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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 8 June 1999. A discussion was held in the Council Room of the following Reports:

The Report, dated 24 May 1999, of the Council on the financial position of the Chest, recommending allocations for 1999-2000 (p. 638).


Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, 'If the University were in a position to promote all of my colleagues as I believe their achievements deserve, I should wait long for that year,' said Professor J. Holloway in a Discussion on 6 June 1973 (Reporter, 1972-73, p. 1058). After a quarter of a century, that year has at last come.

'Personal promotions should be primarily determined by assessments of academic merit without budgetary restraint' (Allocations Report, para. 27). At last, after nearly five years of making speeches to call for fair and equal rewards for all those who deserve promotion, and challenging the absurd and contradictory contentions which have appeared on the point in Notices and Reports, I can stand up and draw the attention of the Regent House to this sentence.

In the autumn of 1994, I called a Discussion on a topic of concern. I set out in my speech a number of procedural desiderata which have since been conceded. I also pointed out that 'the artificial constraint on the number of promotions is financial' (Reporter, 1994-95, p. 256). This point was ignored for some time. Six months later, on 8 March 1995 (p. 491), a short 'holding' Notice was published just on procedures. I threatened to call another Discussion, indeed I collected the signatures ready. Pressure behind the scenes won us the first consultation questionnaire on promotions procedures. On 6 December 1995 (Reporter, 1995-96 p. 238), another Notice was published with that promise, and the concession that the matter would be discussed, and, on 14 February 1996 (p. 420), a Notice giving the text of the first consultation questionnaire. But response was still on procedures only. On 13 March 1996 (p. 494), you may read in one of my speeches, 'The problem of the sheer number of promotions needed in present circumstances has to be addressed.' Others joined me in this continuing call: Professor Robert Gordon (p. 496), 'The Notice of 6 December indicates that the number of promotions in any year will continue to be governed by the availability of funds ... It appears not to be in dispute ... that the highest-rated University in the country under-promotes'; Dr Reif, one of those deservedly made up straight from Lecturer to Professor last year, after far too long a wait, 'Is there not a strong argument for finding the necessary funds?' (p. 498).

On 7 August 1996 (p. 1033), you may read the slippery assurance that 'The Board will continue to assign the highest priority to promotions within the funds available to them.' That still meant only a dozen Chairs a year. On 30 October 1996 (Reporter, 1996-97, p. 112), Professor Dumville asked 'what are the criteria by which it is decided how great a proportion of the University's resources are to be devoted to funding promotions?' Dr A. J. Close pressed the University to 'put its money where its mouth is by aligning its promotions with the national norm' (p. 114).

I pointed out in that Discussion of October 1996 that in P14651, a form sent to candidates, it was admitted that 'the Board ... frequently find that they lack sufficient funds to provide promotion for all of the persons who might be thought to have attained the required academic standard' (pp. 116-17). The General Board tried a diversionary tactic. On 4 December (p. 235), there was a Notice: 'The Board believe ... that it is not possible to define a ... standard ... if [the standard] were set too low ... this could prove to be very costly and the central bodies would be required to find the necessary funds'. So an attempt was being made to assert that it was impossible to say how many had merit except by counting what was in the common purse. But again, on 25 June 1997 (p. 881), they were admitting in a Notice: 'The number of possible annual promotions is inadequate, given the outstanding quality of many members of the academic staff.' In the Discussion published on 23 July, I was stressing that 'this is the admission we have been waiting for' (p. 1012, referring to p. 881 above), and underlining that 'every action I have taken has been driven by a concern to see that everyone in this University who deserves promotion gets promotion' (p. 1015).

In the summer of 1997, we called a Ballot on Allocations from the Chest with half a hundred signatures, to try to get a vote in favour of promotion for all who deserved it. We stopped the University's budget. The press liked that. The Guardian called it a Class Act. Compare the General Board flysheet (Reporter, 1997-98, p. 152) with what has been conceded now; really we won that ballot, but not till now.

I kept remorselessly on, in the face of mounting and in the end defamatory criticism. In May 1998 (p. 667), in that Discussion where I was repeatedly vilified by members of the then Council and General Board, I made another call for us 'to consider what should be the reasonable career expectation of Cambridge's academic staff.' Behind the scenes, in that same summer, 1998, the threat of another Ballot on Allocations from the Chest won the concession that the first financial priority of the University's budget was henceforth to be paying people.

Now, in the summer of 1999, the threat of another Ballot on Allocations from the Chest wins (at last) acceptance of the principle that all who deserve it are to get promotion.

