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Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 8 October 2002. A Discussion was held in the Council Room of the Report of the Council, dated 17 June 2002, on University Governance (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 945).


Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, we should be grateful to the Council for staging two Discussions on this topic, on 9 July and today. Having spoken rather briefly at the first one, I would like to thank the authorities for permitting members to speak on both occasions. I wish now to supplement my earlier remarks.

In his address last week the Vice-Chancellor referred to Cambridge's pre-eminent position among the universities of this country, topping as we do the leagues for both research and teaching as determined by external assessors. Reference was also made to the death of the Nobel Prizewinner Max Perutz; but, by an announcement of yesterday, our list of Nobel Prizewinners increased by two, namely Sydney Brenner and John Sulston. Such success and esteem speak well for the status quo. It is very difficult for some of us to see what can actually be wrong with the University, apart, of course, from shortage of money. Just what requires such far-reaching proposals? On the contrary, it is possible to argue that the decentralization inherent in the present arrangements (together with that due to the College system) has actually helped to create a favourable environment for excellence, unencumbered by heavy bureauracy.

I agreed last time that the expansion of the University calls for matching increases in the Administration. Even larger increases may be called for: if for instance Health and Safety legislation creates new tasks then we have to obey and provide the resources. I would agree that the Administration has been under-resourced in the recent past and (leaving aside CAPSA) I acknowledge their heroic efforts. But this all pertains to administration, not governance. And, although administration and governance are 'intertwined', they can be unravelled! These additional numbers and burdens do not contribute one jot towards a case for altering the fundamental principles of our governance under Statutes and Ordinances, by which major matters are enacted by Grace of the Regent House. There is no doubt that, given the power, the Council would have forced upon us the longer Full Terms with the week's intermission, a plan which the Regent House overwhelmingly rejected twice. So let us go on being masters in our own house!

In the same vein, I cannot agree that those of us who call for ballots or propose amendments constitute a small group of wreckers, or that we do so out of personal interest, or that the Council has to tailor its proposals to avoid the wrath of unelected persons. There is no point in calling for ballots unless there is a prospect of success, and that is determined by the Regent House. The handful of people only have a handful of votes themselves. In my previous contribution (q.v.) I drew attention to the benefit that arose recently from amendments. It is the Council that needs to respond better to constructive criticism.

Criticism comes from another source, the Board of Scrutiny, and here the critics are elected for that very task. We know the opinions of the Chairman of the Governance Committee on the Board of Scrutiny (Reporter, 1998-99, p. 894 and Reporter, 2000-01, p. 149) and some of us heard, in this very room, the magisterial response of Professor Smiley (Reporter, 2000-01, p. 970), to which no reaction ever appeared. But on the present matter the Board has published a detailed commentary on the Report on Governance (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 987). While not agreeing on every point, I commend this to members of the Regent House and suggest that it should be taken into account by the Council in their reaction to these two Discussions. Prepared in one tenth of the time of the Council's Report, it seems to me to do a much better job.

I turn to external representation on the Council. The main argument in its favour appears to be that everyone else does it! But should that convince us? In our core activities of research and teaching we already outgun anyone else, and in any case the day-to-day and longer-term nurturing of those activities is not the business of the Council. In some respects, for example the Boards of Electors to Professorships, satisfactory arrangements have been in place for a long time. I presume that it is in the non-academic sphere that it is suggested external members would bring expertise, and a different strand of wisdom, to the University. Possible areas are finance, management generally, and if one dare mention it, long-term database projects. I remain wholly sceptical about this. Many of the sort of people that might be imported would be accustomed to the short-term perspectives of business. We might recruit people from the likes of Marconi, Railtrack, or the Equitable Life Assurance Society! And they would all hate the discipline of having to run the gauntlet of the Regent House!

I believe the proposals under discussion in this Report to be wholly inappropriate to our University, and suggest it be rejected in its entirety.

Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I beg the Council to heed the advice I gave at the Discussion on 30 April, not to proceed with these controversial proposals at the same time as searching for a new Vice-Chancellor. No one of the right calibre will want to be considered in the present circumstances. But the Council did not listen then, and I do not expect them to listen now.

I must therefore try to persuade the Regent House, as governing body with control over legislation, to reject the recommendations of this Report on the grounds that they are not only untimely but also an inappropriate response to the constitutional crisis engulfing the University. Before making a fresh start we must reject absolutely this false one, which is a classic piece of uninformed constitutional vandalism.

During the years in which I have been a student of the Cambridge constitution I have read the Reports of every Royal Commission, every Act of Parliament bearing on the constitution, and every set of Statutes from 1250 onwards. I have studied all the memoranda and submissions to the Royal Commissions, and followed the details of the many interesting internal attempts at reform which often inspired those Commissions.

Pride of place in my library on the University's constitution undoubtedly goes to Dean Peacock's Observations on the Statutes of the University of Cambridge of 1841, for my copy is none other than the author's presentation copy to Adam Sedgwick, who wore it to shreds during his work on the 1850 Royal Commission which led to the establishment of the Council of the Senate by the 1856 Cambridge University Act in almost exactly its present form.

I have of course read the Annan Report as well, and the Grave Report and the Wass Report, together with the consequential Reports implementing some, but not all, of their recommendations. I was instrumental in the creation of the Wass Syndicate and submitted much evidence to it, but I did not serve on it and I bore no responsibility for its recommendations.

I challenge anyone to show me in all this material anything which approaches the nadir of the present Council's contributions to constitutional debate and statutory reform. Whatever happened to the distinction which Clement Attlee said the British had 'above all other nations, of being able to put new wine into old bottles without bursting them'?

Apart from their untimeliness, the first reason for rejecting the recommendations of this Report follows from the constitutional principle that a body should not initiate proposals affecting its own composition. This has hitherto been respected in Cambridge. The Wass Syndicate honoured it, as did the Wade Syndicate on elections to the Council of the Senate which reported in 1985. I learnt it as a Council member from Sir Harry Hinsley when he was in the chair, who said he had it from an earlier Master of St John's as Vice-Chancellor, Mr J. S. Boys Smith.

The Council demonstrate the wisdom of this convention when, fixing on the mote in their own eye, they fail to notice the beam in the constitution, namely the simultaneous description of the Regent House as the governing body (Statute A,III,1) and of the Council as the principal executive and policy-making body (Statute A,IV,1). Since the Council, in their earlier Notice, were so ignorant as to state that the Regent House was not an executive body it is small wonder that they missed identifying this major source of conflict and uncertainty. Parva leves capiunt animas. In spite of everything, they continue to deceive themselves (but not us) by the dishonest introduction of the word 'legislative' between 'governing' and 'body' in paragraph 5 of the Report.

This flawed constitutional arrangement was the work of the Wass Syndicate, as I reminded the Regent House in my remarks on 13 February 2001. They probably dredged the phrase 'principal policy making body of the University' out of the unimplemented recommendations of the 1967 Grave Report (Recommendation 11), unimplemented because the generation that legislated for the Grave reforms understood perfectly well that the Regent House was by Act of Parliament the principal executive and policy-making body of the University and wished it to remain so.

