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A Discussion was held in the Newton Room of the Pitt Building. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Cliff was presiding, with the two Proctors, the two Pro-Proctors, the Registrary's deputy, and seven other persons present.
The following Reports were discussed:
Report of the Council, dated 11 May 2009, on an extension and internal alterations to the Faculty of Classics building on the Sidgwick Site (Reporter, p. 733).
Professor M. SCHOFIELD (read by Professor W. M. BEARD):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak today in my capacity as Chairman of the Faculty Board of Classics to commend this Report to the Regent House. Our Faculty building was completed at its location opposite Newnham twenty years ago, on a shoe-string budget which just about permitted accommodation of our main needs as they were then perceived. Casson and Condor and their architect Sir Michael Cain gave us a structure which has worked extremely well in the intervening period, with its simple plan and relatively plain exterior housing inter alia two beautiful interiors: the Faculty Library and above it the Museum of Classical Archaeology, celebrating this year its 125th anniversary, in a room which never fails to cause the casual visitor to catch his or her breath.
As with other Faculty buildings on the Sidgwick Site, the Classics building was never designed to house all our UTOs, but the offices it did provide have always been in high demand, and now have to accommodate increased numbers of support staff (our Administrative Officer and her assistant, our post-CAPSA accountant). Above all, research activity has increased in ways and on a scale not anticipated in the 1970s and 1980s, and we are now desperately in need of extra space for researchers on the funded projects which in most arts and humanities subjects were virtually unheard of in those distant days.
The modest extension proposed to the Regent House represents in our view an ingenious and elegant scheme for giving us quite a lot of help towards meeting the need through the provision of a small additional space. It has been designed to harmonize with the existing facade; and at the same time it is proposed to use the opportunity to develop the FAMES courtyard at the eastern entrance to the Sidgwick Site, currently a rather dead space more often than not, into something more inviting. We have enjoyed friendly discussions with our neighbours in FAMES over the courtyard design (where there is still scope for further amendment).
They, like us, have been concerned that noise during the construction period be controlled in such a way as to minimize disturbance to academic activity. I am given to understand that the contractor selected for the contract has a great deal of experience of managing this issue on University projects. The company were pressed hard on the question at the selection interview, and their evident awareness and experience on this aspect of risk was a key element in making their tender successful. The Faculty has agreed with the University's Project Manager and the contractor that in our weekly meetings with the contractor, he will be given a schedule of times at which any noisy operations that might cause disturbance to lectures or classes must be avoided in order to ensure requisite quiet. Beyond that, and the inevitable inconveniences of the next few months, we look forward to the successful completion of the project early in the new year.
Professor R. J. BOWRING (read by Ms S. V. SCARLETT):
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as a member of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, which is directly affected by this proposal. It is always awkward when a rich and powerful neighbour decides to build an extension, particularly a second one, and one as 'in your face' as this. My experience of the first extension prompts me to make one or two remarks.
1. I do not question the need for more space in Classics but, as far as I am aware, this particular side of the building did not figure in the overall final plan for the Sidgwick Site drawn up by Allies and Morrison only a few years ago. Whatever one thinks of the original building, it had a certain degree of integrity. This will now be lost. This appendage is far from being an elegant solution.
2. There is no escaping the fact that teaching in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies during Michaelmas 2009 will be severely affected during construction, since the majority of our teaching rooms are on that very corner. They overlook the site so there will be no realistic way of cutting down the noise. I am given to understand that both Classics and EMBS have been discussing this problem. Although I accept their good faith, it remains a matter of faith. In the light of what happened last time, I am extremely pessimistic.
3. More seriously, perhaps, no effort seems to have been made to address the problem of circulation during construction. Given that this is a heavily populated area where bikes and people constantly mix, the space between the two buildings will be far too narrow for safety, although you cannot tell this from the plan in the Reporter, which does not show how large the construction site will be. The illustrations in the Old Schools' Arcade are even less informative. At the very least, the small entrance leading from Sidgwick Avenue should be closed to stop bikes accessing the area from that direction, but there is no sign that anyone has taken this into consideration. I am also concerned to see that when finished the extension will exacerbate the problems caused by an already blind corner right in front of the entrance to our Faculty. It is for this reason that I have used the term 'in your face'. I predict a nasty accident.
4. Although the Report makes no mention of it at all, I believe there are also plans for the gentrification of the grassy area between the two Faculties, with the aim of creating a pleasant public space with trees and seats. This is a nice idea, to be sure, but on warm days it will make it almost impossible for the Faculty to use the south-facing teaching rooms 7, 8, and 9. All these rooms are on the ground floor and the only ventilation available is provided by large floor-to-ceiling windows that slide sideways opening directly onto this space. Even now it is difficult to concentrate when meeting or teaching in these rooms if there are people talking on the grass outside. I think I am right in saying that no other Faculty on the site has such a potential noise problem. Can someone please keep this in mind if the decision is made to proceed? We have suffered enough.