So if they try to tell you that this hugely important volte-face reflects the sentiments about reward of academic staff expressed in the Report, be aware that it was not there at all until a late stage of the drafting. It appeared solely under the threat of the calling of another disruptive ballot. This victory for common-sense and decency after five years' struggle has been won only because it is wished to save inconvenience in the accounting procedures if the University had to be run again for six months on emergency procedures. I know. I made the threat and followed subsequent events behind the scenes with the vigilance for which I am so robustly disliked by many in the Old Schools.

Let me underline the implications. That means that this year if you deserve a Chair or Readership for which you have applied you ought to get it. And most of you do. Make no mistake. The tables of evaluations disclosed to me in the victimization case I withdrew last December make that quite plain. Do not stand for being fobbed off. There should be about 200 promotions this year, unless, as I suspect, a high proportion of those who took early retirement did so because they had finally lost faith that their star performance on behalf of the University would ever be recognized. When senior academic staff run from us in droves and we have to bring in a supplementary scheme to allow more to get away, something is wrong with morale.

Some thought should be given to permitting some fresh entries. I know of individuals who did not apply this year, gloomily prognosticating that there was no point, even warned off by Heads of Departments who said it would be their turn next year.

I call on the Old Schools to publish to the Regent House any 'advice and guidance' which is sent to Faculty Promotions Committees encouraging them to think very carefully before they put anyone forward this year (deemed no doubt to be in 'the managerial interests of the University' - do watch that one, we shall be hearing it again and again now). It is in the wind that that is intended. That back-door way of denying the deserving their long-awaited reward would indeed be a dirty trick to play now.

I have a personal reason for objecting to the circulation of additional secret procedural documentation. Numerous letters, written to the Vice-Chancellor by 'third parties' from all over the country agreeing with Sir Brian Neill and Sir Stephen Sedley that no-one could believe I could have fair consideration for promotion in present circumstances, were answered by the Vice-Chancellor, in letters he himself signed. He wrote: 'I will of course draw what you say to the attention of those directly responsible'. He did not. They have not been passed on to the Promotions Committee of my Faculty, to encourage it collectively to declare the interest fairness requires under the purple book procedures. So if the Secretary General sends out procedural guidance to Faculty committees telling them not to put too many people forward, he will not be being quite consistent, will he?

Of my own prospects of promotion this year, or any year, I cannot be sanguine. Despite my act of generosity and good faith in withdrawing the victimization case and sparing him the embarrassment of the witness-box, the Vice-Chancellor has done nothing whatsoever to ensure that I can have disinterested consideration for promotion in the present exceptional circumstances. I am falling foul of the difficulty pointed to by Professor Holloway in 1973 (Reporter, 1972-73, p. 1060) that 'We must wish our arrangements to manifest ... the intention that ... were circumstances, in some particular case, unfortunately to become a trifle dubious, it is built into our system that the formal conduct of affairs would so far as possible remain beyond dubiety.' I thought that was our stated intention in the purple book procedures. It seems it is an empty promise.

Let me quote from 1066 And All That. In our 'Feutile system' you are tried for promotion by 'a very just arrangement ... According to [this] reformed system a man was tried first by a jury of his equals and only had to plunge his head into the ploughshares afterwards (in order to confirm the jury's opinion that he had committed the crime).'

I do not think the secrecy which attends the hand-outs to selected Professors also budgeted for here is healthy. So I am going to tell you a little about it. (Statute D, XIV, 8 appears to be in conflict with the plan in any case.)

From what I learn, the General Board did not see the invitations sent out to Professors to apply for the secret extra payments, in a letter signed by the Secretary General. That is important because there are policy-statements in that documentation, which have certainly not been put to the Council for its consideration.

'The purpose of the scheme is to maintain the academic vitality of the University by rewarding Professors who are making an outstanding contribution to the work of the University and to the furtherance of its aims,' it says. I am not confident that contribution to the teaching needs of our students will carry much weight among these aims, although the ancient purposes of the University include 'education' as well as 'learning and research' (and religion, too, as a matter of fact). How can we know that the contribution is outstanding if it is not going to be measured in any systematic way? And why is our vitality deemed to be in the hands of a privileged few? Is that not an insult to the rest of the hardworking and lively workforce here?

No criteria are set out. There is to be no evaluation. The only clue is that special weight is to be given to 'leadership'. Here come our friends the 'big leading players' again. These are the people who obtain the funding, after all, and head up the labs. They may not be making any intellectual contribution to the work at all, as a recent letter in Nature emphasizes: 'In practice, obtaining grants and funding may be deemed reason enough to have one's name on the list, even if the intellectual input into the actual work has been slight or non-existent.'1

I should like to put on the agenda for next time round in the Allocations Report, the question of equal pay for equal work and expenditure on teaching by non-UTOs. A letter signed by a Senior Assistant Registrary, with no apparent authority at all, except the vague assertion that 'the General Board have recently given further consideration …', has now gone out to Heads of Departments, Chairmen of Faculty Boards, and their like. It is concerned with the 'teaching, examining, and administrative loads of University academic officers'. The officers themselves have not been sent this. It has not been published in the Reporter. It may have been seen by the General Board but it has certainly not been put into the Council's papers, even as a courtesy, so that we might be aware what was proposed.