The second reason why the recommendations should be rejected is a legal one. In its opening paragraphs the Report states that 'The University is a self-governing corporation with the privilege, within specified limits, of making its own Statutes and Ordinances', but it does not mention where these limits are specified or whether the present proposals lie within them. The limits to Ordinances are indeed specified by Statute A,II,1, but the limits to the Statutes are specified by the 1923 Oxford and Cambridge Act whose requirements I now need to explain, since the Council show no evidence of having measured their proposals against them.

The Statutes of the University are a form of delegated legislation under the Act and as such must conform to its requirements, just as a Minister of the Crown, in issuing a Statutory Instrument, is constrained by the Act which authorizes its promotion. Under Section 7 of the 1923 Act the University inherited the powers and obligations of the University Commissioners appointed in Section 1 and specified in Section 6. Their power was to make Statutes for the University, whilst their principal obligation was to make them 'in general accordance with the recommendations contained in the Report of the Royal Commission [of 1922], but with such modifications (...) as may, after the consideration of any representations made to them, appear to them expedient'.

Statutory changes made by the University, like the original Statutes made by the Commissioners, may be disallowed by Her Majesty in Council (the Privy Council) upon receipt of a petition requesting disallowance. A natural and reasonable justification for such a disallowance would be that the modifications proposed departed too extensively from the recommendations of the Royal Commission. These are the 'limits' to which the Council of the Senate must be referring, but they can hardly be described as 'specified'. They need to be tested, and there is as yet no case-law to help because the Privy Council has never so far been petitioned to disallow a Statute-change.

(I shall continue to refer to the Council of the Senate where necessary rather than just the Council to avoid confusion with the Privy Council. This is in accordance with Section 5 of the 1856 Act which is still in force and states '... there shall be elected a Council, which shall be called the Council of the Senate'.)

At the Discussion on 30 April I ventured to put forward some examples which certainly lie outside the limits, but the present case is different and requires a view of what constitutes a mere 'modification' and what goes beyond a modification and thus fails the 'general accordance' test. A natural criterion is whether the proposal at issue was actually discussed by the Royal Commission and rejected by them, and this is the case with external or lay members on the Council of the Senate as now proposed. The Commission stated (section 67) 'We have considered the various arguments advanced for and against the proposal to add outside representatives to the Council. Our conclusion is that it would be inadvisable to adopt the proposal, ... '. 'On the other hand we consider it most desirable that contact with outside opinion should be secured in other ways, and under the proposals in paragraph 71 of our report such opinion will be represented on the ... Financial Board and in the various ... Syndicates and Boards'.

I am of course here making a legal point, but I might add that I entirely agree with the view of the Commissioners. I believe it is widely accepted as advantageous to have external members on the Careers Service Syndicate, and during my time as chairman of the Library Syndicate I came to feel that two members from the external library world would be of great assistance.

It is of course true that the Oxford Statutes now admit external members to their Council and that the Privy Council allowed the change, but that does not affect the legal argument for two reasons. First, no-one petitioned against it, so that the mechanism for disallowance was not triggered, and secondly breaking a law creates no precedent. The proposal goes beyond the limits to which the Council of the Senate refer, and might properly be petitioned against before the Privy Council. In my view the admission of external members to the Council of the Senate requires an Act of Parliament.

But there is even more to worry about than the legality of the proposal. There is now evidence that it is the result of improper political pressure brought to bear on the Privy Council.

In his address to the University on 1 October the Vice-Chancellor said approvingly that 'Oxford has recently proposed an increase in the external members of its Hebdomadal Council from two to four', but that is only half the story. (Oxford eyebrows will be raised at our Vice-Chancellor thinking they still have a Hebdomadal Council, but he is right: the 1854 Oxford University Act says that is its name.) The other half of the story is in the Oxford Gazette for 26 September. Apparently some shadowy figures called 'the Privy Council's advisers' made the suggestion that the present number should be raised, wanting, so we read, 'ideally ... a lay majority'. The Hebdomadal Council dug its heels in at that, considering that 'the nature of this University would make inappropriate the much larger proportion of lay members which the advisers would prefer'.

Advisers? More likely Ministers of the Crown and their civil servants believing that the Privy Council's exercise of the Royal Prerogative which allows them to influence the Charters and Statutes of more recent universities extends to Oxford and Cambridge. But as Mr P. R. Glazebrook pointed out in a contribution to the Discussion on 27 April 1976 which I well remember, in respect of our two universities the Privy Council is acting not under Royal Prerogative but under the quite different provisions of the 1923 Act, which admit of no such interference. It is improper, unconstitutional, and must be resisted at all costs.

The third reason for rejecting the Report lies in the details which emerge from the shallow constitutional thinking. It seems that the Vice-Chancellor is to become Registrary (or a sort of combined Registrary and Treasurer) and the Registrary is to become Deputy Registrary. But the Registrary 'is placed under the direction of the Council' and is 'the principal administrative officer of the University' (Statute D,VIII,1). So how can the new Vice-Chancellor be the principal administrative officer of the University as well (proposed Statute D,III,1)? And if he should emerge victorious from the duel, to which body is he to be responsible? The original Notice proposed that he should be accountable to the Council, but that seems to have been lost in the revision. He is to lose his standing as chairman of the Council (thereby failing to perform one of the 'customary duties of the office' so that Statute D,III,3 will need amending), but he gains nothing. Yet he is to continue as chairman of the governing body, that is, the Regent House, and therefore to chair Congregations and Discussions and to be the chairman of the University (unless giving way to the Chancellor, of course).

Exactly to whom is this hybrid 'executive manager' to be responsible? To the governing body independently of the Council, and if so, by what mechanism? To the Council? Or to nobody? The first possibility is unlikely to be the intention, the last is unacceptable. We must assume the second. Why does the proposed Statute not say so? Yet if he is to be an officer of the Council, a super-Registrary, then he must be relieved of the judicial functions which the Vice-Chancellor customarily, and importantly, performs. To whom are these now to be allocated? And who will replace him as chairman of the Regent House, that is, of the University?

Next, new Statute D,III,2 does not explicitly state that reappointment to the office of Vice-Chancellor is not permitted, and since the unamended Section 6 admits that possibility the way is open for reappointment after the expiry of seven years, or of the shorter period of appointment. If this is intentional, it is deceitful.

And pity the poor external chairman of the Council. Though in that capacity he is vice the Chancellor he cannot be called Vice-Chancellor (indeed, how could the Vice-Chancellor himself continue with the title?). No standing in the University at all. Not even a University officer.

In passing it may be noted that new Statute A,III,7(f), which gives Regent-House membership to certain Council members for the duration of their tenure only, is incompatible with Statute A,III,5.

One could go on ad infinitum, but it is time to stop, and time for the University to bring this whole misconceived exercise to an end and start afresh. But in the event that it cannot be persuaded to do so I now propose just one statutory amendment, an addition to the proviso at the end of Statute A,III,7 of the words 'and that no person shall be inscribed on the Roll who has indicated to the Registrary in writing his wish not to be so inscribed'. No employee of the University should be obliged to participate in this Regent-House farrago.

