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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 9 June 1998. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:

The Report, dated 25 May 1998, of the Council on the financial position of the Chest, recommending allocations for 1998-99 (p. 678).


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the successful discharge of the immense task of compiling this Report is something for which one can have only admiration, and our Treasurer has, as always, deserved our thanks for her part in it.

But an Allocations Report is also a policy statement. I am pleased to see that the calling of the ballot of last year had its effect. There is no limited hard figure for the numbers of promotions to be made this year but an openness to the outcome of the review any Syndicate will undertake. I am, however, profoundly disturbed at the news that there is now, because the Council could not agree the wording of its Notice on 25 May, to be a deferment of the ballot on the Syndicate until the autumn, which means that the waiting multitudes will have to wait still longer for a sensible number of promotions to give them the recognition they have so long deserved. It should be noted that Dr Morley, a member of the Council, said in his speech of 12 May that he thought this still a matter requiring a major policy decision. 'The concept of desert could have been introduced into our procedures', he cried in horror (Reporter, p. 669).

This deferment at the whim of a squabbling Council is made the more reprehensible since, before I left the room at the end of the meeting to allow them to talk about me behind my back in freedom, I ascertained that it had been agreed that the Grace and ballot for the Syndicate would be announced in the issue of the Reporter to be published on 28 May. I stressed that that was the most important thing. Even a ballot in July, as was then planned, was an unfortunate delay. So a decision taken while one member of the Council was present was reversed when she was, at the request of the remainder of the Council, out of the room. I am not sure about the constitutional implications of that.

The other matter to which I want principally to draw attention is the proposed early retirement scheme. We have had these twice before, during the 1980s. In themselves they are probably no bad thing. A number of individuals would be glad to leave their University offices before the age of sixty-seven, especially if they had received promotion, so that they could retire on a Professorial pension and not a proportion of £29,000. But this scheme is to be different. First, it will be conducted in the period after the 1988 Education Reform Act, when those on post-1987 contracts, or promoted after 1987, no longer have tenure. So the bargaining position of those invited to retire early is not so strong as it was in the last two rounds. I pressed on the Council for a clear separation of early retirement and redundancy, for if there are to be redundancies the Act requires the University to take certain preliminary steps and I want those to be taken in full view of the Regent House.

There is also the question of the vast sum the early retirement scheme will cost and whether it will be cost-effective. I keep asking whether the £1.2 million we spent buying in for the last Research Assessment Exercise instead of promoting our own, paid off. No one can tell me that it did.

The scheme is to be targeted at those deemed no longer to be of 'value' to the University. Think of the damage to morale when those who already feel undervalued because of the failure to make enough promotions and pay salaries commensurate with those we could earn elsewhere, receive letters which it is publicly known are being sent only to those the University does not value. Who will take early retirement when the fact that they have been offered it is a public statement that the University does not think much of them?

I press for definitions. There has been fudgy talk of managerial interests. What I think it boils down to is that they want to clear the decks of those who are not research-active so as to buy in more persons for the next Research Assessment Exercise. I am not sure, and I raised this with the Council, how that squares with the introduction of a Senior Lecturer scheme designed to reward those who are giving huge service to the University primarily as teachers and administrators. I do not like this, members of the Regent House. It smacks of power-games.

Let me add one more fearful note of warning. There is a recent dismissal of an invocation of Statute K, 5 by the Master of Clare acting as the Vice-Chancellor's deputy. I sent him this speech in advance and I hope he will forgive me, for I have enormous liking and respect for him and wish him no ill. I just think he was wrong.

This was an invocation not made by me, but by a research scientist who was awarded a major grant by the BBSRC. That grant was withdrawn when Cambridge would not provide him with the necessary infrastructure and said he was no longer its employee, though he remains a member of the Regent House (see the Times Higher Education Supplement of a month ago). The Vice-Chancellor's deputy ruled that 'it is reasonable and generally recognized usage of the University for contracts of employment in respect of General Board institutions (which includes all academic staff and contract research staff) to be made by, and where necessary terminated by, the Secretary General'. Under the Statutes the Secretary General has no decision-making powers. Look at the description of the duties of his office. It is the office of a civil servant, not a manager. So how can he have authority to hire and fire? If this is not challenged, the Secretary General will be able to sack you and me and all of us, once we are on the new contracts which require us to do the teaching and research we are told to do by our Heads of Department and Chairmen of Faculty Boards.

