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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 12 November 2002. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Report:

Report of the General Board, dated 2 October 2002, on the introduction of a single procedure for the consideration of applications for promotion to personal Professorships, Readerships, and University Senior Lectureships (p. 97).

 

Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, in their reply to my remarks at the Discussion of the General Board's 1998 Report on Procedure the Board said 'they will consider which elements of the procedure it would be appropriate to include either in the Statutes or in the Ordinances'.

I had made some specific criticisms of the failure of the Board to promote the necessary legislation, all of which the Board simply ignored, and I had concluded by remarking 'that the main cause of current difficulties is the substitution by the Old Schools of an unstatutory managerialism for the proper government of the University'.

At the Discussion of the Annual Report two years later I remarked that the Board had not honoured their undertaking, so I read out my entire 1998 speech again. The Council in their reply referred my remarks to the General Board. I suppose today's Report is the Board's reply to the points I made four and two years ago, but they have mentioned neither them nor the undertaking they gave me.

I will resist the temptation to read out my 1998 speech a third time, and instead make some of its points by explaining why the Recommendations of the present Report are unacceptable as framed.

Recommendation I. This proposes an amendment to Statute D, XVIII 'University Senior Lecturers' to enable the General Board themselves to make appointments to Senior Lectureships. The unacceptable phrase is 'a general promotions scheme approved by the Regent House'. In the first place, approval by the Regent House constitutes approval by the University by virtue of Statute A, III, 4 and the latter would be the correct phrase to use in a Statute. Examples abound. Thus 'The University shall have power ... to enact Ordinances and to issue Orders' (Statute A, II, 1).

Secondly, if the University were to approve a general promotions scheme as envisaged in Recommendation II, that scheme would constitute an Ordinance as is now, I believe, generally agreed. Consequently the Statute should read 'The appointment to a University Senior Lectureship shall be made in such manner as the University shall from time to time determine', and then the promotions procedure should be set out in a corresponding Ordinance. Naturally, the Ordinance will require appropriate drafting and not simply be 'the scheme described in this Report and Appendix', which is no way to legislate.

I might here mention publicly what I have mentioned to the Academic Secretary in correspondence, that I think it absurd to find the chapter on the Senior University Lecturers in the wrong place in Statute D, that is, after the University Lecturers instead of before them. I hope this may be corrected on this occasion.

Recommendation II. This proposes 'that approval be given to the procedure proposed by the General Board'. For the reasons already given, the University does not approve 'procedures'; it approves Ordinances. The recommendation is therefore unsatisfactory.

Recommendation III. This proposes first that the current scheme be abolished subject to Recommendation II. That would be reasonable if Recommendation II were acceptable, which it is not. Secondly, it recommends that 'the scheme described in this Report and Appendix be implemented from a date to be determined by the General Board'. Why, then, is Recommendation II there at all? What is variously described as a 'scheme' or a 'procedure' has to be an Ordinance, and the date for its implementation ought therefore to be determined by Grace and not by the General Board.

Recommendation IV. This authorizes the General Board to make changes in the procedure. But the procedure is an Ordinance and, even when properly drafted will not be a General Board Ordinance within the meaning of Statute C, I, 2 until such time as a Grace has been approved which specifically includes the business as a matter to be delegated under the provision of Statute C, I, 2(c).

As I indicated four years ago and repeated two years ago, proper legislation is also required to cover the promotions procedure in respect of other University offices.

If the General Board once again ignore these points then the Council should invite them to reconsider. If, as is all too likely, the Council decline to do so, and promote defective legislation, then I am certainly not prepared to spend my time and the time of my friends arranging a non placet. I shall instead make my views known directly to the Privy Council.

The University has, with Oxford, the extraordinary privilege under the 1923 Oxford and Cambridge Act of being able to legislate freely for itself, with very little risk of parliamentary interference provided it does so carefully and competently. If, however, it abandons its former high standards of legislation then it may expect that an exasperated government will sooner or later consider removing the privilege, and lump both Universities and all their Colleges in with the chartered universities. It would be a disaster to lose our special status just at the moment when we might wish to consider steps towards independence.

It is also of the utmost importance to the Colleges and to the whole collegiate structure of the University that this should not happen. And our friends in Oxford, who have so recently revised their entire Statutes in accordance with the recommendations of the North Commission, would not be too pleased with us if it did.

 

Dr D. R. J. LAMING:

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, this Report is chiefly concerned with administrative tidiness and efficiency, though §2 of Appendix 2 includes some fine and politically correct words about bias. At the same time the procedure is organized - engineered - in such a way as to ensure that those fine words will be honoured only in the breach and that bias in the selection of candidates for promotion will continue as rife as it has ever been. That is one argument I shall put.

I also wish to reply to a speech made by Professor Grant on 15 January this year (Reporter, 2001-02, pp. 460-463). This is the first Discussion since that time at which it has been appropriate. Professor Grant is a member of the General Board and of its Promotions Committee and, at the time of the speech in question, was a newly appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor, so he really could not afford to say anything that differed much from that which he did say. In addition, I believe that an ill-considered speech at Discussion should not be sheltered from criticism, whoever the speaker might be. Since the same matter is at issue in both cases, I will embed my comments on the Board's Report within my reply to Professor Grant.

