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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 2 May 2000. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:

The Report of the General Board, dated 8 March 2000, on the establishment of an East Asia Institute in the Faculty of Oriental Studies (p. 577).


Registrary, I speak briefly to two quotations from this Report which point up problems with power and control in the University.

'Especially those of an interdisciplinary nature'. I and others have repeatedly called since 1994 for the University to address the difficulties in which interdisciplinary scholars find themselves in our single-subject Faculty structure. At intervals, enthusiastic phrases like this have appeared in Reports. We are cheap to run, since in practice we service the needs of more than one of those single-subject Faculties or Departments. But while the barons rule in their kingdoms, defined by the conventional subject-boundaries, we can neither do as much as we might for the University nor hope for fair recognition. So what promise is being held out here?

Look at my own grim example. I offer lectures on more than a thousand years of intellectual history, on a whole world of discourse from the late antique world to the sixteenth century. Students from several Faculties seem to find this useful. My Faculty wants each lecture tied, however inappropriately, to a conventional History course. It does not appear to care about the wider pedagogic scene. It is discussing the matter this afternoon at the Faculty Board. This same single-subject Faculty, scornfully thrusting aside several new books and a sheaf of good reviews, is again not putting me forward for promotion. Lecturing in the States this year, I am offered four-figure sums for an hour of my time. Three invitations to the USA, five to Australia, and one to Switzerland in a single year is a fair indicator of international reputation, one would have thought. Is that kind of denial of recognition to be the fate of work of an 'interdisciplinary nature' in the East Asia Institute too?

Please will the central bodies begin to take seriously the plight of interdisciplinary scholars and give some thought to the changes which need to be made if phrases such as this are not to be empty?

To my second quotation: 'Under the general control of the committee of management'. This committee will be composed of academic staff, it seems. But what does it mean to say that it will 'manage'? It is time we examined the powers of 'management' the University is increasingly assuming over academic staff. We have a 'unified administrative service', within which, accord-ing to the Ordinance, the Registrary 'manages' the University Offices and their staff. Where are the boundaries of the powers in all this? One example is much in my mind at the moment. Are you aware, members of the Regent House, that under the new Data Protection Act which came into force on 1 March, the University is allowed to continue to withhold the manual records they are keeping on you until late in 2001? The decision to do so was not put to the Regent House, or even to the Council. It was taken on 'managerial' authority.

An instruction has gone out that manual records are to be gone through and weeded out. Management (who? which?) will be reading documents concerning you without your knowledge and consent and deciding whether you will ever be allowed to see them. No training has been given to those who are to undertake that task. Even those who are 'data protection officers' in the Faculties still, apparently, have no training.

I know our excellent Data Protection Officer is doing his utmost to get the show on the road. But it is not denied that the wagon will not be ready to roll even in the autumn of 2001 when the law will allow the University no further time. A few enquiring e-mails might shift things. Send them! Make a fuss for once. I should not have to stretch a phrase in a Report to the limit to warn you. You could and should have been asked what you wanted, or at least told what 'management' had decided and on what authority.

Professor D. L. MCMULLEN:

Registrary, I would like to respond to the first point that Dr Evans raised, that is, the interdisciplinary character of the East Asia Institute, and to say that we genuinely hope that our new appointments will involve cross-Faculty collaboration and that, in some cases at least, there will be joint appointments, with the Faculty of Oriental Studies ideally as the Faculty of first affiliation, and that the people concerned will be teaching across disciplinary boundaries. I think our arrangements will be satisfactory in that respect, and I point to the series of three appointments which we made last month in Chinese political science, Chinese commercial law, and Chinese business and economics, in which we invited the co-operation of the partner Faculties concerned, and made, in effect, appointments which had their full participation and agreement. I think the signs for a genuinely interdisciplinary centre in the East Asia Institute are excellent.

No remarks were made on the following Report:

The Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 20 March and 8 March 2000, on the establishment of a degree of Master of Philosophy in Chinese Studies and associated matters (p. 575).

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Cambridge University Reporter, 10 May 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.