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, during a period of thirty years, as a member of the Regent House, as twice a member of the Council of the Senate, and thrice a member of the General Board, as Senior Proctor, and on many Boards and Syndicates, I have argued unceasingly for the fine democratic and statutory government of the University laid down by Parliament to be developed, modernized, and above all honoured. If this act of constitutional vandalism succeeds, the argument will have been lost for ever and the historical evolution of a famous academic democracy will have come to an end. The Senate-House will have been rebuilt in chartered red brick just in time for the octocentenary celebrations.

We must save this Council from themselves and the University from this Council by throwing out the whole measure lock, stock, and barrel.


Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, although I am speaking here today to express disagreement with proposals put forward by Council, I hope that I will always try to extend to them the courtesy of accepting that their point of view, while wrong in my own opinion, is at least sincerely held. It would be nice if this courtesy was extended to me and other members of Regent House who might happen to disagree with our principal officers or central bodies on occasion.

I will divide my remarks into four sections.

First, I want to support one of the points raised earlier by Professor Edwards. Statutes define the duties of the Registrary as including 'to act as the principal administrative officer of the University' (Statute D, VIII,1 (a)). To my inexpert eye this seems to conflict with the proposed new Statute D,III,1. If correct, there needs to be a corresponding amendment to D,VIII.

Second, I believe that the proposed composition of the new Council fails to give adequate representation to elected members of the governing body of our University. There has been broad, but not universal, agreement on the introduction of two new categories of membership of Council. I am content on the principle. The problem, as I perceive it, lies in the detail. Guess who is going to make way for these new categories. Let us compare the composition of the current Council with the proposals in the Report under discussion. Three student representatives - no change there; four Heads of Houses - steady as we go; four Professors and Readers - only subject restrictions added; eight other members of Regent House - whoa, slashed in half to a mere four.

I am well aware that there was hostility to the reduction of Heads of Houses to three, mainly from Colleges themselves, but what justifies the fact that the only category to be reduced is that of the 'ordinary' Regent House members. There are 31 Heads of Colleges, 600 or so Professors and Readers, and about 2,600 other members of Regent House (plus several hundred more if expansion goes ahead), yet these are to be equally represented. I do not believe that the present proposal meets the objective, acknowledged by Council and urged by many respondents, of maintaining a suitable proportion of Regent House elected members.

I think a careful examination of this issue is needed. I am going to suggest that the class (a) members are not, in reality, elected by Regent House. I have undertaken a little research. On only one occasion, in the past twelve years at least, has there been an actual ballot for class (a) membership of Council. In 1994-95 an entirely new Council was constituted, and there were five candidates for the four places laid down for Heads of Colleges. Curiously, on all other occasions since 1990, there have been exactly the right number of candidates for class (a) membership as there have been vacancies, whether at the six bye-elections or at the statutory biennial elections. I am not implying that there is anything improper in all this, but it cannot be said that Regent House is electing these members of Council. In that case, Regent House will be electing only eight of the twenty-two members of the new Council and only four of these from the largest class, only a total of 36% compared with 60% for the equivalent position today. I believe this is not enough.

I have two alternative proposals to correct the situation. Either go back to the total number of 26 originally put forward by restoring class (c) to eight; or share out the reductions evenly between the existing categories.

Of course another quite important objective is to ensure that the membership of Council has an appropriate balance of senior figures. However, I believe either of my solutions fulfils this aim. The Vice-Chancellor, a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Heads of Colleges, Professors and Readers, and the external members make up half; for surely the external members, especially those chosen to chair the Audit Committee and Council itself will be persons of considerable experience. And let us remind ourselves that there is no bar to seniority or experience among the class (c) members as we can see from the present Council. Today's Council also reminds us that there is no bar to College representation in class (c) either and that this Report's proposal may still result in fewer persons able to put forward College viewpoints. A number of other respondents to the consultation noted this, among whom was at least one College.

Third, I want to make some remarks about the mechanics of the process from here. I am very glad that the Report proposes (in paragraph 31) that each of the major issues will be dealt with by a separate Grace. What I cannot find in the Report is a commitment that there be a ballot on each of these Graces. Given both the widely differing views put forward by the respondents to the original consultation and by speakers at both Discussions and the magnitude and significance of the constitutional changes proposed, I cannot conceive that Council do not regard it as their duty to seek explicit approval of each proposal separately in a postal ballot. Perhaps I missed something or such a course was taken for granted.

Finally, I want now to turn to the question of ballots and so on. I would like to suggest that there is no compelling reason why the number of signatories required to call a Discussion on a topic of concern should be the same as the number required to call a ballot on a Grace. Logically the calling of a ballot and the putting of amendments are equivalent, but Discussions are entirely different. It is my own opinion that there is even more reason to keep a limit of ten for Discussions than for ballots. Introducing an additional topic to Discussions essentially costs nothing. We want contributors to keep broadly within the topic, preventing them from introducing a topic encourages them to strain the boundaries of relevance to get their points heard. If anything I think we should be encouraging Regent House members to propose topics for discussion where they cannot get adequate responses to their concerns elsewhere. Perhaps if we had had the CAPSA Discussion before 'go-live', we might have avoided some of the adverse consequences. So, I request that Regent House has the opportunity to have a separate vote on amendment of Regulation 1(b) for Discussions, with the same options as are intended for the Regulations for Graces.

Many contributors, including myself, also expressed grave concern about increasing the number of signatories required for ballots and amendments on Graces. I will not rehearse the arguments here, only to say that our arguments about lack of evidence for any change have not been rebutted by the present Report. I want to briefly comment on a new reason which has recently been advanced for change. In his address on 1 October, the Vice-Chancellor suggested that the possibility that any ten members of Regent House can call into question a decision of Council, 'emasculates Council' and often seriously diverts attention in a wholly undesirable way. I have never had the privilege of serving on Council so I cannot comment on the literal accuracy of this suggestion. I must, however, express astonishment. To borrow a phrase from the Report, I believe these apprehensions are largely misplaced. Ten members can only require a ballot to be held. If some dissident group of ten or eleven force a ballot on the University on purely spurious or selfish grounds, they would surely be shown up as a dismal minority of a few percent in the resulting ballot. I cannot call to mind any single occasion where this could have been said to have happened.

If the Council are mindful of the need to make proposals which they can persuade the majority of Regent House to approve, then that is something quite different. Not only is that healthy but proper behaviour of an executive towards its parent body.


I am an elected member of the Board of Scrutiny, but I speak on my own behalf.

Deputy Vice Chancellor, in his Address last Tuesday the Vice-Chancellor noted that 'there is need for change and improvement' within the University, that as regards the administrative service 'relentless pressures have led to some serious mistakes', and that 'we need to pull together' on the issue of improving administrative performance. I presume that no one would disagree with such sentiments; indeed they echo points made by the Board of Scrutiny in its submission last March on the governance proposals.