I pointed out on 15 January that of 207 Readers at the beginning of the 2000-01 promotion round, only 49 applied and, of those 49, 31 were successful. With a success rate as high as 63 per cent, the 158 who did not apply must have known that they had no chance of promotion in that year; and I calculated the probability of so extreme an out-turn in the absence of any collusion between members of Promotions Committees and candidates at about 10-27. To this argument Professor Grant raised three objections.

1. He said 'For many [Readers], 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.' All right - let us delete from the reckoning the 51 readers of only one year's standing. The calculated probability drops to 2 × 10-20. If we delete readers of two years' standing as well (that makes 103 deletions in total) the probability reduces to 2 × 10-12 - still exceedingly tiny. But those deletions themselves present a problem. There have been nine Readers in the last two years alone promoted to Professor the year next, or next but one, after being promoted to Reader. How did they know to apply? - for most assuredly they did! The answer is widely known. They were instructed to apply by their sponsors, who then piloted their applications through the Promotions Committees. Professor Grant is speculating. When he said of my argument 'It falls at the very first hurdle', that hurdle existed only in his imagination.

2. Professor Grant then went on to say '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.' That is because in Cambridge the case is managed for the applicant, or not managed, as the case may be. Most applicants for promotion have families; they have mortgages to service. House prices around Cambridge have reached such levels that the University has introduced an Equity Share Scheme to help a few appointees to buy a property! The idea that candidates who are restrained in pressing their cases do not want to be promoted is absurd. Professor Grant's characterization of such applicants as 'promotion-hungry' is another exercise of a vivid imagination. He appears desperate for any counter to my argument. But, as I have remarked, he is a Pro-Vice-Chancellor and cannot afford to say anything else.

3. Professor Grant's third point (his (b) and (c) together) is of a different kind. He objects to my use of the word 'collusion'. I see no point in debating whether that word is applicable in this circumstance or not, because Professor Grant and I seem to be pretty much agreed how promotions are managed in this University, and it is the process that matters, not the word used to describe it.

The nub of the matter is whether it is 'fair, transparent, … and acceptable to the University' (Reporter, 1996-97, p. 235) for members of Promotions Committees to use their positions on those committees to steer favoured candidates towards promotion. Professor Grant seems to think it is, and in the present Report the Board says it expects prospective candidates to ask their Head of institution what level of promotion he or she will support - the Board does not use those particular words, but that is what §5.9 will mean in practice. I disagree. It means that sponsorship (not mentioned at all in the guidance) is supervenient to the Board's published criteria. If an applicant does not have a sponsor on the Faculty Promotions Committee, the likelihood of promotion is very slim, be that applicant's work never so outstanding.

Looking now at the basis on which promotion decisions are made, Professor Grant said ' … 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.' He appears not to understand.

Any assessment of this kind is a relationship between the referee and the matter to be evaluated. That is why different referees say different things. If there is a physical measuring instrument available, sufficient care and skill on the part of the operative delivers a truly objective measurement. But there is no physical measuring instrument here and objectivity poses a problem that Professor Grant seems not to appreciate. The problem divides into two.

First, how reliable are the evaluations by our Promotions Committees and how can that reliability be increased?

Second, are there any other factors (such as personal favouritism exercised by members of Promotion Committees) that contribute systematically to the outcome and how can such factors be eliminated?

The problem of reliability is well known to our Local Examinations Syndicate. It routinely has batches of examination scripts marked a second time. The correlation between two independent sets of marks measures the extent to which the marks may be attributed to the scripts, rather than to idiosyncrasies of the examiners. Without such a validation, Professor Grant is in no position to speak about the reliability of our promotions procedures. Indeed, so far as referees' reports on papers submitted to learned journals and grant applications are concerned - a surprisingly large number of studies have covered a wide range of disciplines - such a report is typically two-thirds referee and only one-third paper or grant application.1

Reliability can be improved by increasing the amount of information about each candidate's work put before the committees. As I have protested in earlier speeches (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 106; 2001-02, p. 300) the General Board is firmly set against any such improvement. Without that change, '… no amount of application by committee members can compensate.' (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 462).

In the absence of adequate information about the merits of individual candidates, the vacuum is filled by whatever else committee members know about them. Committee members are not like computers, where one can close one program down and load another. Heads of institutions are the same people, whether they are sitting in Promotions Committee or interacting with their subordinates in their institutions. The only way such extraneous input can be excluded is by appointing committees whose members do not know the candidates personally.

This is also a problem for Crown Courts. A charge is to be tried on the evidence presented in court and on that evidence alone. Accordingly the Court empanels a jury to decide the facts, and any juror who admits to previous knowledge of the case is excluded. The Courts are right to do so. But our practice is exactly the contrary. Bias is inevitably rife. The Board rejects that assertion (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 8) - well, it has to, else its authority in the matter of promotions would collapse. But the data say otherwise.