It may well be that some of these points have already been considered but the exiguousness of the Report makes it difficult to tell. May I suggest that the next time we have a Report on a new building or an extension, we are provided with more detail?
Report of the General Board, dated 6 May 2009, on Senior Academic Promotions (Reporter, p. 735).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor,
The report and the minutes provided the Board with an account of the procedure followed for the evaluation and comparison of the evidence for all applicants. The Board were able to see how recommendations had been arrived at so that, without repeating the entire exercise itself, they could either approve the recommendations or, if they so wished, consider the basis on which any of the recommendations had been made.
It is encouraging to see that the High Court judgement of a decade ago is still being attended to and its wording echoed.1
But I wonder whether it can truly be said that the spirit is being honoured with equal respectfulness? For there has been a sea-change of principle. Promotions are now not awarded on merit but on affordability, which must mean that those who are held to deserve it one year cannot be shown necessarily to be the equals of those deemed to deserve the equivalent title in another year. If that is the case, the content of that painstaking list of documents in the Report surely becomes worthless? I mean the one which reads:
In the Reporter of 20 May was published what has formerly been the Report on Allocations from the Chest, though I see the word 'budget' has now been added to the title.2 It seems the University is now doing rather well financially. No credit crunch collapses for Cambridge.
In the Reporter of 17 July 2002 may be read the text of a speech I made on the Allocations Report that year, in which I made the following remarks:
For historical reasons, I always turn first to the paragraph on promotions. This year that is paragraph 38, p. 925. It may be recollected that some years ago we called a ballot which snarled up the processing of financial matters for six months because it prevented the University lawfully signing cheques. Two years later a deal was done about not doing that again, in return for the concession that in future all those who deserved it should be given promotion. The result, as everyone has been able to see, is that at last the numbers of promotions each year have risen significantly and there has been some catching up of the vast backlog of the deserving international stars in our midst, to allow them to call themselves Reader or Professor. There has also been no cap on the numbers for Senior Lectureships. If anyone is minded to dispute what I say, the record in the Reporter of the wording of this paragraph may be checked back and it may be noted that this altered a couple of years after that ballot.
I went on to regret that in 2002, this policy now appeared to be changing:
You will see this year a spot of pressure the other way. There is a heavy hint that rewarding our staff is merely adding to our deficit. 'Unless compensating savings can be found, however, this may push the University further into deficit'. Why just this? Why are the other proposed expenditures not described in this way? What is the betting that when those proposals for 'reform' of the promotions process appear (and that promised Report seems to be somewhat delayed) it will lead to a new system in which people are no longer simply promoted if they deserve it but we are back to the old fixed and minimal numbers? Then all those Readers who ought to have chairs will be most unlikely to get them before they retire. I hope that will reignite the indignation about academic promotions and that that will now be conjoined with indignation about the prospects of advancement for existing assistant and academic-related staff.3
And of course it has changed. We have, for some years, been back to the behind-doors work of committees secretly deciding to apply the unstated 'principle' that promotions should be balanced by resignations and retirements, which has of course not worked well when individuals choose to stay on after retirement age and there is little turnover among UTOs at all. The present Report states that: 'The estimated total additional cost to central funds in the first year of the proposals for promotion to personal Professorships and Readerships and of the appointments to University Senior Lectureships of the persons named in this Report will be approximately £525,000.' But the Allocations-and-Budget Report for this year does not seem to give grounds for the continuation of a parsimoniousness which is denying people the recognition they have earned.
May the Regent House please have this out in the open with a Report for discussion setting out principles and rationales for the change from merit to money as the basis for promotions decisions?
Dr N. J. GAY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, over the last year I have raised a number of substantive issues relating to the Senior Academic Promotions exercise (SAP).1 Now that the process has nearly been concluded for 2009 it seems appropriate to review the University's responses to the serious concerns I have raised.
