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Tuesday, 7 October 2003. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:
The Report of the Council, dated 14 July 2003, on the stipends of Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1171).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, we have just watched a new Vice-Chancellor strap on her crampons and begin the ascent of the rock-face of learning the job: the constitution, the 900 muddled pages of the Statutes and Ordinances (more on that later); the issues, the factions, the personalities, the undertow, the cross-fire; the policy-questions; Government wishes; and the ever-lively interest of the press in our doings. No-one disputes that she has a fair-sized job on her hands. So what of those who are to act on her behalf, for that is what 'Pro-Vice-Chancellorship' means (see the Oxford Gazette, 2 October, for the conflation of deputy and Pro-Vice-Chancellor there - three with identified roles and seven without).
Vice-Chancellor, the welcome is genuine. But it is a nice irony that the administration managed to put first on the list for the first Discussion of your period in office a proposal which is bound to get us asking some awkward questions about what we are paying you and your immediate entourage, and what for and where all this is taking us.
This multiplication of Pro-Vice-Chancellors in Cambridge began with the speech of Colin Humphreys in the first CAPSA Discussion, the one that led to the setting up of the Shattock and Finkelstein enquiry (Reporter, 18 October 2000). 'Restoring confidence will not be easy,' he said. 'I believe a major step forward would be for Cambridge to appoint academic Pro-Vice-Chancellors to be in charge of the various branches of the administration: the Finance Division, Estate Management and Building Services, etc. If a numerate Pro-Vice-Chancellor had been in charge of the Finance Division, then it is inconceivable that such elementary mistakes would have been made'. As I heard him, and now read him again, he was asking for a direct match between academic supervision and the new Divisions, and for academic supervision by individuals with the relevant expertise for their specialist responsibilities.
One Pro-Vice-Chancellor has been appointed, Professor Minson, who spoke in that same Discussion of October 2000, to urge postponing inquiry and avoiding decapitations, but seeking to 'help the central administration' sort things out. It is calculated that his duties will take up one-third or two-thirds of a person's time. Hearty laughter and hasty burrowing in the waste-paper-basket for a copy of the Time Allocation Survey. For it is anyone's guess what those duties will actually be.
Not quite, the Notice in reply will say. For there is a Notice, announcing a policy decision of immense importance in which the Regent House has had no say. In the Reporter of 6 August it was simply announced without asking us whether we would like to be involved in the way they are going to do it, that 'the role of Pro-Vice-Chancellors will be to drive strategy and policy development'.
There is also talk of 'portfolio' areas. But it is admitted that these are evolving portfolios, provisional portfolios, at the mercy of change and chance and 'needs and priorities'. Planning and Resources is to go to Professor Minson, who has already got it. Then there is to be Education; Research; Human Resources; Special Responsibilities (aka everything else?). I am not clear how Human Resources issues are to be separated from Research or Research from Education, so the parcel is going to be passed around while it is discovered who should be tearing off the next layer of brown paper to get at the heart of the matter. The Humphreys Proposal was not thematic like this; it was a proposal for a close tie-up between the administrative powers now in the hands of Directors under the line-management of the Registrary, and academic supervision of the Divisions. It is suggested that we should pay the Pro-Vice-Chancellors £90,915 using current figures 'in recognition of the range and importance of duties undertaken', although the basic principles determining what those duties are to be have not been agreed.
How can the present solitary holder of one of these offices have been selected for the appropriateness of his skills to the tasks he would have to carry out? What HGV 'driving' test did he have to pass to reassure us that he is a safe person to put in a position to 'drive strategy and policy development' apparently out of sight of the Regent House, and what kind of pantechnicon is this exactly? How is he managing now that he is having deposited in his lap all sort of additional roles, for example those which used to fall to the departed Treasurer and Secretary General and which the Statutes and Ordinances still require these officers or their deputies to perform? (Reporter, 28 July). What training has he had in the accepting of tenders (see next Report for Discussion today). And how is he apportioning the Secretary General's constitutional duties between himself and the Academic Secretary who has continued to discharge a high proportion of them since he moved to his present Directorship from being Deputy Secretary General? No wonder the Pro-Vice-Chancellor's cap fell off under the strain in the Senate-House on 1 October.
Will the Regent House be getting a progress report on his performance? Is he going to have to pass a probationary assessment by any route but the newspaper headlines which will appear if he is not very good at whatever it is he is actually doing?
There should not be one law for the rich and one for the poor in the University of Cambridge. Everyone else is increasingly coming under line-management scrutiny of 'performance'. The Regent House should not be expected to pay up huge sums in blind trust for 'executives', chief or not, without being allowed to know whether this huge additional annual expenditure is justified in times when rewards for our staff are being cut back because we are short of money
We should have, please, a full published statement to the Regent House of the package agreed for our new Vice-Chancellor, including salary, removal expenses, and any other sums paid out in connection with her arrival. If we add up the cost to the University of all six of them, how many promotions and up-gradings are going to be denied this year to release that sum? £0.9m is allocated for all academic promotions, nothing for upgradings as far as I can see. The total cost of our senior management team must now be pretty close to that figure surely? Or it will be if we approve these proposals. Do we believe it will stop at £90,915 each for the Pro-Vice-Chancellors and an appropriate higher figure for the Vice-Chancellor to preserve the differential? I have watched the Council playing Remuneration Committee through its self-appointed little working parties of the chosen few in the past. Year by year this 'team' is going to cost so much that rewards for other staff will have to be compromised to free up the money.
I remember a time, not long past, when it was enough by way of motivation to be entrusted with the honour of a high academic administrative office in the University. It was a bonus to be allowed time off from other duties to be a steward for a time in such an office. I am not suggesting we go back to that. But we have to be careful not to make the job attractive for the wrong reasons, by which I mean financial reasons. Professionalization of the Unified Administrative Service is one thing. This culture-change of voting through huge salaries for our academic 'executives' is another.
Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel, the Government's current pet Vice-Chancellor who is popping up everywhere, gave a BBC interview on 9 September. In 'today's universities', with 'thousands of employees, budgets in the hundreds of millions, huge estates, overseas ventures, hospitals and spin-off companies' it is not, he believes for academic staff and students to have the ultimate say in 'the overall management of the institution'. He favours the system of 'some of the most prestigious private universities' in the US, which have 'small boards of non-executive directors'. We are setting off down a road which may 'develop' our Pro-Vice-Chancellors into just such a 'Board'. Soon they may be coming from outside. Soon they may mutate into a Senior Management Team unknown to our constitution but in truth wielding all the real power in the University. Perhaps that would justify those giant salaries. But do we want it?
Professor J. P. OSTRIKER:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am honoured to be here. As you can all tell by my accent, I am new to this country, and know very little about the governance of British universities in general and about Cambridge in particular; but I know quite a bit about the equivalent for the sister institutions on the other side of the ocean and what I know there is that those institutions that are governed the best have a competent staff of senior people who are drawn from the academic ranks. This is a very important distinction. It is very important that the senior management of an institution not be purely professionals from outside with training outside of the academic world, but the actual Professors or the equivalent from within the ranks; and it is important that the positions be made attractive to the best qualified people in this category if Cambridge is going to be well managed in the future.
I cannot say that the positions have been well-defined at the present time. It is an initial try at this and they will be developed as they go along. But it is vital to have very good people in these roles. Remuneration is only one of the many things that can attract people, but I think it is not one to be neglected and it is a token of the esteem and importance that the University is placing on these positions. Therefore I am speaking in favour of this Report and I hope that it will pass and it will attract very good people for the future governance of Cambridge by academics for academics and students.