It would be easy to eliminate bias from our promotion procedures. We could appoint promotion Committees consisting entirely of senior academics from other universities, with no prior acquaintance with any of the candidates except of an entirely professional kind. Our own senior academics would then perform a similar function for other universities who have the same problem. But our General Board ensures that Heads of institutions not only make out a candidate's Case for Promotion, but steer it through the Promotion Committee as well. They act as principal witness as well as juror.

I have previously pointed out (Reporter, 2001-02, pp. 460-462) that, in the absence of clear evidence of a candidate's attainments, the General Board's Promotions Committee will borrow the evaluation passed up to it from the Faculty Promotions Committee, in effect, the Head of institution's input to the case. That influence can be measured. It mirrors a problem faced by public awarding bodies.

Unlike our General Board, the awarding bodies take the matter of accuracy of evaluation seriously. On request from a candidate's school, they will re-mark that candidate's scripts. That raises a question of bias because the original marks are written in red ink on the scripts to be re-marked. The experimental procedure that measures the extent to which those original marks bias the re-marking (indeed, they do) could also be used to determine how far the Board's Promotions Committee is borrowing evaluations passed up to it, most notably in the Case for Promotion.

But none of these checks and balances are in place. The General Board has not just been reckless about the fairness or reliability of its promotions procedures; its lack of response to previous criticism implies that it specifically does not want to be either fair or reliable. Which brings me to Professor Grant's piece about insults. He said of my speech that 'It 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.'

I have reflected and consequent on that reflection have three further remarks.

(i) I have been moderate in what I have said. It was not I who used the word 'corruptly'.
(ii) I have also said nothing at all about the accomplishments of any of those who were promoted last year, neither in my speech of 15 January, nor elsewhere. The idea that I have insulted them is another exercise of Professor Grant's undisciplined imagination.
(iii) But the issue of insult does not go away. When the Board establishes an elaborate procedure for promotion, pretends to evaluate each candidate's work, but in reality allows personal favouritism to dominate the process - that is an insult to every candidate who applies and is not promoted! It is perceived as such by the referees whose opinions are set aside.

There is another issue as well. When in 1996 the Board presented its proposals as 'fair, transparent, workable, and acceptable to the University.' (Reporter, 1996-97, p. 235), it kept hidden its intention to preserve, as far as possible, the patronage previously enjoyed by Heads of institutions. If it had been open and honest about that intention, its proposals would not have been accepted by the Regent House. In view of its lack of response to subsequent criticism, that deceit was not oversight, but deliberate. It amounts, in my judgement, to actual dishonesty.

So, two apologies are due from the General Board. First, to the University for its deceitful handling of our promotions procedures and, second, to all those who have applied for promotion and been refused for the implied and unjustified slight on the quality of their work.

This has been a harsh criticism of Professor Grant's speech. No speech at Discussion deserves to be sheltered, but in his defence he might say that at the time he was a newly appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor and was in no position to say anything else. In such circumstances a wiser man would have kept silence.

1 D. V. Cicchetti, H. O. Conn, and L. D. Eron. The reliability of peer review for manuscript and grant submissions: A cross-disciplinary investigation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1991, 14, 119-135.

 

Professor D. N. DUMVILLE:

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, the essence of a successful promotions procedure is trust. As has often been remarked here in the last several years, trust has broken down between the management of this University and a substantial segment of the academic staff. What brought that fact into the open was consideration of the means by which academic preferment here was gained - by the widespread operation of patronage and prejudice. Since then, example after example of incompetence, maladministration, and prejudice have fuelled the cancer of distrust. Reports and Notices dripping with contempt or utterly dismissive of dissent have convinced many that the Administration of this University has got out of control. In the specific context of promotions, gains have had to be fought for - and not only in this place. At times, progress has seemed to be made, or to be on the verge of being made; but retrogression has been apparent too. On the evidence of this Report, history is repeating itself.

The most charitable interpretation of this Report would be that the author (whether singular or collective) has remembered and learned little. If the proposals contained in this Report be implemented, we shall arrive back at the starting point of the campaigns for reform of the process - surrounded, to be sure, by the bureaucracy which has grown up around it (and been further augmented by the presence of the Personnel Division) but with the applicants again at the mercy of those twin evils of patronage and prejudice which for so long contaminated the process.

These proposals constitute a barons' charter. But they are unlikely to be remembered as this University's Magna Carta. Rather, they give a green light for Heads of institutions to exercise or to withhold patronage. Those of us who have experienced great changes in our circumstances arising from the succession of a new Head or Department or the megalomanical rush of blood to the head of an existing superior or the decision of a senior colleague to begin a campaign of bullying or vilification will know all too well what the changes proposed here must portend.

