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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 10 February 2004. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:

Report of the General Board, dated 14 January 2004, on the re-establishment of a Professorship of Photonics (p. 394).

No comments were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 14 January 2004, on senior academic promotions (p. 395).

Professor N. C. HANDY:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, firstly, I offer no criticism of the Report; I am quite sure that the relevant committees operated within the constraints imposed and that their proposals were carefully scrutinized.

However, I wish to observe that there will be a group of academics who will be disappointed by the procedures. I refer to those with the title of Reader. All Readers, in order to obtain this title, have had their research carefully examined by the University, and therefore their research has international recognition. Today, the universal title for academic distinction is 'Professor'. The title of Reader is archaic, to the extent that it is not understood outside of this country, and in many cases not understood within. My proposal is very simple: that the title of Reader is now abolished, and all those who hold the title of Reader should forthwith hold the title of Professor, without any further investigation of their research contribution.

I am sure that all those who hold the title of Reader hope for international recognition for their research: for those who have held the title for some time (and who perhaps have made many other contributions to the University more recently), they will welcome a belated recognition; for those newly appointed, they wish to be recognized as Professors by the international community. Furthermore, if the University proceeds along the lines I propose, it will be recognition by this University that we have many outstanding researchers and therefore the proposal can only enhance this University's reputation.

This change of title should not be accompanied by any salary increase. (I am sure that many Readers will welcome the change of title in such circumstances.) In effect therefore, the proposal is that the present salary of a Reader should become the bottom level of the professorial scale. The cost of the proposal is therefore £0. The Committee that examines promotions within the professorial scale will have more work to do; however it is my view that the procedures of that Committee work well, and it operates without naming individuals, which is a great advantage. The present Committee on academic promotions would continue to meet, their principal task being to consider promotions from Lecturer/Senior Lecturer to Professor.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I apologize if my contribution is made at the wrong Discussion. Please submit it elsewhere as appropriate. I recognize that an implementation of this proposal will mean much work on the University Statutes, but we must move forwards, and be seen by others to recognize all of our distinguished researchers. Many years ago I was very pleased to become a Reader, but today it is the title of Professor which matters, and I for one shall be only too pleased if we can give the title of Professor to all our Readers.

Professor G. R. EVANS:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, first, congratulations to those who made it onto this list, and commiserations with those who did not. The careful speech we have just heard supports the first point I wish to make about the seriousness with which the use of the title 'Professor' in the University should be taken.

Those who did not get on to the list but get to be called 'Professor' anyway fall into two categories. The Vice-Chancellor for one is unaccountably missing from the list. She left her Chair at Yale to come here and so she is not a Professor now. But the Press Office is consistently referring to her as Professor Alison Richard. It does not say Professor of what or where in the University her Chair is established. We would surely have graced a Chair for her if asked, because we are pleased to have her and would wish to do her an appropriate honour. But on this showing, all those involved in the process we are discussing today, could have saved themselves the endless hours of committee-work. The months and months of miserable waiting for candidates, repeated year after year, could be cut short, it seems. Just adopt the title, unsuccessful candidates for promotion this year. This is the good news, but it is also the bad news, because it seems those who have made it onto this list did not really have to wait to get the fateful letter.

Those recommended for Readerships and Senior Lectureships in the list before us might just decide they would rather be called Professor. We can solve the problem of the embarrassingly tiny number of female Professors instantly. The possibilities are enticing. I understand in German universities high office may entitle one to be called 'Magnificenz'. I rather fancy that myself.

Into the second category of those unaccountably missing from today's list fall the holders of certain posts whose professorial status is a little vague although they appear to have been told that they can use the title. By getting the title of Professor somewhere else, it appears, you become entitled to be known as a Professor in Cambridge in relation to your non-professorial post in the University. Just get the Cambridge University notepaper printed with 'Professor' on it. I quote the Academic Secretary in an e-mail to me yesterday. 'It is therefore entirely appropriate, and indeed a matter of common courtesy,' that such a person should continue to use the title in a post in Cambridge. I cannot find this in the Statutes and Ordinances but no doubt Graham Allen has an annotated personal copy containing the General Board's special rules, Ordinances not yet published as Statute C might seem to require.

As I was leafing recently through the IKEA catalogue in an idle moment I came across an advertisement for Director's Chairs. You will be familiar with those foldable pieces of furniture they find so useful in film lots in California. The name on the back is easily tacked on. I asked Graham Allen about one of those whose holder's name has recently appeared in the Reporter with the title of Professor. I have no wish to cause this person personal embarrassment and I will not identify him or her. 'There is no Professorship associated with the Directorship and there is, therefore, no Report, Discussion, or Grace that you have missed,' says Graham. 'I regret that you felt it necessary to make trouble in relation to Professor X's position, by insinuating that there was some irregularity about [the] appointment when there clearly is not.' But Graham, there is. And raising a constitutional question of immense importance to everyone involved in our promotion process to senior academic offices is not 'making trouble'. And I am not at all sure it is appropriate for an apparatchik to speak to a senior academic in such language. This particular Director will be returning to a Chair elsewhere. I do not see what that has to do with the right to be called Professor in connection with a present Directorship in Cambridge which the Academic Secretary admits in so many words has 'no Professorship associated with it'.