The Report of the Council, dated 21 July 2003, on the construction of a Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE) at West Cambridge (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1205).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'The building was never started due to the change in the financial circumstances of Marconi plc'. May we know in reply to these remarks what that débâcle cost the University? Rumours are rife about our losses; stories fly about, that if the Old Schools had been quicker off the mark we should have got some of the money before the collapse of this bit of industrial liaison. It would surely be better if the administration came clean about the cost to us. Then we could get a clearer picture of the true cost of what it is now proposed to build on this site.
At the risk of our hearing a snort of derisive laughter from any Secretary of State for Education who happens to read this, I will cite a medieval Statute. 'It is also decreed, that without the express and special consent of the major and more discreet part of the regents, and also of the major and more discreet part of the non-regents, the fixed property of the said university, the rights, or revenues of the same, shall by no means be alienated, either for ever, or for a time, nor shall the annual rents be by any means conceded to any one by the University'.1
And the Treasurer who has left us is still to accept the tender, I see; no, our solitary Pro-Vice-Chancellor is to do it. How confusing. How urgently in need of tidying up the Statutes and Ordinances are, if our ancient liberties are to be protected and in particular the ground-rule that we Regents decide about our estates. There is a much hotter Estates potato than that just coming out of the oven, as the demonstration in King's Parade on 1 October and the presence of Anglia TV today did not allow us to forget.
1 Early Cambridge University and College Statutes, ed. James Heywood (London, 1855), p. 7.
Dr D. R. DE LACEY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this is one of two building programmes to be discussed this afternoon. I do not intend to speak to the other; but what I wish to say is relevant to them both. We all know that the finances of this University are not in a healthy state. All of our Faculties are likely to have to make hard and uncomfortable choices in the next few years. In the present climate cutbacks of various kinds appear inevitable. Can it be right in this context to allocate any money to building projects until there is a coherent and agreed understanding of the priorities of the University as a whole? No doubt it will be argued that this is to be built with SRIF money which we shall lose if we abandon this building. That is not the point. There is to be a 'departmental contribution'. Extra staffing costs will only be 'largely' from existing transfers. This building, like the Diabetic Institute, and other proposals which we are to discuss today, will cost us something. Until we know precisely what that something is, and what needs are going to be imposed upon us by other financial restrictions, we cannot properly decide whether this spending is appropriate.
I am heartened that this concern appears to be echoed in the Vice-Chancellor's inaugural speech when she said: 'The record of physical renewal and expansion at Cambridge over the last decade is breathtaking. I believe that at this juncture we need to concentrate our planning - not exclusively but more intensely - on people and academic programmes. The challenges are enormous.'
They are indeed. And none greater than the challenge for coherent thinking about our future. I beg the Council not to approve another penny on buildings until we have done that thinking.
The Report of the Council, dated 21 July 2003, on the introduction of a new office of Assistant Director in the Fitzwilliam Museum (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1206).
No remarks were made on this Report.
First-stage Report of the Council, dated 21 July 2003, on the development of accommodation for a new Cambridge Institute for Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism (CIDEM) at the Addenbrooke's Hospital Site (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1208).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'First-stage' Reports to the University are of two kinds. The first are Good. They make us aware of a big question and give us a chance to air it. It is to be hoped that those new Pro-Vice-Chancellors who will be 'driving' strategy and policy development will have the gumption to ensure that First-stage Reports on such things will be automatic in future. I wonder.
The second kind of First-stage Report is Bad. This is one of those. They are a device which can be used as a way of ensuring that when it comes to the final decision it can be alleged that the Regent House has already approved 'in principle' (para.11). See that forthcoming hot potato I have already mentioned.
What we need is some joined-up-thinking about the state of affairs in the University's 'interest' in 'parts of the Addenbrooke's Site'. May we have a full published account of (literally) how the land lies please?
The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 21 July 2003 and 9 July 2003, on a revision of the flexible working arrangements policy (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1209).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this Report is a bit of an omnium gatherum of the rules which allow an employee not to be working full-time and exclusively for the University. It raises some fundamental questions about conditions of employment. When the overhaul of the Statutes and Ordinances is tackled, conditions of employment will have to be looked at. We have Statute A, II, 3 touching on this and Statute C, I(c) (the General Board overseeing fulfilment of conditions of tenure of University offices) and again the General Board (Statute C, IV, 9(d)) receiving reports on officers not performing satisfactorily the duties of office or fulfilling the conditions attached to it. Then there is the whole of Statute D. These all need to be set side by side and some hard thinking begun.
It seems a sound idea in the interests of equality of opportunity to treat all employees on the same basis and not confine these proposed permissions to be less than whole-hearted in the service of the University to officers. But surely this is not just a matter of fairness and equal treatment? A University Teaching Officer is still appointed to be an individual expert, in whose person resides a capacity to 'give' to learning in ways not easily reducible to calculations about time, in fact, simply to 'foster' religion, education, learning, and research. We have a good deal of freedom about hours and the exact balance of our activities. The University does very well out of most of us. We work huge numbers of hours, with dedication.
But that licence cannot extend to everyone precisely because the conditions of efficient discharge of the duties of all posts in the University are not the same. A secretary needs to be about during office hours, generally speaking, so that the Faculty phone gets answered; a cleaner needs to clean regularly at predictable hours or students will be sharing their supervisions with the vacuum cleaner. The University officers who are academic-related present yet another set of difficulties to anyone trying to be fair about flexible working arrangements.
The idea that University officers should be allowed 'to combine University work with relevant external part-time employment in an area where there were strong professional links' (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1210) is not new in Cambridge. The limitation has been the willingness of the officer's 'institution' to agree that such an arrangement was in its interests. In practice the rein has, I suspect, been held pretty loosely. But not perhaps in future.
It is not a good idea for the local barons and big leading players to be able to determine this question of what is in whose interests (especially while it continues to be the case that they themselves do not need to declare any, see recent Council Minutes). So my request is that we rethink this bit of devolution. It will lead to inequities of treatment of individuals in different parts of the University, sure as eggs is eggs. I would prefer to see that principle replaced by 'in the University's interests'.
My third area of concern relates to the need for consistency. Do we really believe that the spinners-out and entrepreneurs and formers of industrial liaisons who happen to be big cheeses in our structure are going to be subjected to assessment about the balance of their activities and required to go onto part-time working while they run their businesses full-time? Yet what they are doing may well not be consistent with their duties under Statute D, since it is not academic but commercial. Those interested in our IPR issues ought to be taking an interest in the implications of these proposals.
The Report of the General Board, dated 9 July 2003, on the reorganization of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1217).
Professor W. A. BROWN:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I respond to the Report as the first Chair of the Social and Political Sciences Faculty Board who is external to the Faculty. The proposed reorganization is a sensible response to the success of SPS since it was established as a Faculty fifteen years ago. As the Report says, since then its staff numbers have tripled and its student numbers have quintupled. Its division into three distinct Departments alongside the existing Centre for Family Research is a natural response to this expansion. It is confidently expected that it will assist the different disciplines to develop in their own right, while still permitting their collaboration with each other and within the wider University in both teaching and research. No better evidence of their capacity for productive co-operation could be given than the recently published changes in the range of options available to SPS undergraduates. I commend this proposal to the Regent House.
Dr A. D. LEHMANN:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I fully support the proposal to divide SPS into three Departments. My purpose in speaking today is to express the fervent hope that it constitutes not the solution of an old problem, but a new beginning for the social sciences in Cambridge. If Cambridge is to hold its own in sociology, in political science, and in social and developmental psychology, it has to look at the big wide world and realize that the effort the University has put into these subjects has been paltry both in absolute and in relative terms, in terms of resources, of management attention, and of professional esteem.
Until this measure was proposed Cambridge was almost the only university in the world where Sociology and Political Science operated in a single unit, and definitely the only one where they were combined with Psychology. These are disciplines with very different cultures and forcing them together was a mistake.