Some barons are no doubt cuddly and devoted to fairness and to the welfare of all their staff. But others are robber-barons who oppress their local peasantry. Bullying and other prejudicial behaviour by over-mighty managers cause stress and distress, suspensions, and loss of employment. Some examples have been discussed here, but they are a minority. In other words, we know that in most instances when a local baron takes against a subordinate the Administration will give full support to the Head of institution. The essence of the proposals before us is to return the fates of candidates, or would-be candidates, for promotion to the mercies of their Heads of institution. In Discussions, Dr Donald Laming has often laid out the inevitable consequences of such an arrangement. A professorial colleague, with whom I had a conversation a few days ago, was reminded by this Report of the time when he first attended a Faculty Committee dealing with promotions, when not a sheet of paper was to be seen in the room and the fates of individuals were wilfully decided. Now there will be plenty of paper, but will it be a cover for the operation of patronage and prejudice? Repeatedly through this Report, the would-be applicant is reminded of the necessity to consult his Head of institution or another senior colleague before making an application (5.9, Guidance 2.11, 4.3, etc.). And what will the role of the Head of institution be in relation to the reference(s) required in support of a case for promotion to University Senior Lecturer, which need not be external (Guidance 5.39)?

There are some improvements in the proposed procedures, and these deserve to be signalled. That a UTO may in principle apply for any one of the higher grades (Guidance, Introduction, paragraph 3, etc.) is welcome. That the evaluative scores needed as the sine qua non for promotion are now publicly presented (Guidance 3.16-18) is also a great step forward. That the purpose of Feedback is unequivocally stated (Guidance 8.1) will remove a source of abuse and frustration - it is therefore to be welcomed; but will it stop those ignorant and nasty one-liners from appearing on the feedback-sheet from the committees?

Important aspects of the proposals set the clock back, however, and consequently deserve rejection. Not only do we have the General Board still arrogating to itself the authority to make whatever changes it likes (Report, 6.IV), but now (Guidance, 6.1) the Chair of the Personnel Committee may make 'any reasonable change' to the procedure. What on earth was he thinking of when he wrote (or allowed his agent to write) this sentence? Indeed, if I were that Chair, I should be so embarrassed by this Report and by this particular faux pas that I should resign at once. If these proposals come into effect, I trust that he will step down and not enjoy the fruits of his own legislation.

Some peculiar points emerge about the committees. Why (in 4.2) are persons on sabbatical leave now to be given dispensation to attend these committee meetings? That is not necessary, breaks with established practice, and sounds sinister. Why are members of the powerful central committees still to be allowed to serve for two three-year terms (Guidance 7.6)? This is too long and potentially highly prejudicial to some candidates' interests: I know of colleagues who have suffered from the long-term presence of a hostile member of a central committee.

The process will remain opaque at key-points. Disclosure of crucial documents will still be prohibited, in particular the local case 'for' (if it is 'for') the promotion of a candidate (Guidance, 5.44, etc.). The appeals procedure (now halved in opportunity) is still narrowly procedural, blocking off almost any chance of a successful appeal unless the candidate gets lucky or (perhaps more likely) is tipped off by a sympathetic senior colleague. The procedure therefore has built into it the possibility of two competing kinds of breach of the official rules. And the appeal judges are still unlikely to be willing to look the appellant in the eye (Guidance 9.10).

I have some advice for those candidates who do persist with an application without the explicit encouragement of a Head of institution. First, do not declare yourself to be an interdisciplinary candidate. There is no evidence that the General Board or the Personnel Committee yet understands the nature of interdisciplinarity. And my practical experience is that such a declaration usually militates against success in the competition. Secondly, if a choice remains (Guidance 5.26, for example, and 5.48 contradict one another), do not request your College teaching to be taken into account: it gives more opportunity for objections to be found to your claim on promotion. Finally, to all candidates I say be sure to give the page-numbers of all your articles and the number of pages in your pamphlets, booklets, and books: uncertainty about this may work against you.

Lastly, on detail, I draw attention to two problematic items and one exasperating failure. First, Report 5.18 makes no sense to me at all: could the General Board explain what is meant? Secondly, in Guidance 5.33 it is not clear whether references are to be used for three or four (i.e., initial + three) years. Thirdly, why do the drafters of University documents continue to be unable to write gender-neutral language?

In sum, Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, these proposals are deeply flawed in respect of substance, unsatisfactory in matters of detail, and thoroughly reactionary in their general character. They should be withdrawn for further and thorough consideration and rewriting. If they are not, I hope that the Regent House will reject them in a ballot.

 

Dr D. R. DE LACEY  (read by Dr G. R. EVANS):

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, my apologies that a CamSIS technical assessment exercise prevents my speaking in person. It might indeed be argued that such as I should not presume to comment on this Report. Once again the career prospects of academic-related staff are ignored while the structure of our posts in many institutions continues to be disastrously mismanaged.

There are a number of oddities in this Report, which reads more like a history of indecision than a clear analysis of the University's needs. School based committees, for instance, sit uneasily with interdisciplinarity (5.22, 5.10). My questions though concern the oddest of the lot.

