giving a sense of purpose to the central bodies by forward thinking, to feeling 'personally responsible for the performance of the University's civil service' (Reporter, 19 May 1989, p. 635, point 12.7). Second, the Council was to become the principal executive and decision-making body. Third, there was to be a Unified Administration Service under the direction of the Registrary. Of these the last was only finalized after a ballot last summer.
So, ten years on, the obvious starting-point would be to ask: have these reforms worked satisfactorily, and if not why not? And the obvious time to hold consultations would be at the very outset by asking for the experiences and opinions of Faculties, Departments, Boards, Committees, individual members of the University, and others who could provide an agenda. From this there might have arisen a series of issues, problems, and questions worthy of being addressed, and for which the informal processes which Mr Matheson had hoped for might indeed have been more appropriate. His own newsgroup is a model of the way ahead. We would now need to add as well the questions and comments of Professors Shattock and Finkelstein.
In fact the Committee appears to have done none of this. They do not even mention the Wass reforms, though the Chairman was largely responsible for them. Instead they appear to have worked behind closed doors to produce a document which, though called a 'Consultative Paper', describes itself as a set of 'Proposals' and looks remarkably like a full-blown Report. This paper is already whiter than white. On this, 'consultation' is almost impossible as the committee appears so wedded to its solutions.
Hence in the seminars at which consultation was supposed to be effected the majority of the time was taken up with a presentation of the proposals. I have heard it suggested, not only of the one I attended myself, that it was an exercise in persuasion rather than a serious attempt to elicit the concerns of others. Is this Professor Schofield's 'genuine debate'?
Such an impression is strengthened by the sheer incompetence of the web form which was presented for our comment. It appears now to have been shredded, so I cannot check my details, and perhaps it is unnecessary to comment in detail on a form which asked for a single opinion on multiple questions such as 'Should the Chairs' functions be defined and their roles enhanced and supported?' But I think I recall that the question on the increase of signatories for a ballot or Discussion from 10 to 50 was preceded by a restatement of the committee's argument that the increase is desirable as the figure of 10 had been fixed when the Regent House was significantly smaller than it is now, or is planned to become. But this is specious. This very question was extensively discussed in 1992 when the Regent House, even taking into consideration the lacunae in the current Roll, was significantly larger than it is today; and the figure of 10 was approved by enormous majorities (709 to 350 for ballots, 937 to 84 for Discussions: Reporter, 26 February 1992, p. 429). Loaded questions are bad enough; a question loaded so disingenuously is calculated to destroy confidence. It has been heard, from remarkably high places, that in this world of e-mail a number of 50 would be easily achieved if necessary. Presumably the implication is that concerned parties could spam the University asking for support. Whoever thinks that reasonable clearly understands the use and misuse of computers about as well as those who drafted the cause of the last topic of concern - nine months ago, though the promised revision has not yet appeared, and the disgracefully misleading text still appears as our formal statement on the personnel policy web page on acceptable use of computers (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/personnel/policy/computer.html). Attempts to muzzle and disempower the Regent House sit ill with the desire for transparency and accountability which the Consultation Paper also expresses.
This is perhaps not the place for detailed discussion of individual items in the proposals. I assume, if they survive at all, there will be opportunity for that later. But it may be the place to plead that before we dismantle the status quo we first see whether it can be made to work as intended: that we explore the questions which need to be asked about our present practices rather than admire answers to questions no one was asking anyway.
Dr S. J. COWLEY:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Dr Johnson has referred to the workings of the Governance Committee during the Discussion, in order, I presume, to convince the Regent House that it has thought well and hard about what is in the Notice. As a member of the Board of Scrutiny I am fortunate in being able to have read the minutes and I have suggested publication of those minutes so that the Regent House could read them as well. I have been told, however, that they were not written for publication. So much for transparency.
The Report of the Council, dated 25 March 2002, on College contributions in the financial year 2001-02 (p. 642).
No comments were made on this Report.
The Report of the Council, dated 25 March 2002, on the construction of a Small Animal Surgery and Farm Animal Medicine Centre for the Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine (p. 645).
No comments were made on this Report.
The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 25 and 13 March 2002, on adjustments to the scales of stipends and pay structure for Computer Officers (p. 646).
Dr M. D. SAYERS (read by Mr R. J. STIBBS):
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Director of the University Computing Service and Secretary of the Information Technology Syndicate, I would like warmly to support this Report. I believe it has a number of features which will help in the recruitment and retention of the highly qualified computer support staff which are now so vital to the University and to the Colleges.
Firstly, the Report achieves the long-awaited rationalization of the Computer Officer scales, removes the overlaps, and corrects the strange situation which allowed a Grade I Computer Officer to be appointed at just one point above the bottom of Grade III. Taken together with the removal of age linking and the ability to take into account existing salary and alternative offers when deciding the initial salary on appointment, this will significantly ease the process of recruitment as well as helping to make promotion easier to operate and more logical.
Secondly it creates a new grade of Principal Computer Officer which will provide an improved salary for a small number of senior management posts in large Departments, the Computing Service, and the Management Information Services Division. This is welcome in itself but is also very desirable in that it frees up the post of Senior Computer Officer to be used more widely to attract and reward those responsible for the support and management of extensive and complex departmental facilities.
I believe this Report makes a significant and necessary contribution to enabling the University to compete with the outside world in a marketplace where the right skills are still in short supply and I commend it to the Regent House.