Cambridge has also taken the view (by default more than consciously) that these subjects can be covered, essentially, by a skeleton teaching staff. We have a total of 27 UTOs in these three subjects combined. Oxford had at the last count exactly 100 staff in Politics and International Relations alone (against our 15 established posts in Politics in SPS and the Centre of International Studies combined!) and some 15 in Sociology; Manchester has 35 in Government and International Relations and 29 in Sociology; and Essex has 30 in Government and 27 in Sociology. These numbers exclude full-time research staff. With so few people in Cambridge it is impossible to give adequate teaching coverage of these very wide-ranging disciplines.
Cambridge also imposes much more on SPS than on many other Faculties in the Social Sciences and Humanities because of the paltry support received by the subject in the Colleges. Five of Cambridge's most wealthy and ancient Colleges have not a single established Fellow in any of the SPS subjects. As a result the UTOs have to devote far more time than is right to undergraduate supervision, to the self-evident detriment of their research. Unsurprisingly, we have lost two young and promising Politics Lecturers to Oxford in the last three years and are about, sadly, to lose our very recently appointed Professor of Social Psychology. The Faculty has now officially agreed to provide supervision arrangements for undergraduates in almost all papers, thus in effect taking over much of the role of Director of Studies from the Colleges (without of course receiving the corresponding rewards). The subjects covered by the Faculty also have a tiny number of Research Fellows in Colleges.
From the qualitative point of view, I wish to remind you of the poor management by the University's decision-making bodies of these subjects as well as of related subjects, especially International Relations, Area Studies, and Development Studies, over a very long period. There have been reviews and reviews: International Relations (1995), SPS itself (1998), Latin-American Studies (1999), and Development Studies (2002). SPS was further subjected to smaller quasi-reviews in response to specific issues in 2001 and 2002-03. The review of Latin-American Studies is the only review to have produced anything so far, because it led to the formation of an International Studies Degree Committee which now has a large postgraduate programme. This Degree Committee, originally conceived to cover all the Area Studies and Development Studies, only covers International Studies and Latin-American Studies. The recommendations of the review of Development Studies, which would have brought that subject into this Committee as well, have not been acted upon. The 'mini-review' of Politics and International Studies in 2002-03 rightly pointed to the extreme teaching pressures which undermine research in those subjects, but of course provided no concrete way of dealing with them. On the whole, the reviews failed to produce action by those responsible for decision-making, leaving these various bodies to 'sort themselves out' but neglecting, in the cases of SPS and International Studies, to reduce the pressure for undergraduate supervision and M.Phil. teaching and examining, which has distorted the allocation of time.
Undergraduate teaching apart, the great successes of SPS have been the Centre for Family Research and the Faculty's graduate programme. The Centre is entirely self-funded by research grants and is testimony to the intellectual and entrepreneurial flair of its Director. It is to be hoped that the rest of us can learn from the Centre and its success. The graduate programme, which now has 60 doctoral students and two M.Phil. courses with 30 students, has been administered as a single programme for all three subjects and has worked very smoothly. Once again, though, shortage of resources hampers it because students receive so little Departmental support for fieldwork, conferences, and seminars.
The three new Departments will be born into extreme poverty - conceivably even into debt: they have no disposable income in the form of Trust Funds; they will be able to offer negligible independent support to people who, for example, need time or assistance to write research applications, or to their research students; they apparently also will find themselves in deficit if and when RAM comes fully into force.
The last thing these new Departments and the academics working in them need, as the above story shows, is more reviews. What they need is a strategic commitment by the University and the Colleges to build them up quantitatively and qualitatively, to take a comprehensive view of them, and especially to ensure that they are able to produce the top-class research of which their members are capable. The age distribution of SPS's academic staff in fact already imposes on the University an obligation to take a strategic view, and that view must surely be that these three Departments require a major psychological and material boost. Cambridge's investment and output in these subjects is simply not consistent with the preservation of our international reputation.
The psychological dimension is very important: to enable the three fledgling Departments to flourish they must have the esteem, support, and confidence of the decision-making bodies and also of the Colleges, and they should be secure in the knowledge that they will not be left to sink or swim all on their own. If they feel supported and encouraged they will be able to go with confidence into the world and raise more external research funds and donations. But of course I support the first step which will give those working in these subjects the secure identity which they have hitherto lacked, and which they most surely deserve.
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'A consistent and strategically energetic mistrust',1 new Vice-Chancellor, may be healthy and necessary in Cambridge, as I suspect you will soon realize. Those of us who devote the time and energy to raising concerns will respond warmly to your call to trust, but not blindly.
This is a convenient example of the need not to be blindly trusting when the General Board or Council put a Report before us, that they know what they are doing and are telling us the whole story. Social and Political Sciences got into a mess a year or two ago, and there had to be an enquiry into the possible adverse effects on students taking the Tripos of changes untidily made and unevenly implemented. Reference to this may be found in the Education Committee Minutes on the Web, with an expression of lingering uncertainty about the promises of better practice in the future. It is a pity this is not frankly acknowledged in this Report, because with full knowledge one could make a better fist of knowing which way to read it. Cambridge should be seen to learn from its mistakes, and that means not being afraid to admit to them. I am not accusing the General Board of spin in this Report, merely of an economy with the things it mentions and the way it sets up these proposals.
The proposal to reconfigure a Faculty and to give more power to Departments raises a number of constitutional questions. Statute C contains provisions describing in some detail the relationship between the General Board and Faculty Boards. Tacked onto the end are some statutory provisions about Heads of Departments. These do not give all the answers which are going to be needed, about the autonomy of the new Departments in SPS and the extent of the delegation of powers. That should be flagged up and attended to. We need operational details, even a local 'constitution' which can be referred to when the forseeable disputes arise about the division of powers in practice.
There is surely insufficient clarity about the balance of posts? Is this a reshuffle of existing teaching resources within the limitations of the heated politics of the Faculty? Is it inherently unstable and open to the damaging consequences of people flouncing off in huffs? Or is it a rational plan to ensure that teaching needs can be systematically covered in the long term? Are there in fact going to be sufficient University Teaching Officers to provide the necessary long-term anchorage for the subject-elements without having to call on help from outside? I have the standing to raise this, having, like other UTOs on the establishment of the History Faculty, provided lectures for many years on courses SPS students took in some numbers.
And what of interdisciplinary considerations? It is unclear in this proposal what thought has been given to the questions the University is going to have to address sooner or later about the need to provide constitutionally for academic enterprises which do not fit into a single Tripos. Is this a recognition that Social and Political Sciences is really a ragbag of disciplines which should be sorted out into distinct Departments? Or is it an attempt to create an orderly forum in which students with interdisciplinary interests may select elements making up a course which has a clear intellectual focus?
The Quality Assurance Agency's Institutional Audit Report is due to be published on Friday. The auditors have spotted that although on the face of it we have procedures and protections in which they can place 'broad confidence' they do seem to be of rather recent origin, so recent that academic staff, let alone students, do not seem to have been made aware of them. This is exactly the sort of change where the failure to embed our brand new claims to good practice is going to show up. Let us make sure it does not, by doing now the thinking about interdisciplinarity and about delegated powers, which the General Board should have done before putting this Report before us.
1 From Alison Richard's speech on 1 October, 2003.
The Eighth Report of the Board of Scrutiny, dated 17 June 2003 (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1274).
Dr C. F. FORSYTH:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak this afternoon as Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny simply to provide a brief introduction to the long and complicated Report which is the subject of this Discussion.