5.6 states: 'The Board expects that a substantial majority (of the order of 80%) of University Lecturers will achieve promotion to a senior academic office in the course of their University career.' Is this a target figure the committees will be expected to achieve? Shall we see an A Level fiasco if they appear to be failing it? Or is it intended as a ceiling above which they may not go, be the calibre of our junior staff never so outstanding? Or perhaps a carrot to dangle before prospective applicants, so carefully worded that it can always hang there, just out of reach? On what modelling is it based, and what statistical expertise was employed in producing it? Perhaps some of the extensive thought expended in 5.7 might have been better spent on injecting more rigour and care into the whole.

 

Dr G. R. EVANS:

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, last night I had a dream, and behold there rose up before me the shadowy figures of the Director of Personnel and the Chairman of the Personnel Committee. And thus they spake in chorus: 'Officers and employees, we have ensured with great care that these procedures are being discussed in the same week as the promotions results for this year are known. But we thought we had better not actually present them to you in the Senate-House, all things considered.

Do not think for a moment that we have a plan to threaten that if you do not accept them lock, stock, and barrel there will be no promotions round next year. Oh no. Any resemblance to what happened in 1998 (GBO.9901.0211) will be entirely coincidental.

We hope very much that assistant and academic-related and the 'former' fixed-term contract categories of staff will read about our appearance in Dr Evans's dream, because we are, we really are, going to get round to revising the seven-year-old upgrading procedures for you in just the same way quite soon. Really quite soon.

That Evans woman bears a heavy responsibility for preventing the Personnel Committee and the General Board from getting these new procedures ready in less than four years, for her speeches have put most of the important questions off-limits, actively stopping us from considering these matters because she had mentioned them.

We in Personnel have a Human Resources Strategy, don't think we don't. We rebutted that woman's cheeky comments of course and it is being graced this week (Reporter, 6 November, 2002). We are here to tell you, in fact four times in this Report (5.6 p. 99; 0.7 p. 106, p. 136, p. 137), that the General Board Expects. It Expects that 'a substantial majority (of the order of 80%) of University Lecturers' are probably quite good at your jobs, though we have not done any research to arrive at that figure, and 'will achieve promotion to a senior academic office' in the course of your careers. Since we have not done any research we are not going to hazard any guesses as to what proportions will end up in which senior academic offices. That may well be a 'policy' matter, since it would not do for too many people of international fame to call themselves 'Professor' before their sixty-sixth birthdays. The University would be a laughing-stock.

You can get quite a good idea of the progress of the General Board's thinking about all this from Minute 3(a) of its meeting of 2 October. It was the General Board not us who said no to the scheme of 'open application' and put in that idea that candidates should ask their Head of institution whether they should be trying to be Senior Lecturers or Professors, since naturally their line managers will know best. They also 'agreed' not to say anything about 'the normal career path'.

The really important news, which we know you will all welcome, is that we have decided to move away from promoting people because they deserve it. That has been leading to far too many (oops) getting to the top lately, thought not yet 80% of course. Two weeks ago when the Board of Scrutiny's Report was being discussed, she was trying to warn you about that. We in Personnel are confident that it will be much fairer to go back to the old system under which Faculties and then the General Board Promotions Committee put everyone in rank order (5.1) and then top-slice according to how rich the University is feeling at the time (5.16). Mary Beard on 12 May 1998 in that Discussion where everyone had a real go at her, was another woman talking manifest rubbish when she said: 'It would be nice to hear how on earth they (or we) are supposed to decide which of the two years' newly promoted Readers was the weakest… And does he know? Is there some poor guy walking round Cambridge, a Lecturer in Reader's clothes - like Caligula's horse pretending to be a senator?'

We know Parkinson's Law says that 'It is virtually impossible to find an order of merit among people who have been examined in different subjects'1 but what did Parkinson know about areas of academic expertise? Not as much as Personnel, we bet. And we have every confidence that our General Board Committees are so skilled that they can infallibly rank all candidates against one another in about two minutes each when they hold that one-day meeting to evaluate over a hundred at a time.

That Evans woman has been on about this standards business for years. She never knows when to let up. There she is, in the Reporter of 16 June 1999, pointing back to a Discussion of October 1996 when she was quoting P14651, a form sent to candidates, in which it was admitted that 'the Board…frequently find that they lack sufficient funds to provide promotion for all of the persons who might be thought to have attained the required academic standard' (pp. 116-17). The General Board soon gave her her come-uppance that time. On 4 December 1996 (p. 235), there was a Notice making it quite clear there could not possibly be a standard. 'The Board believe…that it is not possible to define a…standard…if [the standard] were set too low…this could prove to be very costly and the central bodies would be required to find the necessary funds'. But of course the General Board knows a standard when it sees one. On 25 June 1997 (p. 881), they got it settled once and for all in a Notice which said that 'The number of possible annual promotions is inadequate, given the outstanding quality of many members of the academic staff.' So we can trust the General Board to get that standard adjusted just right each year so that promotions exactly match the funds available and there is no variability in the level required for promotion and 80% really means 80% (or possibly 10% which as everyone knows is mathematically exactly the same).