I would like to start with the question of how the budget for the Senior Academic Promotions exercise is decided. As I have previously outlined, this is of critical importance as it determines the relative number of successful and unsuccessful applicants. It is essential that the University demonstrate to unsuccessful applicants, especially those who have fulfilled the criteria for promotion, that due care has been taken. In March, the Council responded to my comments about budget setting in the following terms: 'The General Board receive advice on the appropriate level of provision from the Resource Management Committee, which takes into account a range of information, including retirements and academic staff turnover more generally, which contribute to overall expenditure on pay'.2 In the light of this, I have written to the Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Planning and Resources and Personnel and to the Finance Director asking what considerations determined the budget for this year's exercise. In particular I suggested that they might make available to me the minutes of the relevant Resource Planning Committee meeting. To date I have only received a response from my friend Professor Tony Minson. He tells me that the minutes are unlikely to be informative. Now in my College, Department, and School the purpose of committee minutes is to inform interested parties not present at the meeting what decisions have been taken and to give brief reasons for them. They should form an integral part of the University's governance structure and indeed the Registrary himself has a duty under Statute D, VIII to ensure that such records are kept. Yet worryingly the central administration appears to be curtailing the taking of minutes to the point that they either do not exist or are deliberately uninformative (see also footnote 3). The reasons for this are no doubt complex but presumably include a reluctance to be held accountable, a desire for secrecy, and an attempt to thwart the tidal wave of Freedom of Information requests, currently running at about 50 per day, I understand.
In his enquiry into the CAPSA fiasco in 2002, Professor Shattock concluded that a significant part of the problem was that the academic and administrative layers of the University did not interact with each other in a coherent, effective, and constructive manner.4 Since then, the administration has grown massively and differentiated into a nucleus that, rather than acting as a civil service for the academic community, seems more interested in secrecy and protecting its own interests. I think the Board of Scrutiny need as a matter of urgency to investigate the dissemination of information by the Old Schools and to ensure in the future that decision-making processes are transparent and are recorded in such a way that those involved can be held accountable by the Regent House. In this regard it may be worthwhile to restate one of the recommendations made by Shattock: 'The University needs to adopt a more accountable culture where individuals can be held responsible for their actions (or inactions) and where committees are more questioning because they may be held responsible if their recommendations to higher bodies can be shown to have been arrived at without proper scrutiny.' It is alarming to realize that in the last seven years what has in fact happened is exactly the opposite of Shattock's recommendation.
Returning now to the specific question of the budget for this year's Senior Academic Promotions exercise, it remains unclear how the figure of £525,000 was alighted upon, although there appears to be a vague but unstated policy that Professorships should reach a steady state with the number of retirements matching the number of promotions. The figure given in the General Board's Report is not of course the real cost of the exercise but is simply an aggregation of the additional increments awarded, a deceit that was being complained about by Professor Anthony Edwards as long ago as 2002.5 In an unexpected spirit of glasnost the General Board's Report also includes for the first time some statistical information about this year's application round. On the basis of this, and assuming that two-thirds of the unsuccessful applicants fulfilled all the criteria for promotion, it is possible to estimate that it would cost an additional £450,000 to promote all those who have reached the required standard. This figure has to be considered in the context of the £42m surplus achieved by the University last year and the budget projection for this year which predicts a further surplus of £11.3m. As the rationale for the Senior Academic Promotions budget has not been explained, let alone justified, it is appropriate to ask the Vice-Chancellor directly why 25 of us should not move an amendment to the Grace that will give effect to the General Board's Report, such that in addition to those listed all other applicants who have fulfilled the criteria are also promoted.
As well as the budget setting process, I have also drawn attention to serious defects in the SAP procedure itself. On 5 November 2008, the Council referred the matters of principle raised for consideration by the General Board.6 They have not yet reported back nor have they indicated when their responses will be published. Perhaps I can help them in their deliberations by suggesting ways in which the procedure might be revised. The three areas I identified as problematic are the ranking system, the procedural framework of the General Board's main Committee, and the provisions for feedback, although the appeals process is also deeply unsatisfactory. With regard to the ranking system I think the current three-step process is unnecessarily complex and the Faculty and Sub-Committee stages should be combined. A numerical scoring system should be introduced for ranking applications against the six criteria for promotion and each of the criteria should be given an appropriate weighting. The role of the Main Committee would then be confined to deciding how the promotions budget should be allocated to the Sub-Committees, assuming that the University wishes to continue with the current cash limited system. The power of the Main Committee to re-rank applications should be removed. Such a procedure, which is similar to that used by Research Councils to evaluate grant applications, would allow meaningful feedback to unsuccessful applicants who would be given their rank and scores together with the cut-off point for promotion in their Sub-Committee. This would, as stated in the blue booklet, 'provide an unsuccessful applicant with a clear sense of what he must do to raise the level of his work to the standard required to obtain promotion', something which the current procedure patently fails to deliver.
1 http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2008-09/weekly/6138/16.html and http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2008-09/weekly/6125/15.html
3 G. R. Evans's article in the Oxford Magazine, No. 288, pp. 18-19
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Cambridge University Reporter 03 June 2009
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