The Board (which is elected by the Regent House) has a statutory obligation to 'scrutinize on behalf of the Regent House' the Annual Reports of the Council, the Abstract of the Accounts, and any Report of the Council proposing allocations from the Chest and has the right of reporting to the Regent House on what it finds. The Ordinances go further and make it plain that the Board may also scrutinize the Annual Report of the General Board and 'the policies of the University and the arrangements made for the implementation of those policies'. The Board's remit is thus wide-ranging.
The work of the Board over the past year has inevitably been dominated by financial matters particularly the deficit and the measures taken to ameliorate it. The financial affairs of the University are so complex and arcane that it is difficult to say anything about them without being either so general as to be unhelpful or so detailed as to be incomprehensible. I shall try to say something helpful. I will not repeat here the Board's analysis of the causes of the deficit (which will be found in detail in our Seventh Report and briefly in the Eighth Report). Suffice it to say here that, in the Board's view, the deficit is largely self-inflicted; and its underlying cause was the development of policies and the taking of decisions over the past decade or so without the proper management accounts, forecasting, and analysis which would have enabled the financial impact of these decisions to be predicted (and so avoided). Thus, to give but one example, new buildings have been constructed with insufficient analysis of the impact of their maintenance and running costs on the University's finances in the medium or longer term.
The major response to the deficit has been the Finance Working Party (FWP) which reported in March 2003. The foundation of the FWP report consists of six 'Special Studies' (each dealing with a particular area: teaching, the funding of research, staff costs, the University estate, student fees, and other matters (mostly trust funds)). The FWP recognizes that the painful short-term measures that were taken last year in response to the deficit will contain but will not eliminate the deficit. Although not expressly stated in these terms, the central plank of its solution to the deficit is the adoption of a Resource Allocation Model (RAM).
The RAM will be a formula according to which relevant income is divided between the Schools in a way that is related to a certain extent to the sources from which that income stems. Recipients of funds will be subject to a firm cash limit and from this they will need to arrange to meet all their expenses plus a share of the central administration costs. Once the RAM is in place the hard and painful decisions necessary to eliminate the deficit will not be taken by the Central Bodies but will be taken by the Schools, Faculties, and Departments.
With the RAM, as with much else, the devil is in the detail - but the detail is not yet clear. The original proposed RAM is now being elaborated by the RAMDOG or Resource Allocation Model Development and Organization Group and we wait its deliberations with interest. The Board has several concerns over the RAM. First, in the form originally proposed, the RAM would operate by imposing economies on the Schools without imposing any equivalent financial discipline on the central administration. Thus the full weight of the necessary economies would fall on the parts of the University which carry out its basic functions of teaching and research. It is to be hoped that the revised RAM will not be flawed in this way. Secondly, and even more fundamentally, the Board is concerned that vital decisions about the future shape of the University will in effect be taken by the mechanical application of the RAM rather than by open discussion and principled decision-making. Crucial decisions may thus be being taken, knowingly or unknowingly, when the technical details of the RAM are constructed. The Board hopes that when the revised version of the RAM is published the algorithms and parameters on which it is based will be clearly explained and the Regent House will have an opportunity to discuss them.
What underlies the Board's concern over important decisions being hidden behind the mechanistic operation of the RAM is its long-standing concern over the absence of a strategic plan for the University. It is heartening that the FWP has now recognized the need for such a plan. Yet in truth this is still placing the cart before the horse. Once priorities have been set in a strategic plan then a RAM may be constructed to give effect to those priorities. But, if the RAM is constructed first, irrational priorities and unintended effects may be secreted within it.
The final question on finance to address generally before I turn to budgeting and accounting is whether the implementation of the FWP recommendations will in fact eliminate the deficit by 2006-07 as the Allocations Report suggests. As the Report makes clear this result depends upon several assumptions in addition to the full implementation of the FWP recommendations. Several of these assumptions are, in the Board's view, optimistic - particularly in regard to pay and pensions only rising in line with inflation. Moreover, the Allocations Report itself recognizes in the small print that further substantial but unspecified reductions in expenditure will be needed if the deficit is to be eliminated. Thus in the end the Board shares the Council's view that the elimination of the deficit by 2006-07 will be difficult to achieve. Although the FWP represents a serious attempt to get to grips with the University's financial difficulties, the University has not yet found its way out of the woods and difficult times lie ahead.
The presentation of financial information in the University is idiosyncratic. And this makes a true understanding of the University's finances difficult. The Allocations Report is the nearest thing that exists in the University to an annual budget setting out its plans for income and expenditure in the year ahead. It is, however, not a budget in a proper sense. It does not treat income and expenditure in the same way as the University's statutory accounts (so comparisons between plans (in the budget) and outcomes (in the accounts) are difficult to draw). It mixes revenue and capital items and does not budget for depreciation of capital assets. But most importantly the information it provides is incomplete. The Allocations Report deals only with 'Chest Income' (very broadly grants, fees, and endowment income, and transfers from CUP and UCLES; Non-Chest income is very broadly income from trust funds, special funds, the direct cost element of research grants, and other incidental matters). When 'the deficit' has been spoken of above, this is the excess of planned-for expenditure from the Chest over its expected income. The Board has previously pointed out that this incomplete information is unsatisfactory and has called for 'joined-up budgeting' bringing together both Chest and Non-Chest income. The Board is therefore glad that it is proposed to remedy this situation in next year's Allocations Report.
The position is equally idiosyncratic when it comes to the accounts. The Board again has several times pointed out that the University has failed to comply with accepted national accounting standards and the Statement of Recommended Practice for Higher Education Institutions. The accounting policy which offends against these standards is primarily the exclusion from the Consolidated Accounts of the accounts of the CUP, UCLES, the Cambridge Foundation, the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, the Cambridge European Trust, the Gates Cambridge Trust, and others. In these circumstances, embarrassingly, the University's new auditors Deloitte Touche refused this year to certify that the accounts give a 'true and fair view' of the University's financial affairs (such a certificate is a requirement of the HEFCE Financial Memorandum). As a result, plans are now afoot to present Consolidated Accounts including CUP, UCLES, and the Trust Funds.
Since the Board has long called for these reforms it warmly welcomes these steps toward 'joined-up budgeting' and the full consolidation of the accounts. Once fully implemented we will all have a better understanding of the true financial position of the University and better decisions will be able to be taken.
Statute F requires approval by Grace of the Regent House for the erection of any new University building. During the course of the past year the Board of Scrutiny has become concerned over the operation of this Statute in two respects. First, the Regent House is sometimes presented with the relevant Grace so late - only a few days before work is to begin - that it is in effect presented with a fait accompli. This is obviously undesirable even if it squeaks within the letter of the Statute. The Board recognizes, however, that it will sometimes be difficult to judge when in the process of planning and designing the building approval should be sought. And for this reason the Board recommends that the Council, when seeking the approval of the Regent House for the construction of a building, should normally do so in two stages, seeking approval in principle (usually before seeking planning permission) and later presenting a further and more detailed Report at a much later stage. The Board notes with approval that this proposal has been put into effect with the recent updated Report on the construction of the East Forum, and also now with the CIDEM building.
The second respect in which this procedure has given cause for concern is graver. In May 2000 a very short Report from the Council was published proposing the construction of a new research facility for the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Anatomy. The building proposed was to be funded by some £20m from the Joint Infrastructure Fund. The Report attracted little attention and was duly graced without a ballot being called. However, this new building has thus far failed to obtain planning permission (the University's planning appeal is presently under consideration) and it is opposed by many. This is because this building, if constructed, will contain the controversial Primate Research Centre. But this crucial fact is nowhere mentioned in the Report.
The Board is satisfied from its investigations that those involved were from the outset aware of the controversial nature of the proposed building. However, on account of the self-evident serious security issues involved a decision was taken to limit the material published. This resulted in vital facts about the purpose of the building being kept from the Regent House. As far as the Board of Scrutiny has been able to determine the then Council was informed of the true purpose of the building.