We have got her fixed now, though: (8.1) A candidate is supposed to be given 'a clear sense of what he or she must do in order to raise the level of his or her work to the standard required to obtain promotion in a future exercise'. Easy peasy. Depends on the money, dears.

She is going round saying there will have to be a ballot on this move back to ranking and competition. She is saying it is a big policy change. We trust we have said enough to reassure you that it isn't.

Before we had a Personnel Division Dumville was muttering about 'local barons'. We in Personnel see many virtues in the feudal system and we are surprised that Professor Dumville, as a medievalist, does not recognize them himself. So we have decided to move the power almost entirely back into the hands of the local barons and Big Leading Players. Those aspiring to join the 80% will just have to 'consult' their Head of Department or someone else already promoted and therefore certain to know best, and follow advice (4.3). That same 'independent promotional adviser' will be helping to decide which candidates the Faculty is going to rank first. It will be a really neat package.

Criteria

The Minutes of the General Board of 13 March 2002 are quite transparent. You only have to look them up on the cam-only website. The criteria for promotion we have been working with for the last few years, the ones where one lowered evaluation made all the difference, have been 'unclear'. 'The Board have given considerable thought to this,' as our Report says. We 'thought' the best thing to do was just to cut down the number to three, without trying to complicate matters by explaining what they mean. 'The standards relating to evidence … indicate the minimum threshold to be attained' (3.15). 'C', 'S', 'D', are to be regarded as a convenient notation for summarizing description of achievement in relation to the criteria'. That is quite clear, we are sure. We are really proud of our drafting skills and if we had more than fifteen minutes we could easily tell you why we have left in at (3.1) (we mean at one of the places where it says 3.1), the alternative hypothesis that 'ability to perform the job will be the primary consideration', and also a lot of remarks about the many student candidates for Professorships.

Similarly, we thought we would clear up the difference between what it takes to be a Reader ('international recognition') and what it takes to be a Professor ('established international leadership') in a 'relevant subject'. Gaze with awe upon those benchmarks. We do. And interdisciplinary candidates can just go and boil their heads because (yah boo!) we are not telling you how they can show their 'subject' is 'relevant'. We have heard too much from her on all that. The Chairman of her Faculty Committee had it quite clear a few years back when he told her, 'The way we operated was I thought the only way you could be judged was to get experts in various multidisciplinary fields by stressing that you see yourself as interdisciplinary'.2

Just so that you can all see how much difference this reform of the criteria is going to make, we are going to read you a passage from the excellent Professor whose name we must not mention, telling that Evans woman where she got off in one of her many feedback sessions over the years.

GRE. Did the committee frame a definition of the criteria for me or for other candidates?

PB. Not a formal decision; however, constantly in the discussion we were referring to problems of definition.

GRE. But are you telling me that a consistent definition of originality was not used for each candidate? In other words, that you defined it differently for each candidate?

PB. No, we didn't define it differently, but we never looked it up at all.

GRE. You never defined it at all?

PB. We never formally defined it.

GRE. No formal definition?

PB. No formal, but I want to discuss the word formal, since in the discussion constant reference was made to these different definitions of originality…

GRE. …I would like to understand more clearly than I do at present what is the difference between originality and the advancement of knowledge…

PB. I sympathize with this question because if I had been asked to draw up these criteria, I would have made some of the same points that you're making.

GRE. But then, didn't the committee make those points to itself? Didn't it say these two really are surely much the same thing, so we cannot give candidates different gradings on them?

PB. Gulp.

We do mention 'training' at one of our (3.1)s, but you can see that it is not really needed, not with these sharp academic minds on the job.

'Evidence' and the references

Professor Grant said all that needed to be said last year about how 'evidence-based' the procedure has always been. We are going with that (we think) in one of the bits of drafting we are most proud of. 'The case should be a statement of the Faculty/Department's view and should not be based on other evidence generated by the promotions procedure itself. It is for the Promotions Committee to form a view on the strength of the case for promotion based on all the evidence generated by the procedure.'

We know that the reason why it has been insisted that the General Board solicit the references is that paranoid candidates used to mutter about Faculties making killer phone calls to old friends ensuring that the referee was not too enthusiastic. The General Board office says it is a lot of work for them to write to the referees. So we are making it a lot of work for the Faculties instead, as part of that neat package about advising candidates when to apply and for what and ranking them all in order. We are still not risking actually reading the candidates' work or interviewing them.

Feedback

In October 2000, the Chairman of the History Faculty Promotions Committee wrote Personnel a letter. He said that the very most that the applicant is given is a 'couple of sentences of generalization. If an applicant is told that his or her work, for instance, is not sufficiently 'significant' to merit a 'P', it is not clear on what grounds this judgement is made, or what the applicant can do to improve the ranking'. He says that makes it 'unclear on what grounds the applicant can appeal'. She seems to have got at him good and proper. He was claiming to have tried to point this out before, and not only to the Director of Personnel. 'I have written to the Acting Secretary General…but there has been no response', he said. What does he expect? We are all busy people, and that Evans woman doesn't help by keeping on about things when we have decisively not dealt with the matter already. She has made it quite impossible for us to take seriously all the other letters and complaints we have received about this.