That there is a need for change has been a recurring theme in Reports, Discussions, and my own personal conversations since the CAPSA/CUFS debacle; a theme that has gained added urgency since the 'serious mistake' that led to a £11.6 million projected deficit for the current year (or maybe that ought to be a 'very serious mistake' since the underlying deficit is much larger than £11.6 million). As a result some may feel that, given our current circumstances, any change would be a change for the better. However, I do not believe that to be the case, and I shall argue that at least two of the proposals supported by Sir Alec last week would be changes for the worse. In doing so I hope that Sir Alec will accept that this is not 'unconstructive, and damaging criticism', again a quote from his Address.

A key issue facing the University is where executive and policy-making power should lie. In its submission on the governance proposals the Board of Scrutiny argued that the consultative paper was unclear on this point, since the paper argued that, on the one hand there was a need to make the Council more effective in discharging its executive functions, and to enhance the executive and strategic capacity of Council, while on the other hand there was a need to empower the office of Vice-Chancellor and to recognize in Statutes the Vice-Chancellor as being responsible for the overall direction and management of the University and its finances.

The Board concluded that the lack of clearly defined principles of accountability or of a culture of accountability within the University, as identified by Professor Shattock in his CAPSA report, persisted in the consultative paper.

In order to try and clarify matters on this key issue of executive power, members of the Board attended the consultative seminar road-shows and asked whether the proposals were for the Vice-Chancellor to become, in effect, the Chief Executive Officer of the University. They were assured more than once, indeed sometimes in robust terms, that this was not the proposal. This left myself not a little perplexed since the words 'Chief Executive' kept appearing, often unattributed, in the press (e.g. in our own CAM Magazine). I contacted our Press Office; they could shed no light on such appearances, but noted that the term 'Chief Executive' was, to my surprise, common parlance in the Old Schools.

What does the Report up for discussion state? On the plus side the Council has responded to the Board of Scrutiny by accepting that the description of the Vice-Chancellor as 'responsible for the overall direction and management of the University and its finances' 'might be taken as implying a qualification to the account of the role of the Council itself specified in the Statute'.

Further, in his Address last Tuesday the Vice-Chancellor stated that while he supports 'the proposal that the Vice-Chancellor become the Principal Academic and Administrative Officer of the University', this proposal is 'not to empower the Vice-Chancellor - and in any case the power of the post can readily be limited by Council - it is to provide the logical and unambiguous apex to the communication channel'. At first sight this looks like a U-turn, since the consultative paper stated that there was a 'need to empower the office of Vice-Chancellor'.

However, the devil is in the detail; in this case in what is actually proposed in the amendments to Statutes. Two of the amendments to the Statute concerning the Vice-Chancellor seem to have bearing on where executive power would lie. First it is proposed that:

The Vice-Chancellor shall be the principal academic and administrative officer of the University.

In his Address Sir Alec explicitly referred to this proposal, which the Board of Scrutiny supported, and which is in line with Professor Shattock's Recommendation 17 (although I note Professor Edwards has today raised interesting objections to this proposal).

However, there is also a proposal that Sir Alec did not refer to, namely that Statute D,III,3 be amended to include the statement that:

The Vice-Chancellor shall be responsible for the executive management of the University and finances, and for the direction of University business within the framework of approved policies, and subject to the responsibilities of the Council and other bodies established by or under the Statutes and Ordinances.

Suppose that we exchange 'Chief Executive' for 'Vice-Chancellor', 'company' for 'University', and 'Board' for 'Council', and slightly abbreviate the clause. We then have this:

The Chief Executive shall be responsible for the executive management of the company and finances, and for the direction of company business within the framework of approved policies, and subject to the responsibilities of the Board.

Would that not pass as a description of a Chief Executive Officer of a company?

If it looks like a duck, squawks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it is a duck. If the proposed amendment is passed the Vice-Chancellor will look like a Chief Executive, talk like a Chief Executive, and walk like a Chief Executive, because she or he will be a Chief Executive.

No doubt Pro-Vice-Chancellor Grant will continue to disagree with me, possibly arguing that the proposal is not for a Chief Executive Officer, but instead for a 'principal executive officer' (as described in the Press Release of 26 June 2002). However I fail to understand how a Vice-Chancellor bearing 'overall responsibility for the executive management of the University and its finances and for its direction within the framework of agreed and approved policies', with 'the necessary authority to discharge these responsibilities directly or by delegation', is not de facto a Chief Executive Officer.

At present the Council is according to Statute the 'principal executive and policy making body of the University' (although Professor Edwards has raised important points on this subject as well). Moreover, the Council has been described as the Principal Executive Body in recent official documents. What is proposed is an empowerment of the Vice-Chancellor at the expense of the Council. The attempt to square the circle as to where executive power would lie, as detailed in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the Report, is sophistry, as was last week's claim that the proposals would not empower the Vice-Chancellor.

If the Report's proposals are adopted the University will end up with a governance structure with a lack of clarity on the fundamental point of where executive power lies since, inter alia, there is not always a clear distinction between policy making and management. This is a fundamental issue because if two entities have overlapping powers there is a risk of conflict and impasse; indeed on the management front it is far from clear that the power of the Vice-Chancellor could be 'readily be limited by Council' (to again quote from the last week's Address).

The proposals are neither fish nor fowl. If Council want a Chief Executive then the proposal should be up-front, and the consequences thought through (more of which below). I prefer the democratic model where the Vice-Chancellor is first amongst equals on Council, and where members of the Regent House are treated as responsible peers to be persuaded, rather than employees to be ordered.

Let me make it clear that I am not saying there is no need for the implementation of policy decisions to be placed more singly. Indeed, the Board of Scrutiny has proposed that there be an amendment to Statutes to allow delegation to a person as well as a body.

In order to understand the reasoning behind this proposal it may help to consider the case study of a University that has run up a multi-million deficit, has made unpopular administrative changes and has made moves to grab the copyright of its staff's work. As a result the Vice-Chancellor responsible for the executive management of the University has lost the confidence of his staff, and there is a perceived need for a change of leadership. How is the University going to persuade him to go, or at least limit the damage being done?

Last March, when the Board of Scrutiny suggested that the Governance Committee seriously consider effective ways of reining in the powers of a Vice-Chancellor who needed to be called to account, the aforementioned scenario was a theoretical possibility. Council appears to have concluded that it was a highly unlikely possibility since the issue of a maverick Vice-Chancellor is not addressed in the Report under Discussion. Unfortunately, as anyone knows who has followed the 'summer coup' at the case study university, i.e. University College London, governing bodies do need to plan for the inevitable day when they need to remove, or at least rein in, their Vice-Chancellor.

Given that at present our Vice-Chancellor is essentially unsackable, and there are no plans for change on that front, there needs to be a way of reining in any increased powers. The revocation of delegated powers by Council is far easier and quicker than a change of Statutes; hence the Board of Scrutiny's proposal. It would be good if the Vice-Chancellor, Council, and the Board could pull together on this important point.

In his Address last week Sir Alec also robustly supported the proposal for increasing the number required to call for a ballot to at least 50. In doing so he made it clear that he profoundly disagrees with those who argue that ballots are rarely called and that this does not hinder our decision making capability. Since I am one of those who has argued the latter case, and who has also signed requests for ballots, let me take up the issue.