Dr D. de LACEY:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, these changes are presented as part of the 'need to put in place more effective and competitive policies with regard to recruitment'. But they are described as 'proposed improvements to the current scale structure of Computer offices'. There are many anomalies and problems in the employment conditions of Computer Officers. Unfortunately these recommendations cover few of them, and do not go very far in ameliorating those they do.
Computer Officers, and Computer Technicians, do a wide range of jobs, so comparing like with like is difficult. But in so far as one can, one sees that some very senior Computer Officers have less demanding job descriptions than some Technicians.
Colleagues have complained of the incoherence of grading and of promotions procedures. For some of us there appears to be promotion within their grade but no hope of promotion to the next. For others the (unassessed) promotion continues through the grades. Promised promotions may raise hope but are deferred until the heart is sick indeed. In some cases the grade appears to be based on the job description, in others on the individual in post. For few is there any clear career structure. There appears to be no coherent, University-wide, policy; too much is ad hominem.
While we discuss this Report we are also being asked to comment on a much more general proposal about academic-related staff. The governance issues also touch on the status of Computer Officers. Yet more of those 'piecemeal initiatives' which Dr Evans deplored earlier in this Discussion. One would have hoped that a newly unified administrative service might have done a little more joined-up thinking. I suggest we need to think again.
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, paragraph 9 is a good illustration of the failure to think things through which keeps leading us into rushed domestic legislation introduced in no coherent order and creating presumptions hard to revisit thereafter. So no one realized - yes all right, I did not see it either - but surely someone should have, that the General Board could approve something for some staff which would require Regent House approval for others. And when this was spotted did the General Board hold back courteously and wait for the Regent House's approval? No, naturally it went ahead regardless, taking it for granted that the Regent House would meekly follow in its wake. I am very glad that Dr de Lacey has raised the question of the need to rethink the whole business of the promotion prospects, not only of the Computer Officers, but of the whole body of our assistant and academic-related staff for whom, as he says, it is at present hard to know whether their personal achievements can be recognized; or whether they must wait for some re-evaluation of their job by a person who may know nothing whatsoever about what they do. I hope this is a topic which the Council will return to and on which we shall very shortly have a Report, because it is of great importance and urgency.
The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 25 and 13 March 2002, on the formulation of residence requirements for the M.Phil. Degree (p. 649).
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this is not about residence requirements, important though those are if we are to preserve the sense of membership of the University and avoid turning into a correspondence college. This is about compromising the University's degree-awarding powers. I cannot have much faith in promises about a 'full educational justification' the Board of Graduate Studies and the General Board will require before they say 'yes' to changes the Regent House will not in future control. 'Joint Masters' programmes' with MIT will be run how exactly? 'As part of the recently-formed Cambridge-MIT Institute'. But this is not an educational charity. It is a Limited Company. It is in business, not a university. Not that the Council seems to realize the implications of that. At a meeting whose minutes are now on the Web it agreed the CMI Ltd's registration of a Trade Mark with the arms of University of Cambridge (arm in arm with the seal of MIT).
We have already slipped unnoticing into co-tutelle arrangements, under which students may submit the same thesis (yes the same thesis) and get doctorates from Cambridge and another university.
Am I right in thinking that it is seriously proposed the CMI Ltd which is not an educational charity shall supervise and (?) award postgraduate degrees labelled with the Cambridge name in joint courses with other universities, without the direct supervision of the Regent House? If CMI Ltd is going to be allowed, through its Directors, to decide what joint M.Phil.s Cambridge is to be involved in, with a mere nod to the compliant General Board, heaven help Cambridge's future academic reputation.
In an article in the THES on 5 April the new Chief Executive of the QAA pointed a warning finger at certain trends in 'an increasingly competitive market' for degrees. We should be clear what we are getting into before what is misleadingly presented here as a mere abatement of 'residence requirements' leads us into loss of academic control and dilution of our standards in the interest of 'co-operation' with any old university with good (and paying?) 'proposal' to join us.
The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 25 and 13 March 2002, on revision of the regulations governing payments additional to stipend in respect of administrative responsibility (p. 650).
Dr G. R. EVANS:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, when I read (5) about 'the need to ensure that levels of payment continued to be commensurate with the weight of responsibility that is undertaken by the member of staff concerned' I wonder, as so often, whether the central bodies are not starting from the wrong place. We can go on heaping up the unnecessary work, failing to attend to what is really important, and paying everyone a lot more to 'administer' our chaos. Or we can set about streamlining and simplifying and get our administrative burdens down to a sensible level, so that those with 'responsibilities' (and one hopes that is not a euphemism for 'powers') can see what they are doing.
There appears, at present, to be no mechanism to ensure that the things which really do matter to people are attended to: clarity about what is expected of them and a transparent and fair process for getting reward and recognition, equal opportunity, protection from bullying, and the consequences of other people's incompetence. The deluge of forms and unnecessary paper requirements can make it difficult to keep an eye on that particular ball. But then we lack in the central administration that senior officer I have so often asked for who would filter and prioritize and get the really important things separated out and the rest thrown into the waste paper basket where it belongs.
The Report of the Council, dated 25 March 2002, on the Principal Administrative Officers (p. 643).
The Editor regrets to announce that the remarks made on this Report are not yet ready for publication.
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Cambridge University Reporter, 9 May 2002
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