The Board considers that this policy of being 'economical with the truth', while adopted in good faith, was almost bound to fail - a £20m building could not escape notice and its purpose would become public at some stage as in fact has proved to be the case. Any security advantage achieved by the suppression of the building's purpose was thus chimerical. But the graver issue is the failure to reveal the truth to the Regent House. The Regent House, as the Governing Body of the University, must be told the whole truth or else the essential trust between the Old Schools and the Regent House is broken down. The Board thus recommends, and indeed now expects, that if planning permission for the Primate Research Centre is granted, a further Grace should be put before the University so that the Regent House, now in possession of all the facts, will be able to decide the future of this proposal.
The Board would like to make it crystal clear that it takes no view on the ethical issues concerning experimentation on primates. Its only concern in raising this matter is to ensure that the Regent House is provided with the necessary information when deciding whether to approve the construction of a new building.
As the Regent House is aware the complex ballots on Governance held early in 2003 suffered a mixed fate. Three Graces were not approved (including the Grace on the proposed executive powers of the Vice-Chancellor) and three were approved. The Board interprets this outcome as indicating that the Regent House will accept change in the University's government, but was sceptical about crucial parts of the Council's proposals. For instance, in its Seventh Report the Board identified problems with the apparent overlap between the proposed executive powers of the Vice-Chancellor and the continuing executive functions of the Council under Statute A. Nevertheless, the proposals eventually submitted contained no satisfactory resolution of this difficulty or any obvious mechanism by which a Vice-Chancellor with increased powers might be held accountable by the Council or the Regent House once in office (other than the elaborate and cumbersome procedure provided for under Statute U - requiring petition to the Chancellor). Hence the Board's and the Regent House's scepticism about this proposal.
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor at this point requested Dr Forsyth to abridge his quotations from the Board's Report.
The Board finds it difficult to overestimate the importance of ensuring that any further proposals for governance reform should be properly and carefully prepared and be sensitive to the views of the Regent House. It thus remains firmly of the view that such proposals should emanate from a body independent of the Council such as an Occasional Syndicate established under Statute A.
But, in the Board's view as important as governance reform is administrative reform. Much of the delay in decision-making in the University derives not from the necessity of seeking approval from the Regent House or from the time that is necessarily taken when a ballot is called. It arises from the thicket of overlapping committees through which proposals must struggle, sometimes several times, before they can be considered by the Central Bodies and the Regent House.
The Board is of the view that taking an axe - or a chain saw - to the thicket of overlapping committees and ensuring that those that remain are effectively supported administratively would do much to improve the government of the University, and would be more successful than controversial attempts to create a 'top-down' University and would not raise fundamental constitutional issues.
I end by referring to two important matters concerning the relationship between the Board and the Old Schools. The Board relies greatly on the co-operation of University officers in doing its work (and it is very grateful for that co-operation). From the nature of its work it will sometimes be asking for information that the officers concerned may wish not to reveal because it is embarrassing in one way or another. For this reason the Board is entitled under the Statutes to consult 'any official documents or accounts' which are relevant to its duties. For three months in the last year, however, the Board was, in breach of the Statute, denied access by the Old Schools to the six Special Studies which formed the foundation of the work of the FWP. While these studies (which turned out to have nothing embarrassing or untoward in them) were eventually released after the Board had vigorously asserted its rights, this development exemplifies a negative attitude to the work of the Board of Scrutiny that the Board greatly regrets.
The Board does not expect that it will again be denied access to relevant documents and this incident should now be considered by all as an unfortunate aberration. But the Board expresses the hope that the Old Schools will abandon this negative attitude and engage constructively with the Board of Scrutiny and its recommendations. At the deepest level the Board and the Old Schools are engaged in a common task of ensuring the good government of the University. And the Board has shown on many occasions that it has a useful and important role to play in this regard.
In this context the Board applauds the Vice-Chancellor's call for the building of trust between the different parts of the University. While the Board's scrutiny will always be independent and penetrating and it will pull no punches when necessary, it stands ready to do its part in rebuilding trust and confidence in the University's government.
Professor T. J. SMILEY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I should like to raise two matters. One is a piece of unfinished business from the Board's Sixth Report, where they recommended that the Council should organize open debate within the University about what its policy should be about the rate of future growth. The policy in question appears to be this:
On 20 November 2000 the Council agreed to accept the recommendation of the Planning and Resources Committee that for planning purposes the following figures for future annual expansion should be adopted: that undergraduate numbers would continue to increase by 0.5 per cent; postgraduate student numbers by 2.0 per cent; and post-doctoral / unestablished staff numbers by 3.0 per cent. The growth in established academic and support staff is expected to be proportional to the increase in the student load so that the current student-staff ratio is maintained. (Reporter, 14 February 2001, p. 466)
I should emphasize that this decision had no particular connection with the proposals about the development of North West Cambridge. It was made after those were first publicly aired. At that time the policy over numbers was the longstanding so-called Swinnerton-Dyer concept of the steady-state university, with its five stated reasons for setting an upper limit of 14,000 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) students. It was re-affirmed in 1989 by the Long-Term Planning Committee on Site Strategy, and, as the May 2000 Report on the North West Cambridge Site said, 'has guided site planning to the present day' (Reporter, 24 May 2000, p. 724).
Some people might welcome a tilt of the University's mission towards the postgraduate side, though they might be concerned about a simultaneous steady growth in undergraduate numbers. Others might have other views. I merely remark that the 'steady-state' concept would call for a reduction in current student numbers, not an increase. We have had policy changes supported by good arguments and bad, but I do not think we have ever had one of this importance supported by no arguments at all. So I hope the Council will attend to the Board's recommendation soon, simply by letting it be discussed separately from the development of the North West Site. And I hope they will start things off by publishing their reasons for the decision I have quoted.
My other point relates to the Board's comments on the conduct of ballots. In their customary understated way, they say that 'the conduct of ballots in recent years has not been ideal'; but that is only the half the story. Here is what the Ordinances say:
Statement of Intention
In carrying out their functions as the principal executive and policy-making body of the University the Council will consult the Regent House on questions of policy which in the Council's judgement are likely to prove controversial. They will do this by submitting a Grace to the Regent House for the approval of a provisional decision or statement of intention; where appropriate, such a Grace will allow for the expression of a preference between alternative options. The Council will give consideration to remarks made at any Discussion of such matters and to the outcome of any vote on them. (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 121)
This is no casual statement. It is a formal undertaking, designed to give effect to a decision - carried by an overwhelming majority - of the Regent House in the wake of the Wass Report. What the Council have undertaken to do surely includes holding straw votes to clarify the state of opinion on complicated matters, to the point where a formal vote becomes reasonable. It must be perfectly plain that, whatever else they may have done by way of consultation, they did not adhere to their undertaking when it came to last year's ballots on numbers of signatures. (For Dr D. A. Galletly's excellent expositions of the problems, including the unholy mess over the e-mail option, see Reporter, 5 February 2003, p. 553, and 19 March 2003, p. 755.) A model for what the Council should have done was, oddly enough, provided by the very same issue in 1992. There were two ballots. The first offered a choice between 100, 50, 25, 20, and 10 signatures. The result was not clearcut, but did make it plain that the real decision was 10 versus 50. There was then a second ballot offering a simple choice between these two, in which 10 secured a decisive 2 to 1 majority. The reason this procedure is a model is that the Council explained that the first ballot was to be regarded as a preliminary to the taking of formal decisions.