Sir Alec states that:

The fact that every decision made by Council can be questioned by a handful of people emasculates the Council. Instead of concentrating solely on the needs of the University in fulfilling its mission, Council often becomes preoccupied with anticipating and satisfying the demands of a handful of people with no obligation to represent our society as a whole and who, instead, are frequently pursuing personal interests.

First let me say that while there may be one or two who have pursued personal interests, they do not include myself, or those who I have asked to sign requests for ballots.

Second, it seems to me that if Council is emasculated by the fear of being questioned by a handful of people, then Council has fundamentally misunderstood the democratic process. For if Council feel that those who call for ballots do not represent our society as a whole, then they should test this hypothesis by toughing it out and fighting the ballots. If Council have the strongest arguments then the Regent House will support them, and those of us who have called for ballots will have egg on our faces. Over a period of time the number of ballots called will then surely decline.

Of course another hypothesis is that those of us who call for ballots have the strongest arguments and will win the ballots, Council suspects that is the case, and so is not willing to fight. In this case, Council is in reality preoccupied with anticipating and satisfying the demands of the Regent House, which seems to be rather a good thing in a democratic University.

There is a simple way of testing which of the two hypotheses is correct. It does not involve increasing the number needed to call for a ballot.


Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, since I proposed Anthony Finkelstein as a suitable person to write a report on CAPSA, I have watched with some trepidation as his report has been used to justify this large upheaval in the University's management.

It is clear that within the administration there have been winners and there have been losers. There is less clarity about the intended - and the probable, unintended - consequences for the University.

I have not worked all my life as an academic. I spent a dozen years working in industry, commerce, and consultancy, mostly as a systems engineer. I have worked for companies such as Barclays and IBM, and in professional practice. In my experience, there are broadly two ways of running a large firm - as a partnership, or as a bureaucracy.

A professional practice - whether a law firm, an accountancy practice, or a computer consultancy - will have a number of partners. They will typically elect a managing partner who will hire staff to keep the photocopiers fed and watered. In a large firm, there may be a hierarchy of office managers to control the staff. The senior administrator may be highly skilled and earn more than many partners; yet the firm is still run for the benefit of the partners.

Companies like Barclays and IBM are run differently. Power does not reside in a partnership but in the person of the chief executive. He exercises it through a bureaucracy - many layers of line management, and a large number of staff departments. The working environment is extremely different from a partnership. Instead of being driven by shared goals and rough consensus, staff are bombarded with policy documents, rulebooks, guidelines, and executive letters. Office computer systems are constantly tweaked to compel people to follow procedures that change every few months. Needless to say, those who can escape this grind for the much better working conditions of consultancy do so.

My first concern is that the governance changes are moving the University from being run like a professional practice, in which the partners are the members of the Regent House, to being run like a corporate bureaucracy in which we are treated as employees to be bossed about.

There are some who argue that the change is necessary because the University has become too large to be run by rough consensus and shared goals. I disagree.

Where a large number of people work together towards a common purpose - such as maximizing the profitability of a bank branch network, or defeating Microsoft in the marketplace for PC operating systems - then a centrally-directed bureaucracy may be appropriate and necessary. However, where professionals are working together, under a shared brand, to deliver specialized services to their own customers, the partnership model still prevails. It is simply not true that once an organization acquires a few thousand staff and a turnover of a few hundred million pounds it must abandon partnership for bureaucracy. Cambridge may be a large university by UK standards, but we are not the largest in Britain, and by US standards we are fairly small. We are also small compared with the large accountancy and consultancy firms.

So I find myself out of sympathy with the proposal that the power of the Regent House needs to be curtailed. If the administration is to become more cohesive and more powerful, then the power of the Regent House must be increased in step.

Over the last two years, we have already seen some of the likely effects of a more powerful administration, as our principal administrative officers have been joined by the new Directors. We have been assaulted by a number of policy documents that have been crass, ignorant, and offensive. I refer, for example, to the policy on electronic mail, which proposed that tenured academics could be fired if we sent e-mails that someone might object to; that was recently tempered following a Discussion in this House. I refer also to the policy on intellectual property, which grabs from us the copyright in everything from textbooks to sermons, and which we shall discuss next week. I refer also to the recent 'Information Data Security Policy' which if enforced would close down all computer communications in the University. There are other examples.

If we take no action, the bombardment will intensify. Academic freedom will be eroded, our quality of life will suffer, recruitment and retention will become harder, and we will have to spend more and more of our time 'feeding the machine', as Whitehall folk refer to it.

This brings us to the nub of the matter. Bureaucracy is well known for its tendency to increase without limit. Healthy organizations need ways in which administrative empire-building is constrained. In a partnership, this is easy, as administrative costs come out of partnership profits directly. Managers in listed companies face shareholder displeasure through the threat of takeovers. Governments face the threat of election defeat. What does the University have?

We will probably need a number of mechanisms.

We need better, and more transparent accounts; we need to know how much money is being spent on staff functions such as personnel and research grant administration. We also need business plans. We need a University business plan against which the performance of the Vice-Chancellor and the Registrary can be measured. Where the University is involved in running businesses other than its core business, we need business plans for them too. How long will it take before RSD's new technology transfer organization breaks even? It would also be nice to know how much value we lost as a result of the recent A-level debacle. The Freedom of Information Act will ensure that interested parties can obtain this information within a couple of years; we should start making the information available in ways that will make it useful for the governance of the University, not just as a source of ammunition for troublemakers.

We need better consultation mechanisms. When the e-mail policy was promulgated, that was the first that most of us had heard of it. In government, which is traditionally much more secretive than universities, new regulations are published for 90 days, so that interested parties have a chance to point out any catastrophic flaws before ministers present them to Parliament. Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in case it is argued that this lies slightly outside the scope of the Governance debate so far, I should say that I am minded to call for a Discussion on this topic as being of interest to the University.

We need trustworthy mechanisms of audit and review. In the post-Enron world, I do not believe it is acceptable for the Council member responsible for audit to be appointed by the executive. The Board of Scrutiny has built up a great deal of credibility over the last few years; I would hate to see it undermined.

Finally, this House is going to have to assert itself more forcefully in future. That will only happen if members feel that speaking in Discussion, and voting of Graces, makes a difference. If the proposed changes strengthen the administration at the cost of undermining the power of the Regent House, that is unlikely to happen.


Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I can confirm Professor Edwards' dark suspicions. The Privy Council's advisors are indeed the changing crowd of civil servants at the Department of Education, or whatever it is currently called. It is they who 'advised' the passing of our chaotic Commissary Statute unrevised. The Privy Council always heeds their advice. Behind them the Ministers of Education. And Nick Holmes is perfectly correct. The Heads of House always decide among themselves and avoid election.

The Vice-Chancellor and I appear to be of one mind. We are both concerned about the improvement of communications. The Council too, 'are aware of the problems … with communications within the University and are seeking solutions.' (Reporter, p. 5). So we are all pulling the same way. I am here to argue that if we could put that right, we could tear up these proposals to change our governance. My proposal is that at the heart of our cluster of symptoms is 'glue ear' in the central bodies. Inserting a grommet would be less drastic, and far less unforeseeable in its consequences than plastic surgery which might give us 'Michael Jackson's face'.