The 'reasons' are now going to be drafted by the Personnel Consultants. 'A separate, fairly and objectively worded minute containing a reasoned justification of each agreed evaluation' is still going to be kept from candidates. That seems best all round.

Appeal

We could not deal with the appeal procedure either, because she kept complaining that we should. The only way we can hope to keep control of that is to keep all the documents out of candidates' hands so that they cannot possibly demonstrate that there has been a procedural flaw or that something significant has been misapprehended or overlooked. Ha, got 'em, there. The Appeal Committee will see it all of course, but the appellant will not. Neat, eh? 'If questions arise, an appellant may be asked for a clarification in writing.' They are going to find that quite difficult without sight of any of the documentation on which our 'clarification' is requested.

That Evans woman says she is asking the Information Commissioner whether we can get away with this under the Data Protection Act. Bet they will agree with us that it is quite all right to deny appellants enough information to appeal. Besides, anyone the Appeal Committee lets slip will just be referred back to the General Board Committee so that they can reject him or her again. No fresh independent eyes will be allowed.

And complaints about promotion have astutely been excluded from the new jurisdiction of the Commissary, so they will have nowhere to go. Aha!

That about wraps it up we think. We hope everyone will be grateful for all the work we have put in.

And then I awoke and behold there was no one there reforming the promotions procedures at all.

1 C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson's Law (London: John Murray, 1958), p. 22.

2 Reporter, 21 July, 1999, p. 888.

 

Dr P. G. MCHUGH (read by Mrs BOWRING):

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor, the proposed single promotions procedure arises from the General Board's concern 'to clarify the career structure for University Teaching Officers (UTOs) and to consolidate decision-making in relation to senior academic promotions' (Reporter, 5899, at para. 4.1). In that regard it sets out the criteria and evaluative standards for promotion. The three criteria for Professorships and Readerships are 'international research excellence', 'effective teaching', and 'an effective contribution to the subject other than in teaching and research'. The last criterion, 'general contribution', is defined largely by reference to research-related activity, such as departmental administration, management of research groups or facilities, or outside work such as editorial work. The criteria for Senior Lectureships require research achievement, sustained teaching excellence, and an effective general contribution. Teaching 'undertaken for a College or Colleges … may be included as part of the evidence on which assessment for promotion is based', which may in turn include 'details of work undertaken as a Director of Studies at a College or Colleges' (Annex B, 5.16). However, applicants 'who do not undertake College teaching will not be placed at a disadvantage in the consideration of their application' (ibid., para. 5.19).

My concern is that these criteria are too vague and too weak for the job. They give entirely the wrong signals for a collegiate university like Cambridge. They actually put those who do undertake teaching and performance of other duties for Colleges at a severe disadvantage, particularly those involved in the teaching of large Triposes such as Law. College commitments in large Tripos subjects such as Law can be extremely demanding, especially where a UTO is teaching a core 'exemption' subject that all students must pass to qualify as a solicitor or barrister. This teaching usually runs to many supervision hours a week and generally has the added burden of Direction of Studies. This involves not only the usual reference-writing (a task, like marking essays, that most UTOs who are not College Fellows never have to perform) but admissions interviews, screening of graduate (LL.M.) applications, College open days, and provision of the free legal advice Colleges seem to expect from their law dons. Research during term time is utterly impossible. Supervisions totalling double-digit hours per week are usual, especially given the horse-trading system that operates by which College Fellows exchange supervision favours with one another to ensure all students are supervised. The system relies on goodwill, a sense of team effort, and belief in the College and supervision system. Many Colleges have responded to this by appointing full-time Senior Tutors and Admissions Officers but this by its very nature is no more than a partial measure. The College dons must still oversee their undergraduates and perform the duties that entails. It takes a considerable amount of time to keep this system afloat. It hardly needs saying that it is the undergraduate Tripos, which is based entirely upon Collegiate admission, that is at the heart of this University's function. Yet College teaching and contribution gets very little formal recognition from the University promotions procedure. At the moment and in another context, the University is proclaiming its excellence to the outside world as a prelude to what seems the inevitable re-structuring of its income base. Yet whilst it brandishes that excellence it simultaneously neglects, or at least severely under-regards, the contribution of those UTOs who contribute heavily to College teaching.