The Vice-Chancellor's deputy also ruled that the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrary, and the Secretary General have 'authority to defend legal proceedings, to make final offers of settlement…and agree the terms, and as well to incur reasonable legal expenses'. So any of them could have settled with me on the basis of Sir Brian Neill's recommendations, or indeed a lot sooner, and saved the 'reasonable legal expenses' of now more than £125,000? These points are not irrelevant to the Regent House's consideration of the Allocations Report because I do not see there any provision for the underwriting of the open cheque to the University solicitor these officers now appear to hold in their hands.

There is also no provision for underwriting free legal help for senior officers of the University when they get themselves into a mess. Professor Needham has admitted to me that he made his false allegations against me in his speech on 12 May with no evidence and on the basis of an agreement at a meeting of the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrary, the Secretary General, and the Treasurer that something would be said against me. So it appears there was a conspiracy to mount that attack. But he remains personally responsible for the defamation and I do not see why the Regent House should pay his legal costs if I decide to sue him and others who defamed me at that Discussion. The evidence that speeches had 'official backing' and the fact that they were subsequently published in the Reporter merely means that I can sue the University as well.

I hope it is now clear why I press so hard for the publication of rulings on Statute K, 5 to the Regent House. There was a similar ruling, this time that the Vice-Chancellor could resist litigation on his personal authority, by Professor Gareth Jones acting as the Vice-Chancellor's deputy, when I invoked Statute K, 5 on the question who was empowered to resist the cases I was bringing on behalf of the University. We must not allow our in-house judiciary to make our law without being told what precedent is being set by such rulings.

It appears to be the case that neither the Council (see Statutes and Ordinances, p. 118) nor any officer in the Old Schools can tell you how many lawsuits the University is defending or what has occasioned them.

May we have an appendix to the Allocations Report to cover projected legal expenses for 1998-99, tabulated alongside the figures for this year?

The Report, dated 20 May 1998, of the General Board on the establishment of a Professorship of Respiratory Biology (p. 700).


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I regret that the Faculty Board of Biology, of which I am Chairman, were not given the opportunity to discuss this proposal before it was published in the Reporter, though they did discuss it briefly at their meeting on Monday, 1 June 1998, i.e. after its publication. The Faculty Board of Clinical Medicine have indicated that the proposed new Professorship will be in the field of biological science (my italics), and it is therefore natural that the Faculty Board of Biology should have an interest.

The two Faculty Boards are collaborating closely in seeking to improve medical education, and are aiming to develop arrangements which, in the words of the General Medical Council's Tomorrow's Doctors, involve 'basic scientists and clinicians integrating their contributions to a common purpose'. The Faculty Board of Biology have, of course, welcomed the proposed Professorship, and have expressed the hope that the new Professor will agree to contribute to the teaching arranged by the Departments of the Faculty of Biology. This would mirror the willingness of members of the Faculty of Biology to contribute to teaching at the Clinical School in order to ensure, in the GMC's words, 'the continuation of a substantial basic science component into the later years of the course'.

It is my understanding that the General Board have for many years resisted the practice, common in North American universities, of having 'joint appointments'; the time may, however, have come to consider some less rigid, though nevertheless formally recognized, arrangement whereby a teaching officer whose interests were obviously interdisciplinary might be granted some officially recognized form of affiliation with a second Department. I feel sure, for example, having discussed the matter with Professor Roger Thomas, Head of the Department of Physiology, that the new Professor of Respiratory Biology could most usefully be formally affiliated to the Department of Physiology.

No remarks were made on the following Reports:

The Report, dated 25 May 1998, of the Council on the provision of new post-mortem facilities for the Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine (p. 698).

The Report, dated 20 May 1998, of the General Board on the establishment of a second Professorship of Paediatrics (p. 698).

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Cambridge University Reporter, 17 June 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.