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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 13 May 2003. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the Report of the Council, dated 22 April 2003, on the appointment of Pro-Vice-Chancellors (p. 813).


Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I assume that all the recommendations are the draft of a Grace to change to Ordinances, because that is required for the first regulation. I have a suggestion, which is that these changes to Ordinance should be enhanced by a requirement on the Council and the Vice-Chancellor to announce the duties of a Pro-Vice-Chancellor in the Reporter as soon as is practicable after appointment or determination under Statute D, IV, 3.

This is widespread practice in industry, would help with the maintenance of a good administrative structure, would ensure that accountability is seen to be a permanent target, and would avoid the development of conspiracy theories. People with long memories may remember the incredibly futile debate over the Office of Paymaster General when held by George Wigg under Harold Wilson, which could have been avoided by a simple announcement of what he was appointed to do!

Professor G. R. EVANS:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, we have just decided to have more Pro-Vice-Chancellors and we require a Nominating Committee. The subject of the Report before us is the mechanism for forming one.

I will beg your indulgence for a couple of sentences, Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, while I flag up a difficulty. Two weeks ago I was unlawfully silenced, as the record shows, not for 'irrelevance' but for 'irreverence'. In our 'Rome' the Emperor in his chariot of triumph will have no slave murmuring in his ear the reminder that he is merely mortal. No Clare Short of future Cambridge will be able to criticize the way the leadership behaves. Is this what the University really wants?

The Report before us envisages a problem (Paragraph 3), which I will spell out if I may. On 1 October we shall have a new Vice-Chancellor and, it seems, a complete set of new Pro-Vice-Chancellors, for our present pair are riding off into the sunset of the end of the present Vice-Chancellor's term (Reporter, p. 801). What with the uncertainty about the roles of the Secretary General and Treasurer after the Non Placet, there will be few with standing and experience to explain to Alison Richard what she may and may not do and save her from making mistakes. (I hope I may be allowed sincerely to wish her well for her recovery from her recent serious accident.)

The Report makes two proposals to enable the new Vice-Chancellor to have about her men (and possibly the odd woman) with a notion of what goes on. She may well not know the difference between a Report and a Notice when she first sits in that chair in the Dome Room and surveys her domain. Dare I suggest that that has been known, as some of us remember well. Besides, I rather think we Non Placeted the notion that she should have a domain at all.

Before I come to these proposals, I need to map out the logically prior problem area, which is what these Pro-Vice-Chancellors are to do. You cannot sensibly 'nominate' unless you can weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the nominee against what he or she is to be expected to do. May I therefore flesh out what Mr Maclaren has just said?

I propose the notion that they should be independent-minded 'watchers-over', briefed to keep one area of our complexity of operation under review and to spot trouble brewing and areas of obfuscation and bring them firmly to light. Reading two Reports, the Annual Reports of the Board of Continuing Education and the Local Examinations Syndicate, which we traditionally do not discuss, though I think we should (Reporter, 2 Special No. 14, May 2003), I am struck by things someone ought to be keeping an eye on. Continuing Education and the Cambridge Programme for Industry are becoming a tremendous growth area of our course-provision, experimental, often excellent, but largely uncontrolled by our degree committees. The Cambridge Programme for Industry is not reporting to the University at all, except vicariously in a note in the BCE Report, but it is running executive seminars for industry in our name and entering into partnership with the Open University and piloting e-learning. Shouldn't a Pro-Vice-Chancellor be monitoring this White Paper-style expansion, on our behalf? As to the UCLES Report, you would never know there had been an A-level fiasco last year, and the Report ends with a list of nineteen acronyms you have to master before you can make sense of it. A Pro-Vice-Chancellor could keep an objective eye on the operation of the UCLES Syndicate too.

These are just recent examples of our crying need to have senior individuals with clear heads and a degree of detachment from the now-pervasive Cambridge urge to spin, who will tell the University the truth and make it listen, point out trends, sound warnings, save us from ourselves. So before there is any nominating at all, may we have some proposals about the general characteristics of the Pro-Vice-Chancellarial role and then some suggestion about the way their work is to be divided up? Surely we need a list of areas of endeavour in the University put to us for Discussion under this head?

The first proposal in the present Report is simply to get on with the nominating regardless of these surely important preliminary considerations. We are invited to allow them to form an ad hoc committee of the Council 'constituted on the lines of the proposed statutory Nominating Committee'.

My fear is that its membership will then become the membership of the actual Nominating Committee. ('Heroic work in holding the fort; naturally they must continue'.) It is widely acknowledged now that one of the main reasons for the mess we have got ourselves into has been the inbred manner of making appointments to committees. One finds the same few names almost anywhere one turns. Worthy names, but these people tend to be 'safe pairs of hands'. That is the irony, They are not 'safe' precisely because they will not cry 'stop' when faced with a CAPSA. They are not bred to say 'stop'. Hence my earnest suggestion that we go for new-style Pro-Vice-Chancellors who will be vigilant and do precisely that when they spot the signs of a scheme going down the familiar Cambridge road of delay, muddle, and waste.

The second proposal is to allow the Vice-Chancellor to appoint 'a number of Deputy Vice-Chancellors' who would discharge some of the roles of additional Pro-Vice-Chancellors in advance of the new statutory arrangements coming into force'.

For clarification:

(a) Is the creation of a Deputy not a personal act of each Vice-Chancellor? Will Alison Richard not have to recreate these Deputies after she enters office? Is this going to happen without question put? And for how long?

(b) We are going to pay them a salary, which is quite new. To the best of my knowledge, no Deputy Vice-Chancellor has had a salary before. If the new Vice-Chancellor wants to change them around a bit when she has got the hang of things, will they be joining the lengthy queue of unfair dismissal cases against the University in the Bury St Edmund's Employment Tribunal?

(c) We Non Placeted the effective modification to Statute K, 9 which would allow the Vice-Chancellor to delegate to a person, so how exactly will these deputies differ from delegates?

(d) Which of the 'roles of the additional Pro-Vice-Chancellors' can be discharged by a deputy Vice-Chancellor in any case, since the proposal to give the Vice-Chancellor additional powers was Non Placeted. What is there to delegate, even if it could be delegated to a person?

These are questions arising out of the interim proposals in the Report. Much more important in the long term is the question of the proposed constitution of the proper Nominating Committee. I served for four years on the Nominations Committee of the Council (though I was never invited to grace the much more important Committee on Committees). I know well how what are in reality ready-made choices for their nomination are presented to such a committee by the administrative officers. The Unified Administrative Service is likely to have almost total control over the names and the preferences.

Who are the members to be? They are members of the Council and the General Board and the Vice-Chancellor. I cannot discover any independent member or any member able to press the concerns of ordinary members of the Regent House or any student representation. A Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Students is surely something which ought to be potentially on the list? Someone for them to talk to about top-up fees and access regulation, and the implementation of the student complaints procedure, to take a few examples?

To make it quite clear what I mean by 'independent' let me quote from the THES of 25 April about USA practice in making academic appointments to advisory committees. One potential nominee received a telephone call. 'I need to vet you in order to determine whether you hold any views embarrassing to the President.'

May we have a larger committee? Six is far too cosy. And since the Regent House is not allowed to grace these immensely important senior appointments, may it at least have a voice, preferably several, in the selection? It was edifying to watch Oxford choosing its Chancellor recently. Names directly proposed by the academic community. An open election. Could we not entertain a similar open method of getting ourselves some new-style Pro-Vice-Chancellors, with independent voices?

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Cambridge University Reporter, 21 May 2003
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