It seems to me that two things follow. It must become the Registrary's duty to remind the Council and its successive membership of their undertaking. And I do not see how in good conscience the current Council can allow their breach of it to stand uncorrected. If, God forbid, they do not do the decent thing and have a re-run on proper lines, then I hope the Board of Scrutiny will take the lead in promoting a Grace under Statute A, VIII. The Board do, after all, have a special interest in the matter. For the Wass Report made a point of the fact that if the Board of Scrutiny were dissatisfied, they could always call for a ballot. But the Board, the University's official watchdog, has only 12 members, which is more than 10 but falls far short of 25. It can hardly let itself be complacent about the procedural propriety of any change that would muffle it.
Mr D. P. HEARN:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like gently to protest at the tone of some of the language in the Board's Report.
The Report deals, amongst other things, with two technical accounting issues to do with the consolidation and pension disclosure in the Accounts. In paragraphs 30 to 45 the Board uses some strong language which I believe is unhelpful particularly in rebuilding the trust between the Administrative Service and the Board of Scrutiny to which the Chairman has just alluded.
The Board says the contents of the Accounts 'give cause for worry' and spells out its concerns at some length. What is the cause for all the alarm? It is a technical issue to do with consolidation. Cambridge University Press, and others, have not been consolidated into the University's Accounts. But this is exactly the same position as for the last 100 years and instead the Press' Accounts are included as a separate appendix. This is a perfectly sensible alternative pending a change in the University Statutes to allow them to be consolidated. As a member of the Audit Committee, I entirely agree with the Board's recommendation that the Council should press ahead with its plans to introduce consolidated Accounts. That makes sense. But why raise the temperature as though this is a serious shortcoming?
Another technical accounting issue is to do with the disclosure of pension information. The Board makes a perfectly valid point that financial planning in the future should include a higher level of pension contributions [to the Contributary Pension Scheme] than the present 1%. But it is really not reasonable to criticize last year's Accounts in such a trenchant manner for the way the pension information was disclosed. The Accounts disclosed the information, based on the most recent actuarial valuation, in exactly the same way as every other university in the UK. During the next two months a new actuarial valuation will be completed. All staff in the scheme have been informed already that their contribution will have to rise next year. This is a sensitive area. We need to use careful language and avoid speculating on future contribution levels. So let us wait for the new actuarial valuation.
Dr P. C. LEE:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I come today as a member of the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology to welcome the Eighth Report of the Board of Scrutiny.
This Report mentions the HEFCE report on governance in Oxford and Cambridge (para. 63) noting the inability of senior management to focus on reform and improvement, exacerbated by dissent from within the institution that is often not constructive. I hope that my comments, while not all positive, may at least give pause for thought about the current financial climate.
Cambridge is being criticized, roundly and at all levels, for not being more business-like in the way we run our affairs (para. 73) and yet, simultaneously, we have strengthened our intellectual leadership within the UK. How can these conflicting states be reconciled? It seems unlikely that we could do so well in the UK context without the existence of quality and intellectual ability more than adequate to satisfy simplistic concepts of top-down, executive management. Moreover, I would suggest that despite the freezing of positions and the resulting increase in workloads on remaining colleagues, despite the so-called 'salary increases above the rate of inflation' (but at a resolution of the first decimal place in the RPI), despite the costs of promotion to recognize excellence (which seem wholly justified given the exceptional performance of Cambridge academics in the RAE), the University's teaching and research staff remain highly productive and committed to excellence at all levels. What is this University without those who teach for it, and why are these individuals and their students bearing so much of the brunt of the current financial constraints?
The Board of Scrutiny has spelled out the disastrous deficit facing the University. The causes of this deficit are now well rehearsed. Some are, as I noted earlier, a consequence of excellence. Others appear to be the consequence of poor decision-making amongst those responsible for our finances. The drive for prestige projects at all costs, the need to continue to better the RAE position by inadequately resourced research infrastructure - all of these are significant, but they are sunk costs. There is no real point returning to these issues; rather we need to ensure that the forward movement of the University is one of proaction rather than reaction.
Specifically, the Board of Scrutiny reports that the proposed RAM, rather than discussions about or appraisals of future needs and directions, will determine the shape of the University to come. In other words (para. 27) 'when the University has decided its financial strategy' the core activities, essential Departments, and research contexts will be determined. One asks precisely what is determining these strategies for the 21st Century: financial constraints or institutional vision?
RAM requires that the Schools, Faculties, and Departments meet all their own expenses (para. 19). This is simply impossible as we share our expenses with those of the administrative services. The Report states that RAM will operate by imposing economies on Faculties and Departments without imposing the equivalent discipline on administration or central services. I would point out that under the past system of resource allocation 'we' at the Faculty and Department level have not had the power to allocate resources. We have merely spent what has been frugally assigned, and the Schools have done their very best to even out the massive disparities. It remains the case that whatever state of financial chaos we are now in is one largely due to the decision-makers at the centre. They give us money, and they approve our projects. However, having bequeathed to us the consequences of their past fiscal blunders, they have now imposed - with no consultation, prior information, or assessment of consequences - a swingeing progressive tax on 'donations' and other non-overhead related special income. This was recently instituted by the Financial Working Party, a group initially constituted to cope with the complexities of the RAM. The FWP now seems to be making major financial decisions and belatedly informing Faculties of decisions implemented some months in advance, with no discussion. I wonder about the validity of such actions.
I finish by commenting on the current cuts, such as those where our Departmental equipment budget to run science teaching labs (being rated as a pre-clinical science within a mixed social sciences Faculty) has been cut by over 70%, and where we have been required to make further recurring cuts in consumables or other charges. These cuts are unsustainable in the context of excellence in teaching or research. We simply cannot effectively teach undergraduates or encourage research amongst our many graduate students in this climate of inadequate resourcing. Despite our very best efforts to buffer against the cuts, our students will inevitably suffer. I strongly support the Board of Scrutiny's comments that those penalized are those who deliver the primary function of this University - the academic staff. Finally, we at the well-managed level of the School, Faculty, or Department are being asked to find the full savings of the historical overruns and incompetence of the central decision-making and administrative bodies. Due to the way in which 'overheads' are computed, only 60% of generated income is provided to the Departments and yet 100% of the cuts are then required to come from these residual monies. From my perspective, we as an institution need to re-evaluate our financial priorities in the context of strategies for ensuring that our institution, of paramount importance to this country's future and potential for wealth generation, has a future in teaching and research.
Dr D. A. GALLETLY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, may I begin by apologizing to Trinity College for any upset I may have caused by making reference to what I have since been informed is an apocryphal tale in my speech of 8 July 2003.
The Eighth Report of the Board of Scrutiny shows us, yet again, what great importance this body is to the University. In sober measured tones it details what has happened, and on occasion what perhaps ought to have happened, in the course of the preceding year. The University should welcome the opportunity to take stock of its failings, and indeed its successes, as reported by an internal watchdog that seeks to improve rather than destroy the University.
To suggest, as has happened on occasion in the past, that the Board of Scrutiny notes only failures, without regard for successes, and indeed that it is looking for titillating scandals to report to the University is, perhaps, to miss the point somewhat. The successes of the University are widely known, and are trumpeted loud and clear by our Press and Publications Office. The purpose of a watchdog body is not to repeat such congratulatory statements, but to investigate where things might perhaps be less than ideal. An external watchdog would no doubt be far more critical; and its complaints would be phrased far more strongly than the mild-mannered tones of the Board of Scrutiny.
The opportunity for Cambridge to set its own house in order should be welcomed. So why is the Board of Scrutiny finding obstacles placed in its path when it attempts to access documents? Paragraph 91 of the Report: 'When the Board asked to see these studies, its request was initially refused, and the refusal was, we understand, supported by the Council. ... The Board found nothing in the disputed documents that, even if published, could have caused the University any embarrassment. From correspondence with the Vice-Chancellor, the Board understands the refusal was motivated by a desire to assert a principle that the Board should never see documents which might 'be written differently and may thereby be less useful' if those who wrote them realized they might eventually be seen by external eyes.'