There is a huge policy change here. The old presumption was that the University required its academic officers not to undertake more than a certain amount of teaching (Statute D, II, 9), in order that they might have the intellectual space in which to 'promote the interests of the University as a place of education religion, learning, and research' (Statute D, II, 4). The new idea is the reverse.

Members of the Regent House may remember that I have several times expressed concern in Discussions about the implications of the new contracts the promoted have meekly signed. When I objected on the Council, I was told that the new contracts merely made explicit what had always been implicit in our old contracts. But GBO.9905.0477 says otherwise. It proposes a new régime 'in the light of ... the recent revision of university contracts of employment'. A duty of obedience to what is beginning to look very like a line-manager is being imposed upon us. I think we can be quite sure that the big leading players will not consider themselves bound by these petty restrictions, especially when they want to give their time to the latest spin-out company.

There are other issues of concern in the spirit in which this Report has been put together which underline the need for us to be on our guard about who is really running the University. The proleptic appointments for the RAE have not been discussed by the Council. No policy has been formulated or put before the Regent House for its approval, except obliquely in this Report. It may be recollected that, last time, we spent £1.2m on such buy-ins and that no one has shown that that money was spent to effect. Admittedly in that year there were also a few extra promotions (to keep people here for our benefit in the RAE not because they deserved it anyway). But, all in all, in years when the total sum spent on promotions was usually about £¼m (roughly the amount wasted on legal fees fighting me through the courts instead of listening to what I said) that was a lot to spend on a dozen human purchases for a dubious purpose.

The Report, dated 19 May 1999, of the General Board on the establishment of an office of Director of Medical and Veterinary Education in the Faculty of Biology (p. 657).


Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, what is a University office? Statute D, I, 1(a) says that 'University officers shall be those persons only who hold ...' and it goes on to give a list, including all those specified in Schedule J, and 'any other University office established by Statute or Ordinance'. In this Report it is proposed that we create a new University office. This office is not in Schedule J. We are certainly not creating a Statute. Power to enact Ordinances is in Statute A, II, 1 and Statute C, I, 2, and we seem to have been in the habit of not distinguishing expressly between those Graces which create an Ordinance and those which do not. I hope we shall tidy that up. Moreover, this office is to be held concurrently 'with another University office' under, it says Statute D, II, 2(b), though that appears not to exist. In the same Reporter is a Notice about the proposed office of University Senior Lecturer (p. 632). We shall certainly have to create that office by Statute. So why not this one?

This is important because in law the holding of an office can make quite a difference to your rights as an employee. It also makes a difference to your eligibility for promotion. Our College teaching officers and short-term contract staff will not benefit from the new concession that all those who deserve promotion will get it.

Holding a University office is also important to the dignity of a post. We are creating a Personnel Officer whose job will involve being firm with some very senior persons. They are going to take him or her less seriously because the post has not been properly set up as a University office with a seniority comparable with that of the triumvirate of principal officers. We shall be paying him a much bigger salary than the ordinary academic staff can aspire to, but that will not earn him respect here, only resentment. The bully-boys among the 'big leading players' have to be faced down by someone who can stare them in the eyes as an equal.

Why am I making a fuss about this? It is of course my common practice to employ the opportunity afforded by Discussion of a Report to draw attention to the bigger issues which lie behind it, and to which I observe the central bodies have difficulty in addressing their minds.

In this instance, I am loath to see the ancient dignity of a University office fray at the edges as we create posts which are offices and posts which are not offices in profusion in response to the new and partly unexamined imperatives which drive our affairs. In the last few weeks, I have been causing more than the usual amount of irritation behind the scenes over the text on p. 587 of the Reporter, which sets out plans for promotion to posts at professorial level for unestablished staff, and includes for the first time, but without Report and Discussion, a new policy departure.

Reporter, 1976-77, p. 971, deals with Unestablished Research Workers employed by the University on outside funds. It was said then that 'in view of the short-term nature of most appointments', 'it would be inappropriate to give research workers automatic membership of the University or membership of the Regent House'. The starting-point then was the (inherently anomalous) category of (a) short-term contract, (b) research employees, for whom only unestablished posts can be created. Reporter, 1992-93, p. 244, on the Northern Telecom Research Professorship of Photonics, lets in the possibility of a title attaching to unestablished appointments in which the word 'Professor' figures, but only conjoined with 'Research' ('Research Professor' as a title in its own right). Reporter, 1994-95, p. 381, continues the title entitlement, but still only to 'Research Professor'. Reporter, 1995-96, p. 512, introduces 'Research Readers' and links this directly to 1977, 'when the present salary structure for unestablished research staff was promulgated'. So we were still at that stage dealing strictly with unestablished, short-term contract staff, and still being clear about what they are allowed to call themselves. The stable of horses is fundamentally that of the Senior Research Associate (p. 512).