In his Annual Speech last week (Reporter, p. 64), Sir Alec reviewed the state of the University after his six years in office. He put his outgoing Vice-Chancellor shoulder personally to the 'governance change' wheel and shoved. I do not comment on the propriety of doing that on a 'state occasion' when a statesmanlike even-handedness might be appropriate. But if it is true that we are in a financial and administrative mess, the like of which the University has not seen in historical memory, it needs to be asked why we were not in it in 1996. The governance was the same.

Sir Alec made business propositions in his Annual Speech: that 'in successful organizations, the hierarchy … exists to provide clear and unambiguous lines of communication,' and that 'it is important that communication channels are coherent and clear so that the aims of the organization can be communicated, and indeed achieved.' I am afraid that expresses an important recent misunderstanding on the central bodies. With the Reporter and Web available, information should not be transmitted through a hierarchy. Sending things round behind the backs of the Regent House to line-managing Heads of Institutions has to end. There must be no more Notices with Graces attached, affording no opportunity for debate. There is no excuse for us to be taken unpleasantly by surprise each Wednesday as we open the Reporter and discover some new horror already almost a fait accompli. If they want better communication they have got to tell us things directly, in good time, and with appropriate time for response.

Secondly, our 'aims'. The University has never approved the Mission Statement which appears in the advertisement for the new Vice-Chancellor. Nor have we approved Susie Baker and Louise Simpson of the Press Office as 'Directors of Communications' for the University. The Registrary admitted to me in an e-mail yesterday (7 October) that this impressive title, which many academic staff would like to bear, and which was chosen for all those new Directors of things like Personnel was simply 'adopted' 'following discussion with the Vice-Chancellor, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor concerned, and me'. (Note how decisions of importance are already tending to be taken in the new régime.)

One of the tasks of a new Chief Executive Vice-Chancellor would be to 'represent the University' (Reporter, 7 June 2002) nationally and internationally, and Susie and Louise will be writing the speeches and the press releases and giving the world the party line.

In this way, Cam and the Newsletter came to take their 'all over bar the shouting' line on the governance reforms we are debating and all those wordings to which Dr Cowley has referred appeared in print. The August/September Newsletter simply asserts that 'these proposals represent a significant modernization of the governance arrangements'. 'Members of the University can still add their comments'. Well, we are doing that, and I do not hear many cheers for what is on offer, but we shall still be voting 'on these proposals' quite soon, shan't we, these same proposals? We are not getting a Report containing the proposed Graces to discuss, and there is no provision for any revision to be made and debated before the ballot papers are sent out.

By Professor Grant's admission at one of the 'roadshows', our journalists are often allowed to print things 'in the name of the University' without proper supervision. I see he is here to leap up in denial. But I was there and heard him. Soon the Press Office is going to be running a University newspaper. That is not going to have the editorial independence and freedom of speech of Varsity, is it? It is just going to 'communicate' 'our' 'aims'.

The Board of Scrutiny expressed concern in its recent Report about the way the Press Office 'play down awkward matters'. As the Board puts it, 'the primary task of the University is to seek and disseminate the truth, whether palatable or otherwise, and the work of the Press Office should reflect this spirit'. The spin for which the Vice-Chancellor especially praised the Press Office in his annual speech of 2001, should have no place in it.

Thirdly, you want the Vice-Chancellor to be the 'logical and unambiguous apex to the communication channel', you say, Sir Alec. Good communications in a business may mean just telling people what to think. In a University we need to have a conversation. You have asserted in my hearing, Vice-Chancellor, that you cannot be expected to read Discussions. You certainly don't come and listen to them. And when you are offered an electronic newsgroup to debate governance by a member of the Council and a member of the Board of Scrutiny (ucam.change.governance), you are not seen there either. Nor has any of the senior administrators or Professor Malcolm Grant or Dr Gordon Johnson, though invited to respond, had a word to say to the newsgroup, though they are known to be 'having it read'. That is all of a piece with the growing habit of bringing not only the Regent House but also the General Board and the Council a pile of ready-mades stitched by the administration, which they are expected meekly to don even if they are the wrong size and shape. Even an Apex can be wrong.

Alec and Tim, you have to learn to expect to be wrong sometimes, to admit it, at least to be open to the possibility that others of those thousands who make up the University might have some good and useful ideas. The arrogance of the Notice on p. 5 of the Reporter, dismissing everything said on the Board of Scrutiny's Report on CAPSA except the remarks of two members of the Council, is pretty staggering, even by recent standards.

You say, Vice-Chancellor, 'We are in the process of …' improving the performance of the administration, 'and I ask you all to help in this process'. 'We need to pull together on this issue.' Yes, we do, so why are you and the administrators not joining in the debate? If you want us to pull together you have to work with us and stop trying to turn us into a compliant workforce of underlings who believe what the Press Office says. The Regent House is waking up to the difference between the rhetoric and the reality, believe me. Ironically, the Alec-Susie-Louise article for the THES on intellectual property may have helped to open a few eyes, and their speech last week will open more.

You do admit that there have been 'some serious mistakes and we must improve our performance.' So once we have opened up communications, let's start a dispassionate and ruthless hunt for managerial weaknesses. Registrary, how many times have I said to you that you could transform the efficiency of our administration by just getting someone to keep lists of matters in hand and ensure that things were not done piecemeal with initiatives thrown at the Regent House in an unco-ordinated jumble without being thought through properly? Even a member of the General Board was heard to protest in a CAPSA speech about the 'jumble of new exercise, initiatives, and procedures, which land on them hard, from the centre'. (Reporter, 18 October 2000-01, p. 93). These are not constitutional bad habits. They are administrative. The place is a shambles hiding behind rejection of criticism.

You do not like criticism, Sir Alec. You say so. Autocracies don't. You call it 'unconstructive, and damaging'. You accuse those who raise concerns of being motivated by 'personal interests'. I am sure those who called the CAPSA Discussion and the Board of Scrutiny will be reflecting on the personal benefits they have obtained. I certainly am. Even if you cut off heads there is now the new Campaign for Cambridge Freedoms, which I did not instigate. If no one barks at a self-satisfied and secretive administration expensive disasters go unnoticed and unchecked. So uncomfortable. So necessary.

You offer the 'business Chief Executive' solution once more. 'Well managed organizations provide mechanisms for people to appeal to those above their immediate supervisors to remove any danger of uncontrolled power,' you say. What does history record of the number of years you have been taking to act under Statute U in specific cases? Governance change will not improve that record. Pulling up managerial socks may.

'The decision of the Council can be questioned and a ballot called by a group of unelected members half the size of the Council,' you say indignantly. Is that tiny and unrepresentative unelected crowd at your secret Monday Morning Meetings still not reporting to the Council? It never did in my day. Rather less than 0.3%? And should you be pushing for monarchy and the nomination of non-elected members of the Council if you believe so sincerely in the collective voice expressing itself through free elections? I put it to you that the line of ballots already stretching through this term is an indication that we do not feel communication is going at all well, sir, as an interactive exercise. Oxford has not needed to have one since its administration tried to rush the Said Business School through in the middle of August some years ago. It learned its lesson.