The criteria for promotion tell UTOs who are active College Fellows, especially those with a Senior Lectureship, that continued support of the College system is pointless and, indeed, may actively harm their promotion prospects. College teaching is simply a factor amongst others that 'may' be taken into account. It might be said that this commitment to College teaching represents - to use the words of the promotions system - a 'special circumstance' that has resulted in 'a lack of opportunity' for College UTOs in large Tripos subjects 'to perform to their true potential' (ibid., para 3.4). Those words, however, are directed towards another situation, the one where applicants' careers have been adversely affected by such as 'time away from work because of family responsibilities for bringing up children or caring for relatives or for illness'. Those are matters of which the University quite properly will take formal regard, yet it is paradoxical that meagre if any account is taken of those who keep the College system afloat whilst these applicants are away coping with their disrupted careers. This promotions procedure will not be an integrated one until it includes full acknowledgement of the College system and its central place in University life. A UTO should be able to support their College and the University system.

The promotions criteria are also vague on what represents a 'general contribution'. It is plain that University and College life has become more administratively demanding in the past decade. Universities are subject to quality and research assessment. They must have elaborate procedures of consultation and feedback in place at all stages of teaching and examination. It is remarkable that the University is presently engaged in a QAA Institutional Audit that makes huge demands of Departmental resources and time yet there is no incentive of self-interest for UTOs to contribute to this process. It is notorious that there will always be self-regarding colleagues whose contribution to administration is slight. Yet the University is vague in its specification of 'general contribution' and makes no apparent encouragement for UTOs to become active in the administrative sphere. The new reality of University life is downplayed to the extent of being virtually ignored. On this criterion one wonders why a UTO should bother making a wholehearted commitment to administration. The University must signal its expectation that UTOs will make a full contribution to administration by incorporating that more explicitly into the promotions criteria.

My central concern with the promotions criteria, therefore, is that they pay insufficient formal regard to team-players whose commitment extends across the University and its Colleges. The promotions do not reflect a culture of institution-building vital to the continued success of this collegiate University. As presently drafted the criteria tell UTOs, especially those in mid-career, to become selfish researchers, to meet dutifully their teaching obligations to the University, to shed College commitments, and to engage in no more than a perfunctory level of administration. I therefore propose that the requirement of a 'general contribution' be sharpened to require applicants to have shown a 'full and sustained commitment to the University and/or its Colleges'. If Cambridge is to maintain its collegiate character, this 'general contribution' can no longer be simply a factor that may be taken into account: it must become a precondition to promotion.

 

Mr M. R. HENSON:

Mr deputy Vice-Chancellor and Members of the Senate here assembled for the discussion of the present Report, in the Regent House at the Senate-House, please hear my brief words, which are my own. I am Michael Henson, of Needingworth, Cambridgeshire, and a Master of Arts of the University. I do not speak with any authority except that vested in my person, and all interruption especially by way of correction will be welcome and is encouraged, both presently and for so long as I may hereafter above the soil remain.

Promotion is a topic which regularly engages those who have experienced it, for it seems to me that the neglect of parity must reflect an opinion as to popularity at least such that where promotion is other than to democratic office, no shame or threat to human life or limb is disclosed. Where lists for promotion or exclusion from promotion are created and supplied, it seems to me that the priority is the continuation of parity which promotion may otherwise disorderingly threaten. The purpose of the process in its basis is not its primary intent. The individual character thus should demonstrate that where description as Reader or Professor is achieved, the administrative effects remain a matter of discretion, for they are not substantially ranks, through custom or practice. The only way for this to be appreciated to those seeking to apply to the University for position on the basis of a title due to the vagaries of translation is practically at first hand. This should indicate that there is no language which can be officially concluded to be that of the University. Although the Report of the Discussion will be carried in the unofficial part of the Reporter, approval of the process of the Discussion is naturally official, and thus. I am obliged to correct an impression I may have given in an earlier speech, when I stated that I had no further career interest in the University. I have since heard the remark echoed by a speaker who referred to demotivation that would result to him, and I hope that this is not actually a result of the focus that came to him as a result of earlier Discussions.

I am not a professional comic, despite my name, and that the expression 'Cambridge Masters of Comedy' was used by several contemporaries of mine for their advertisement on the BBC. Any reference which may have arisen through formal similarity of my earlier speech to a scene including the character 'Mr Henson' which is part of the BBC Monty Python series is purely coincidental, despite the Sophoclean tenor of much of the scene, which is of interest to me us a former world best Classical Scholar, despite that the scene includes reference to prophecy, and despite the similarity of many names and cryptanalysable parts to some of my friends and former associates, and an ironical reference especially to 'Unemployment Benefit Cheques' (it is the Dennis Moore sketch).

Although the only way in Cambridge University is not up, and indeed careerists may note that the impending departure of Professor Sen might enjoin a flexibility not hitherto adopted relating to University nomenclature, I must urge those considering this Report not to mistake the character of a High official, élite which the University currently elects. With apologies to Socrates, the nursemaid of ideas, for any contractions which may be in evidence, I believe the most appropriate form for this is a rhyme which I now propose to deliver - it contains four lines, and is not very different from a list. The metre may be seen to reflect listing as well:

'Shuild Laird Mackay forsooth desi'e,

As he espie bar my backsi'e,

I tell him not ayet 'scaped shot

For goes forgot, the Cyph'rous plot'.


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Cambridge University Reporter, 20 November 2002
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.