So the Board of Scrutiny is not to be trusted. This seems to be a more generally applicable problem. In paragraph 56 of the Report, the Board says, with reference to the construction of a new research facility for the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Anatomy: 'Nonetheless, the truth was kept from the Regent House. There are two aspects of this policy of being 'economical with the truth'. The first is that it was almost bound to fail. ... But this was just a failure of policy, of which there are many, and some at any rate are inevitable. The graver, second aspect of this is the failure to reveal the truth to the Regent House. The Regent House, as the governing body, must be told the truth or else the essential trust between the government of the University and the Regent House is broken down.'
This is the essence of one of the major problems facing the University today. Academics do not take kindly to being hoodwinked, to feeling that the wool is being pulled over their eyes, or even that information is being kept from them by Nanny, in the misguided belief that what they do not know will not hurt them. If there is pressure, internal or external, to change the way in which the University conducts its business, its academics would prefer to be told the truth. Cambridge is full of a marvellous variety of creative, inventive minds. Presented with an accurate exposition of a problem (for example threatened Government interference if the University does not reform in an approved fashion) it is highly likely that Cambridge academics, working together to further the aims of the University, could fashion an innovative solution. Presented instead with a hastily-concocted makeshift 'solution' to something that appears to be a non-problem because the academics are not to be trusted with the details of, or even the awareness of the existence of, the external restraints, is it any wonder that those same inventive minds turn to ways to thwart what they see as attempts to 'fix' what 'ain't broke'?
Last Wednesday the incoming Vice-Chancellor asked the academics of Cambridge to offer her their trust, as she pledged to earn it. In return, would it be too much to ask that in future the Regent House may be trusted with more of the underlying motivations for proposals, that they might better be able to judge their appropriateness or otherwise? Straight talking, rather than 'spin', is what is needed if further débâcles along the lines of the governance reforms are to be avoided.
Mr N. M. MACLAREN (read by Dr D. R. DE LACEY):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, at the risk of being repetitive, I have lost count of how many people, at all levels, who have the same concerns that this Report raises. Its proposals are also in line with the actions those people felt should be taken. In this case, it is fair to say that the Board of Scrutiny is speaking for a large proportion of the University. These are extremely difficult issues, but they are at the root of many consequential problems.
Dr D. R. DE LACEY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is rare that a Report by a watchdog body, running to some dozen pages, could be described as interesting and entertaining. The Board of Scrutiny is to be congratulated on this feat. In its Seventh Report, the Board commented at length on the RAM. It concluded that 'the proposed RAM is unsatisfactory in that it is neither objective nor transparent. Nor does it provide a proper understanding of the costs, and moreover could end up distorting the University's priorities', and the Board recommended 'that before the University attempts to move to produce a RAM, there should be an open discussion about all aspects of funding'. In the light of the absence of such discussion, the mild tone of the present Report is rather surprising. The more so since at least some Departments are operating as though the RAM were already in operation. Once more the Board recommends an open debate. May we not need to say, this time next year, Once more the recommendation falls on deaf ears.
Perhaps the crucial centre of this Report lies in paragraphs 27 and 28. Especially when any financial strategy which can be envisaged must entail stringencies and cuts, it is quite conceivable that we might discover, to parody the quoted words of the FWP, that when the University has decided its financial strategy it will discover that Departments identified by a strategic plan as being important have already disappeared. That this is not inconceivable is evidenced by the closure of the Department of East Asian Studies at Durham, at a time when East Asia is likely to be of growing significance to Europe's trading relations (to put the issue in terms which even Lambert could understand). It is vital that we begin with strategic planning. It is vital that we refuse to squander resources until we have done so.
As an integral part of our planning I urge that particular attention be paid to Recommendation X: that greater urgency should be placed on the implementation of the Shattock and Finkelstein recommendations. It is disgraceful that for all the assurances we were given, aspects of CamSIS look frighteningly close to the uncontrolled freefall of CAPSA, and nothing I can see in our modified structures and governance regulations would serve one whit to make another CAPSA impossible.
There are many other aspects of this Report worthy of comment, though in many cases comment only of general approval. However, I would urge a note of caution in Recommendation XII. The Board notes the 'disparities between the University as it exists in the Statutes and Ordinances and the University as it actually functions', and recommends that the Statutes and Ordinances be revised to reflect actuality. There are however many areas where the University functions as it does because officers - sometimes highly placed officers - act in contravention of statutory requirements either through ignorance or through guile. Here I would rather see a demand that we try to obey the rules in our running of the University. I suspect many of our colleagues would concur.
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the habitual lack of transparency in the attitudes and practice of our administration and the central bodies has been complained of many times in this place. This year's Board of Scrutiny Report places it beyond doubt that this is happening to a degree constitutionally unacceptable to the University. I do not believe that it represents a 'consistent and strategically energetic mistrust', in any negative sense,1 for a speaker in this Discussion to agree with the Board of Scrutiny on this point.
Council Minutes, 9 June 2003, 198. 'There had been further discussion with the Board of Scrutiny, which continued to wish to see the annexes to the Finance Working Party's Report. The matter of principle to be resolved was whether the Board had access to current material rather than retrospective material, and whether there was a proper inquiry which they could currently be conducting on the matter. In due course an application for decision under Statute K, 5, or resolution of the matter through an alternative method, might be required'.
The Board of Scrutiny rightly complains about this in its Report at para. 91. They got the documents in the end, but it took three months, and the delay held them up in the preparation of their Report. The question we should be asking, members of the Regent House, is why our elected Board of Scrutiny faced any difficulty at all in getting access to the papers our Statutes entitle them to see on our behalf. The oligarchy which clutched these papers to its collective chest was manifestly casting about for a technicality which would allow it to refuse access. The Board of Scrutiny's Report refers to the previous year, it argued. So we may get away with hiding current documents from it. If the Board of Scrutiny invokes Statute K, 5, it is not likely to get an independent decision, is it? For this Minute refers to the Vice-Chancellor's report to the Council and the Vice-Chancellor makes the decision when there is an invocation of Statute K, 5, or else he (now she) personally selects a deputy to make it. Hardly Hutton enquiry standards of openness whichever route the Board of Scrutiny had taken.
What is the Board of Scrutiny for? It is, to quote the present Report, 'the University's 'watchdog body'. As such, it forms part of the official mechanism for ensuring that the University is run in a way that is transparent, and accountable to the governing body of the University, the Regent House' (para. 1). Can the intention of the Statute under which it is entitled to see documents possibly have been to ensure that nothing comes to light at a time when the Board of Scrutiny can draw it to the attention of the Regent House at once and prevent a catastrophe, a CAPSA? Can the Statute have been deliberately drafted so as to ensure that all disasters go ahead unimpeded and the Board is left wailing in their wake? An aberration as the new Chairman has just charitably called it, or a habitual attitude which must change?
And this was not the only example of pathological secrecy to emerge this year. There was the admittedly deliberate attempt to disguise from the Regent House what it was agreeing to when the Report of 17 May 2000 first put before it the proposal for the construction of a new research facility for the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Anatomy (paras. 54-56). 'A considered decision was taken on account of the security issues involved to limit the material published' (55). Whose 'considered decision'? And what were the 'considerations'. Who had authority to hide from the Regent House that it was approving the construction of that Primate Research Centre. Council Minute 184(d) of 12 May discusses 'Building 307' and it hints that 'members of the Council of the day were understood to have been aware of the nature of the proposal'. It does not, however, provide evidence of exactly what they were told and of course present members of the Council may not see those old papers. All rather the opposite of a Iraq dossier, this sexing down.