Let me end with brief comments on those proposed Statutes to add to my remarks in July.

The Vice-Chancellor cannot delegate to a person. Statute K, 9 does not allow it. The Board of Scrutiny has picked that up in its August Report (54), but it was I who spotted it and mentioned it to everyone, Alec, I the 'unconstructive critic'. We could change the Statute, yes. But would that not allow a Vice-Chancellor to make gifts of parcels of his new responsibilities (not 'powers', note) to any individuals he chooses? 'Unelected', Sir Alec. Surely you would not want that?

Blair's Britain: trail of disastrous rushed initiatives, of failed public-private finance schemes, of partnerships with industries which collapse, of special relationships, of pushing one man's wishes without consultation, of spin in a climate of fear, briefing against critics. Remind you of Broers' Cambridge at all? And the future? 'As an alumnus of Cambridge University, we want you to feel proud of your achievements - and get the most from them as possible. With the Cambridge University Platinum MasterCard, you can'. This went out in our name this August.

Dr J. A. LEAKE (read by Professor M. SCHOFIELD):

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, so much has been said and written already in connection with this important matter that it is difficult to avoid the risk of unintended repetition!

The aim of my comments is to urge that we do not lose sight of the principal aims of what is proposed in this Report: maintenance of the University's success in teaching and research across a very wide spectrum of academic activities, and improvement in its cohesion as a community of individuals, each sharing a common interest in that success, whether as an established member of the academic staff or as one of the increasingly many other people in our community involved at one level or another and in one way or another.

There appears to be wide acknowledgement that the present arrangements by which the University is governed have not been working as well as we would wish. Understandably there are divergent views as to how they might best be improved so as to ensure the University's continued success. Nevertheless it is generally recognized that the University now has to operate and, we hope, thrive in a very different environment from that in which our present arrangements for governance were created and subsequently modified. In particular the University now operates in a world where there is far more external regulation and monitoring of all that we do, whether by government agencies using weighty structured mechanisms or by the media in a more selective manner. At the same time it is increasingly necessary to be in a position to respond rapidly, yet with an academic perspective, to government or its agencies.

I am neither a geologist nor a biologist but I am aware that, to survive in a changed environment, the appropriate response is to evolve. The proposals in this report form such a response. Inter alia, they recognize the need to strengthen our academic leadership through the creation of a few more Pro-Vice-Chancellors, academic members of staff prepared to dedicate a substantial but defined period to this role. The proposals also aim to enhance the cohesiveness of our community by recognizing that much vital work in the University is these days performed by unestablished staff and others, and by arranging for representation of all groups on the Council. Contributions by external individuals as members of the Council will provide a different and, I believe, constructive perspective on the workings of the University and should encourage us to avoid the temptations of the 'not invented here' syndrome. Finally other proposals address matters where recent experience has demonstrated a need for modification or clarification.

In short, I welcome these proposals.


Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, last evening a performance by the Academy of Ancient Music inaugurated the refurbished West Road Concert Hall. In the now sumptuous surroundings the audience enjoyed a cultural feast - except those unfortunate women who needed the Hall's cloakroom facilities. As a friend of mine has put it, 'We know the University is in dire financial straits, but surely providing loo rolls, and ensuring that the flushes work, on the evening of the formal opening, is achievable'.

Madam Deputy Vice Chancellor, I see nothing in the Governance proposals which will tackle problems at this level, yet the Music Faculty may stand, in this respect, as a parable for the University as a whole. In its response to the Board of Scrutiny (Reporter, p. 5: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2002-03/weekly/5896/10.html) Council state: 'The Council are aware that there are problems, identified in the reports of Professors Shattock and Finkelstein, with communications within the University and are seeking solutions. With regard to the new Cambridge Student Information System (CamSIS), for example, widespread consultation with interested bodies has been undertaken.'

With respect, lack of consultation alone is not our major problem. It is not lack of consultation which prevents toilets flushing. It was not lack of consultation which created the CAPSA fiasco. Consultation alone will not save CamSIS. There was a good deal of consultation at the equivalent stage of CAPSA. Miss Baron went out of her way to ensure that all interested parties were consulted. The problems lie far deeper in our governance and even more in our administration. Council should abandon the current Governance plans and commission a report to identify and highlight our deficiencies (including those indicated by the reports of Shattock and Finkelstein, notably absent from any of the thinking of the Governance team). Only then shall we be in a position to begin to fix what is really broken. Otherwise we risk the stark possibility of recurrent CAPSAs in our future activities.

Dr G. JOHNSON (read by Mrs S. BOWRING):

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have been the Chairman of the Governance Committee and many members of the Regent House will have heard me speak about the Committee's proposals already; but I would like this afternoon to contribute to the Discussion a personal perspective which as Chairman of the Committee I have not previously been able to do. First, though, I would like to thank my colleagues on the Committee for the very considerable work that they have put in. Whatever you may think of the Report before us, it is the product of extensive research and consultation: while it may not be perfect, nor to everyone's taste, it does represent a very broad consensus of opinion across the University.

I am an historian, and, although I work mainly on the politics of India from the late eighteenth century, I have also a particular interest in the history of Cambridge University over the last hundred years or so. It is a remarkable history of expansion and of radical and rapid change. Further, my present work for the Gates Cambridge Trust has meant that I have visited a number of other major universities across the world, and in the last couple of years I have been able to see that both our successes and our discontents are more universal than might be imagined. Everywhere good universities are facing the challenge of seizing opportunity and adapting to new situations and this causes distress as well as bringing rewards.

Cambridge is a successful university because it puts scholarship and creativity at the heart of what it does, and it gives full rein to individuals of talent to go where their academic instinct points. In terms of governance it is diffused and decentralized. People haven't been excessively directed or managed, and in broad shape our society is composed administratively of dozens of independent or quasi-independent bodies, held lightly together in a federal structure that is more implicit than explicit. The Colleges severally are parts of this system, as are the Syndicates that have responsibility for our Library, Press, Museum, and Garden. From the later nineteenth century, teaching and research required some organization to be effective, so our Faculty Boards and Degree Committees established spheres of influence which were appropriately independent. Our Appointment Committees and Boards of Electors similarly make decisions which are not susceptible to review or approval elsewhere in the system.

This has, I believe, been key in fostering creativity in Cambridge and in making it an agreeable place to work. The sheer informality of it, and its egalitarian form is important also. And these features must be sustained if we are to continue to be a great university.

But increasingly, over a century (so we are not being rushed into anything), the informal co-operative federal structure has come under pressure. It is now clear that Cambridge must have an effective centre if it is to continue to do well. This does not mean creating a management structure where the top rules down; rather it means having a viable way of representing the whole organization to itself and to others, and to do this with some flair and confidence.