Sadly, the Academic Secretary and the Personnel Division do not seem to have learned the lesson of the Research Professorships farrago a year or two back. They still seem to be under the impression that they are free to put out advertisements promising that an appointment will be at a 'professorial' level (as in the case just mentioned), when all that is actually on offer is a Directorship. There is evidence that the enticement of a promised Readership or Professorship is being used in 'recruitment'. One person given such a promise said so to me last term. No such offer can properly be made. Colleges can be fooled, too. Proposed elections to Professorial Fellowships can become a profound embarrassment when it turns out that the new Fellow's post is not on the list of holders of eligible offices in the Statutes and Ordinances. Even then the Web may tell a different story from the constitutional reality of what the College does about the situation in the end.

You may be an Honorary Professor or an Emeritus Professor or a Visiting Professor (in a couple of ways), but you may not be a Professor in the University of Cambridge and use the title with reference to a post you hold, unless a Professorship has been reported and discussed and graced (Statute D, XIV, 3), as is happening to the proposed new offices before us today. Where that is not the case 'Professor' must be qualified by reference to the university where it was held so that no one imagines that the person using the title holds a Cambridge Chair.

This is not nit-picking, to those kept waiting unfairly and too long for academic promotions. The proposed new salary structure assumes promotion every three years. The dignity of the Senate-House will discourage the guffaws which one might expect at that point.

To other aspects of this Report. We seem to be running a bit late, Academic Secretary. The Reporter of 28 January announces the membership of the Appeals Committee and that the date for lodging appeals is 'now amended to Friday, 6 February 2004'. Surely that means no appeal can be allowed to succeed? No appointment to a University office can be backdated more than six months, and there is no possibility of this process being completed, reported, discussed, and graced by 1 March so that any who slip through the gate at the last minute can enjoy their promotions with effect from 1 October 2003.

I will ask, just for the record, what training any of the Appeals Committee has had in the conduct of an appeals process.

The usual Hutton-Report whitewash of the conduct of the promotions process is to be read in the usual place in this Report, but with some differences reflecting the elements of the new procedure. I find particularly disturbing 2 (iii) 'adjustments in evaluations and special and non-standard aspects of applications'. I wonder who is really policing the special deals here? Then there are the summary tables giving names 'in priority' order. Not order of merit. We have allowed the General Board to stop promoting everyone who deserves it because we say we cannot afford that. I was not aware that we had allowed it to substitute local political considerations for merit. What do you bet that some of those promised Readerships and Chairs in the name of 'recruitment' are found to have a high 'priority' over long-serving University Teaching Officers? The Regent House is not being given the full details of these lists and you can be sure the General Board has not analysed them in the light of that question either. Or did it, Graham? Reply please, Council.

What rights are appellant candidates going to have to penetrate into this thicket? What are they going to be allowed to see, even if they exercise their rights as data subjects and make data subject access requests under the Data Protection Act? (£10 cheque to the Data Protection Officer and wait forty days, which will certainly take it beyond 1 March.) A 'giving reasons requirement' creates a record. It really will not do to destroy that record before those who are entitled to know the reasons ask for them. Your best bet, candidates, would be to take careful note of the date of the decision-making meeting and ensure that your data subject access request is delivered the moment the meeting ends. Bit late now.

But you will not be allowed to see any details about anyone else of course. And since promotion now depends on your place in a priority list I do not see how any appeal can ever succeed in future.

Rather few Senior Lectureships, certainly compared with the huge number given when this route to a higher salary scale was first on offer. I assume that reflects a considerable drop in applications. The General Board has indicated (we hope in manner more binding than a promise in a Labour Manifesto) that it expects that 80% of academic staff will achieve promotion in the course of their careers. It looks as though they are going to have to bite the bullet and make that 80% available at Readership and Professorial level now, since most of those who want Senior Lectureships have presumably now got them. So what exactly is the relationship going to be between what it takes to get a Senior Lectureship and what it takes to get a Readership?

Note the total cost of these cash-limited promotions (£619,000 a year). Considerably less than we paid the Treasurer and Secretary General to hand in their resignations quietly. Equates to a mere half-dozen of the top salaries we are paying a lucky few. Reward and retention, Personnel? But you are sending round a questionnaire about that. Two actually. Unrelated.

In any case, it does not matter now. Anyone may use the title of Professor. Easily arranged. Just ask Graham Allen to recognize your Chair in Overdue Promotion Studies at A Fairer University Than This. He will be delighted.

Second-stage Report of the Council, dated 26 January 2004, on the development of accommodation for a new Cambridge Institute of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism (CIDEM) at the Addenbrooke's Hospital Site (p. 410).

Professor G. R. EVANS:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the King is dead. Long live the King. We are still proposing to let the Treasurer, now the Acting Treasurer, take the crucial decision, here that he 'be authorized to commit the University' to a long-term lease.

The University seems to be a slow learner. Its learning difficulties cluster particularly round its gullibility about promises to keep within certain figures. It is bad enough if they do. 'The budget for the University's contribution to this project remains at £15m, of which £12.5 will be made an up-front lease premium payment'. How many student fees will that use up? Meanwhile we are in the hands of the Addenbrooke's NHS Trust and (shades of Gordon and Tone) a Private Finance Initiative.

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Cambridge University Reporter 13 February 2004
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