So the recent Notice of 12 May (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 587) makes two departures from the line it claims to continue:

1. It brings, at (b), holders of real University offices into a provision designed exclusively for short-term contract staff.
2. It blurs the question of title and allows for the possibility that these post-holders will be able to call themselves Professors without going through the statutory hoops. For who, holding a post at professorial level is going to go on being referred to as 'Dr?' By what right does Cambridge confer the title of 'Professor'? It appears to be empowered to do so only by Statute D, XIV, 3, for a Professorship is a University office.

It is not clear whether the candidate for a post under (b) on p. 587 may 'apply'. But he is an officer and if the promotions procedures are to be used as far as the end of the Faculty stage, the candidates eligible must presumably be sent details of this post for which funding has been identified and be invited to draft their personal statements and so on. If the funding identification is very narrow, that will mean that some candidates in a Faculty but not others may get additional bites of the promotional cherry in a single year (perhaps several). It also means that some candidates will be putting in two batches of documentation, one directed to the question whether they meet the general criteria, the other towards whether they meet the specification attached to the funding, to which the standard criteria may not be applicable. Who has powers to 'identify' this funding? What if some rich relative funds a Chair for his nephew and specifies his nephew for it? What provision is to be made for appeal by candidates competing for these posts? If the promotions procedures for personal promotions are to be followed, that provision must be made. Or does it really mean that, in effect, the Faculty committee will be nominating directly to something everyone will perceive to be a Chair, someone who is a real officer, but who does not have to win out through the normal promotions procedures?

There is now no fixed salary for Professors. If there is discretion to pay a Professor above the standard rate there can logically be no objection to a Professor choosing to accept a lower salary and thus retain old-fashioned tenure and a pre-1987 contract. A post at professorial level can now (it is asserted) be established directly by the General Board on the recommendation of the Faculty Promotions Committee. If someone chooses to accept such a post at a Lecturer's salary there can be no requirement that funds be identified first. Would such a person moving to one of these unestablished 'Professorships' continue to be subject to Statute U, or would he then fall under Statute B? Would his real office persist under this new non-office? What would be the rules about 'concurrency' here?

Interdisciplinary candidates are going to face their usual uphill struggle along this special route. What are the 'exceptional circumstances' in which the General Board will vary what is set out in this Notice? It appears that they can override everything printed here and simply give a professorial post at will. Why can they not do that for University officers who do not fit tidily into the provisions of the existing procedures?

I do not think the General Board will listen for an instant to the pleas of any officer who wants a fresh opportunity to apply for promotion now that all the deserving are to get it, but under (b) on p. 587 there is no time-limit for officers to apply for an unestablished professorial post.

It became clear that that Notice had appeared in the Reporter in a mysterious way. The statutory editor of the Reporter, the Registrary, did not recollect having seen it, and it appeared in a week when he had been away in the United States. The week after it appeared, and after I had caused some disquiet by asking where it had come from, the General Board discussed it. It was drawn to their attention that a draft of it had been in their papers some time last term. But they had not discussed it and passed it for publication in the form in which it appeared on p. 587.

I invoked Statute K, 5 and the Vice-Chancellor wrote to me on 24 May: 'I am satisfied that the Notice was seen in draft both by the Board, and by the Work and Stipends Committee. The version published does not differ in substance from those seen by the Board and its Committee.' On 1 June, he wrote again, 'I repeat that the matter of this Notice has been seen both by the Work and Stipends Committee and the General Board'. But that is not the way we do business on the Council. The Council may often give only desultory consideration to the texts they pass for publication, but at least we argue a bit about the wording and there is a formal act of agreeing to pass the exact text which is before us. The University Draftsman may subsequently tidy up obvious errors, but he can make no changes of substance. Yet this text lay in someone's in-tray for months and passed backwards and forwards to Work and Stipends (it is thought) after the General Board had given it a first glance, and then, abruptly, it appeared in the Reporter without the General Board reconsidering it or the Council seeing it at all.

Let me not hold up the present proposal. But let us look into the implications of creating University offices and see whether we cannot do better for our short-term contract staff and College teaching officers, since, as I have recently emphasized, the relationship of Colleges to the University is now changing. The holder of this post will at least be getting the real thing.

1 Eugen Tarnow, Nature, 398, (22 April 1999), 657.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 16 June 1999
Copyright © 1999 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.