I believe that the proposals we have before us will achieve just that: the Vice-Chancellor needs to be able to speak to, and on behalf of, the University with some authority: not to tell us what to do, but to make explicit what we, through all our diverse internal mechanisms, want to do; and then the Vice-Chancellor must carry our case beyond our parish. We need a Council that can be an effective policy-making body, responding to the proposals bubbling up from within and marrying them to external imperatives, and seeking to take with us friends from the outside. And we need a representative democratic form of government that will aid good decision making and not allow excessively particularist interests to stand in the way of progress for the whole.

This is not easy to get right, but the proposals in this Report are a sensible step forward. Our recent history gives some cause for optimism that Cambridge can move pragmatically in the direction of necessary reform; but we could equally well come unstuck, allowing our internal divisions to erupt into serious strife and giving comfort to many of our powerful critics without. And that could result in the destruction of Cambridge as a serious university.

Professor M. J. GRANT:

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in a statement reported in the THES on 30 August 2002, Professor A. W. F. Edwards of Caius compared the arguments we are presently having in Cambridge, over governance and other issues, to the votes in 1926 on the admission of women to full membership of the University. This is a quite remarkable comparison. Now, I do not understand him to be suggesting that the intellectual rigour of today's opposition to reforms of our governance is directly comparable to that of the opposition to the full admission of women (and, indeed, 1926 was but a stepping stone in a long drawn out process). Yet the parallel is indeed striking. There was strong opposition in Cambridge, for over a century, to a simple reform that today appears to us to be self-evident, and which had already seemed self-evident to the rest of the university sector. Tradition reigned powerfully. Many men simply could not imagine that women had either the mental or the physical capacity for education. The full story - to date - is retold in the excellent brief history by Felicity Hunt and Carol Baker, Women at Cambridge (1998).

The special edition of the Reporter of 26 June 2002 demonstrates that there is a range of opinion about the qualities and values that are represented in our present governance structures, and similarly about each of the elements of the proposed reforms. With only one or two exceptions, the quality of argument and exposition is excellent, and comes from all perspectives. The Reporter demonstrates yet again how much Cambridge people care about their institution. Cambridge is indeed a special case. But I fear that its very qualities risk inducing complacency and an unwillingness to understand how our rivals are deploying their resources in an increasingly competitive global environment. The duty that we owe today is not simply one to ourselves, and it is certainly not one of preserving comfortable and well-worn ways of working for their own sake. It is a duty to look to the future and to satisfy ourselves that we shall pass on to our successors an institution that is even better equipped than now to sustain its eminence in the world.

So what of our competitors? None of them would find these proposals radical: indeed, the opposite. The closest to us in terms of history and structure is Oxford, and it is instructive to observe how that institution has adapted and changed in the past two years.

Oxford last year introduced a number of governance reforms: Most importantly, they now have a single Governing Council, replacing the Hebdomadal Council and the General Board of the Faculties. This was a reform which the Governance Committee canvassed for Cambridge, but in the event did not pursue. It has the capacity to sharpen responsibility and accountability which too often gets blurred within our bicameral system.

In Oxford, academic heads of divisions sit on the Council, along with two external members and other members elected from various constituencies. Then there are four new committees of the Council: Educational Policy and Standards (perhaps the closest to our General Board but with a clearly defined remit and responsibilities); General Purposes; Personnel; Planning and Resource Allocation.

The Oxford Council is responsible to Congregation (roughly comparable to our Regent House) for the academic policy and strategic direction of the University, including its relations with Colleges and external relations.

The next bit of the Oxford reforms is the five new academic divisions: Life and Environmental Sciences; Medical Sciences; Mathematical and Physical Sciences; Humanities; Social Sciences. Again, there are parallels to our Schools (though there is in Oxford no separate School of Technology). Each Division has an academic head, who also sits on the Governing Council, and there are currently four Pro-Vice-Chancellors appointed on the nomination of the Vice-Chancellor, with responsibility respectively for: Academic Matters; Academic Services and University Collections; for Planning and Resource Allocation; and for Development.

Oxford's code of practice on corporate governance (Oxford University Gazette, 25 April 2001) confirms that the Vice-Chancellor is in effect the Chief Executive of the University, with overall responsibility for the executive management of the institution and for its day-to-day direction, and is accountable to Council for the exercise of these responsibilities.

What of the powers of Congregation? New University regulations came into effect in Oxford from the beginning of this month. These are complex provisions but a careful comparison with our debate over how many signatories are needed for a ballot highlights the following points.

The principal provisions for voting are at meetings of Congregation. The two principal forms of business are legislative proposals, and resolutions. For legislative proposals, there is a default procedure. The proposal is published. If no notice of objection is given or proposed amendment submitted, then it is deemed to be passed without the question being put. If there is objection or amendment, proposed by any two members, it will be debated at Congregation, which may pass it or reject it, or approve amendments to it (in which case there must be a second meeting). The voting rules are that, in the case of a legislative proposal made by the Council, or an amendment proposed by or supported by Council, it is deemed to be passed unless at least 125 members vote against it and constitute a majority against it. The Council may then decide to put it to a postal vote, and must do so if there were no fewer than 25 members present at the Congregation when the vote was taken, and a requisition for such a postal vote has been signed by at least 50 members. Certain matters are excluded altogether from postal votes, such as proposals to confer honorary degrees and the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor. For resolutions, the Council or 20 or more members of Congregation may submit a resolution on any topic (although the Vice-Chancellor may rule it inadmissible), with similar procedures as for legislative proposals, including rules that make allowance for the conduct of a debate over the resolution. Similarly, the Council or 20 or more members may put forward for discussion in Congregation any topic of concern to the University. It is then the duty of Council to give consideration to remarks made in the discussion, but it is not bound to take any further action in regard to the topic.

Thus does Oxford strike a fresh balance between the responsibilities of its Governing Council, the function of academic leadership, and the powers of Congregation. Our own Board of Scrutiny commends their new arrangements as having 'apparently led to much improved governance' (Reporter, 2001-02, p. 989). Oxford is often used as a benchmark for our own activity, and you may not think the pattern of reform to be wildly dissimilar.

I do urge members of the Regent House to give the most careful consideration to the reform proposals that will be coming to you later this term for ballot. This is a vote for the future, and the greatest danger to the institution is apathy. We need to ensure that young as well as established academics engage themselves in the issues, and those outside college communities as much as those within them.

I reject the notion that these votes will, nor ought to, rival in significance the ballots over the admission of women to full membership of the University. The arguments of their opponents are far more intelligent, for a start. But that is not to understate the very real importance of these reforms to our future.


Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to emphasize that I speak in my capacity as Registrary, not as Secretary of the Council, for I think that would be improper, but as Head of the Unified Administrative Service. I regret that Dr Evans has chosen the first Discussion of the academical year to attack by name individual members of the Service and to do so over matters of marginal relevance to the subject of the Report in question. As Registrary I am accountable to the Council for the work of the Service. I fully accept that and I have not shrunk from it. I have not kept a record of the number of times I have met Dr Evans since taking up my office in 1997. It is probably several dozen, perhaps more. I accept my responsibilities as Registrary and as Registrary it is I who is accountable.

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Cambridge University Reporter, 16 October 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.