And these are only the deliberate opacities we know about. How much else is being hidden from us or reported in a way which ensures we do not know what we are really agreeing to? 'A consistent and strategically energetic mistrust',2 begins to seem patently constructive and for the common good.
How can the University frame a 'strategic plan' (para. 28) through open debate when it is not allowed the facts? How can the Resource Allocation Model work fairly and without destroying 'small number' subjects if RAMDOG is going to keep the evidence clenched in its toothy jaws and growl at any member of the Regent House who would like a look at it? On the face of it Statute K, 9 gives all of us the right the Board of Scrutiny have, for all the University does is done on delegated authority from us, and according to the Statute members of a delegating body may see the papers of the bodies to which they delegate their responsibilities. I know that I was refused sight of many things I asked for as a member of the Council, so what hope for a mere member of the Regent House?
A spot of accountability? But we need not worry. Council Minute 215(a) reports that a working group 'convened by' the Administrative Secretary has been assessing the action which will need to be taken within the University in connection with the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act'. And Minute 215(b): 'The above work had confirmed the need for a review of University records and archives policy.' We would like the views of this working group published for Discussion please before there is a wholesale shredding of documents which ought to be preserved in the University Archive. What is the Library catalogue going to say in future. 'Destroyed in anticipation of the coming into force of the Freedom of Information Act'? This is our history and we should expressly approve any destruction of categories of documents.
My second theme is the need for an overhaul of our Statutes and Ordinances (para. 87), which I, and I am sure others, have been urging for years. Oxford recently overhauled its Statutes for the first time since Archbishop Laud in the seventeenth century, in the wake of its own governance changes. It will no doubt be argued that Cambridge should wait until the Governance Reform Syndicate (para. 73) has done its work (or until we have finished fighting the no doubt lengthy battle to get a Governance Reform Syndicate set up, for the central bodies will not like the idea of the 'independence' of any such Syndicate (para. 71)). I believe that we should put it in hand now. We need the overhaul of the Statutes and Ordinances to be ongoing and well in hand as the Syndicate does its work. How else is it going to understand how our constitutional machine works?
If Lambert does his worst and there are moves to include in the forthcoming Education Bill statutory powers to end the democracy of Oxford and Cambridge and impose a Chief Executive and a non-academic external governing body on us (as happened to the post-1992 universities when they were set up as statutory corporations), we may need to have our constitutional wits about us indeed.
Under his new powers the Commissary has made a ruling of immense constitutional importance. He has determined that he has jurisdiction to review a decision of the Regent House to approve a Grace. We have had a possible instance in the remarks just now of the new Chairman of the Board of Scrutiny, and Professor Smiley has given us another. I hope this part of the Commissary's decision will be published in a Notice but just in case:
'In my view the University is the corporate body consisting of the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars and the Regent House is properly to be regarded as empowered under Statutes A, II and A, III, 3 to enact Ordinances and to make Orders as an authority in the University. I do not see any basis for restricting the application of the phrase 'any other authority in the University' so as to exclude from it the Regent House which seems to me clearly to be within the University, distinct from the corporation itself, and to be empowered by the Statutes and therefore an authority.'
The Commissary holds that if he were to decide [on the application of a member of the University with standing to take a representation to him] that a Grace should be quashed, 'it would be for the Council to consider what to do in the light of my decision and the reasons for it. The precise form of the Commissary's decision would depend on the nature of any defect that was found to exist in the Grace of the Regent House.'
Faced with this possibility that defective Graces could in future be quashed even when they had been approved, surely we can delay no longer in setting up the working party the Board of Scrutiny proposes so that they are not likely to be defective?
We have got to get this work started, for one does not get on top of the Statutes and Ordinances by browsing through them one summer on the beach. It is only with use and much reflection that one spots the anomalies and conflicts. For example, you would find out if you needed to make an appeal that Statute U contains contradictory instructions about appeals; Statute B conflicts with an unauthorized disciplinary procedure for staff not subject to Statute U, some of whom are subject to Statute B. Then there is the tendency for domestic laws about the same things to crop up in a scattergun way all over the place. To keep to employment issues and enlarge on the list I gave earlier: Statute A, II, 3 ; Statute B, VI, 3; Statute B, VI, 4; Statute B, VI, 5; Statute B, VI, 6; Statute B, VI, 7; Statute B, VI, 8; Statute B, VI, 20, 21; Statute B, VI, 28; Statute C, I, 1(c); Statute C, IV, 9(d); Statute D throughout; Statute K, 3(k); Statute K, 9, end, all affect the University's staff, their rights, and obligations.
I select these because the University has a duty to make changes to Statute U in response to the ground-rules laid down by the Zellick Committee for the reform of the Model Statute binding on us under the Education Reform Act 1988, s.202. This cannot be done piecemeal, or we shall find contradictions and conflicts still lurking in there. For example, are University officers to get the same procedural rights as other staff under the required changes to Statute U? Or are we to go on with two populations, two jurisdictions, and delays of years before cases are heard? What possible sense can it make to work on Statute U in isolation when all these other Statutes will require consequential amendments? And those amendments will certainly require others. Another cluster of problems has arisen from the proliferation of rules and guidelines and codes of practice which have not been graced but which are arbitrarily declared on uncertain authority to be binding on staff or students or incorporated into contracts there can be no requirement for University officers to sign. This is adding all the time to the confusion in our domestic legislation.
Our Statutes are in this mess because of failure to check that they remain internally coherent as well as poor drafting, failure to consult a legal draftsman, or even to get someone who could spot potential problems to run an eye over the text, and failure of the Privy Council to be properly vigilant and send a text back when it arrives in a muddle. A watchdog committee could prevent as well as cure.
So I vigorously support the Board of Scrutiny's call for some early action on what is inevitably going to be a long job, though I would not like the review to go in the direction they seem to suggest. And I add to it a request that the working party on the Statutes and Ordinances be set up so as to include individuals who will not lose sight of the fundamentals. This must not be another Governance Committee fiasco.
In the Cambridge Statutes which carry the date of 1303, the emphasis is upon certain cardinal principles. These stand at the opposite end of the spectrum from the muddled detail of our present volume. They have proved to be enduring principles. No-one may bear office in the University or enjoy the privileges of office without submitting himself to the authority of the corporation of scholars,3 as the new Vice-Chancellor did when she signed the book under Statute D, I, 4 on 1 October. The scholars make their own domestic laws by common consent.4 The scholars make decisions affecting the disposal of their property.5
There is also a charitable presumption that the corporation will not allow poverty to stand in the way of the admission of a student. 'The regent masters shall be cautious not to reject (ne difficiles se exhibeant) their poorer scholars; but when such scholars pray that their names be inserted, and make oath of their poverty let the master gratuitously admit them'.6 Bursaries? We hitherto mistrustful characters - including that responsible body of the elected Board of Scrutiny - may have some useful ammunition like this for you, Vice-Chancellor, in what we all hope will indeed be a new climate of trust, listening, and responding so that the Board of Scrutiny does not have to call year after year for something to be done where it clearly ought to be done.
1 From Alison Richard's speech on 1 October, 2003.
2 From Alison Richard's speech on 1 October, 2003.
3 Early Cambridge University and College Statutes, ed. James Heywood (London, 1855), p. 23.
4 Early Cambridge University and College Statutes, ed. James Heywood (London, 1855), p. 7.
5 Early Cambridge University and College Statutes, ed. James Heywood (London, 1855), p. 7.
6 Early Cambridge University and College Statutes, ed. James Heywood (London, 1855), p. 38.
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Cambridge University Reporter, 15 October 2003
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.