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Tuesday, 11 March 2003. A Discussion was held in the Senate-House of the following Reports:
Report of the Council, dated 24 February 2003, on College contributions in the financial year 2002-03 (p. 615).
No comments were made on this Report.
Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 24 February and 12 February 2003, on an amendment to Statute D, I to establish part-time offices (p. 616).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, deceptively brief Reports. A specially dangerous genre. A simple-sounding change to a Statute is proposed, presented as being obviously for the common good. Yet much uncertainty and unfairness may flow from it in the future.
Cambridge's teaching depends heavily on an army of exploited highly qualified individuals who carry a good deal of the undergraduate supervision load. There are also College officers on short-term contracts hoping for a UTO post in due course. They work away, and some of them eventually do obtain a permanent position. How is it anticipated that this move to allowing for the creation of part-time offices will affect their prospects and their morale?
How are administrative and other labours going to be parcelled out among the full- and part-timers and the probationers desperate to please their heads of institution and those anxious for promotion, equally desperate to please the boss?
Will a part-timer be allowed to apply for promotion alongside the full-timers and in the same competition for the shrinking number of posts which are now going to be available for the purpose? How will his or her smaller 'contribution' but perhaps larger research output (for he or she will have more time, surely) be balanced against that of a full-timer who has borne the heat of the day? The parable of the workers in the vineyard comes to mind.
This is surely a can of worms, with advantages and disadvantages wriggling out of it in all directions. It is not a simple proposal at all. No doubt the General Board will be 'circulating' guidance about all this. But why is it not in this Report?
There is no reference in the heading to the Report to the 'flexible working proposals' it contains. I am not clear why they have been wedged in here. They affect all classes of employee and not just officers. More guidance is to be circulated, indeed 'detailed guidance'. Will it constitute an Ordinance? If not, what recourse will members of staff have when, inevitably, it is misapplied or broken, or it turns out that the boss has not read it?
Another cart before another horse. Back to the drawing-board, please, and let us have this properly worked out before we approve a change to a Statute that can only lead to still more muddle and unfairness.
One would be entitled to despair of our administration. We all know what they will do. They will put the Grace regardless, probably without a Notice. Just a footnote in small print will do. Does one down tools yet again and go out into the fields and hedgerows to find (now) 25 people sufficiently concerned for the welfare of their fellows to call a ballot, only to be accused of irresponsible blocking and delay of what the General Board believes to be for our own good? Or does one let it go, as one has to with so many misguided rushed jobs making things worse and worse for the University's employees?
Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I appreciate the technical difficulty of keeping our legislation up-to-date in the face of the various Acts, Directives, and Regulations which rain down upon us. It is an important task, but I do not think this proposed addition to Statute D is satisfactory.
I assume 'office' means 'University office', and I think it should say so, but I am not clear what is meant by 'establish offices on a part-time basis'. One must distinguish between establishing a particular office part-time in a class of University office which already exists and establishing a new class of part-time University office.
If the former is intended, then I do not think an addition to Statute D is necessary. We have long filled University offices on a part-time basis. The Chancellor might be thought too exotic a precedent, but the office of Proctor has been filled part-time without a break since about 1223, and its modern offshoot the office of University Advocate is happily part-time. There is even provision in Statute D for University offices to be held concurrently, which must imply that each is part-time (Statute D, II, 11).
But if it means 'the competent authority may establish new classes of part-time University offices' then it is contrary to Statute D, I, 1(a) which reserves the right to establish classes of University office to the Regent House, whether by Statute or by Ordinance (but not General Board Ordinance; see the Wass Report, Section 5.1.7).
It should also be remembered that each Professorship and each Readership is in a class of one; that is, each University office is individually created either by Statute or by Ordinance (the omission of the Readerships from Ordinances is recent and, in my view, irregular). If a part-time office is intended, then the Ordinance will say so and no general legislation is required.
There are, of course, various complexities about the rights of part-time University officers which also need to be considered. For example, will they be eligible for the M.A. degree under Statute B, III, 6, however short the 'time' in 'part-time' is? Presumably the answer is 'yes' because the intention of the legislation is to give part-timers the same rights as full-timers. In that case it is probably time to reconsider the continued existence of the 'B, III, 6' M.A. There may also be implications for the Colleges. University officers are certainly recognized in the Statutes of Gonville and Caius College.
Report of the General Board, dated 12 February 2003, on the establishment of a Professorship of Gastroenterology (p. 617).
No comments were made on this Report.
Report of the General Board, dated 19 February 2003, on the structure of academic offices in the University (p. 618).
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, General Board, you refer to your proposal 'to introduce greater coherence into policies concerned with the recruitment, reward, and retention of academic and academic-related staff'. Isn't it time it was explained to us in what this 'coherence' is going to consist? Is there not 'incoherence' already today in offering us that curious scrappy little Report on part-time and flexible working and now this?
More piecemeal legislation. It is very difficult for employees to see the pattern of the changes to their employment situation which are being brought about in the University by all these apparently tiny but really very significant steps. Personnel Division, could you let us have the game-plan please, for this 'evolving process of reform' (p. 618)?
The usual stated pretext is there: 'competitive ability to attract and retain staff of the highest calibre'. I make my usual comment. What about a fair deal for the staff of the highest calibre we already have?
Those who have preferred to hang on to their old truly tenured pre-1987 contracts and not apply for Senior Lectureships have progressively been demoted by the moves of recent years. The abolition of the University Assistant Lectureship will complete the downgrading of the Lectureship which began with the introduction of Senior Lectureships. When I became a Lecturer here it was the honourable career grade. Now it will be the lowest and least prestigious academic office. The Senior Lectureship is also to be automatically demoted to a lower rung on the ladder by the abolition of the University Assistant Lectureship.
This demotion is to be accompanied by the introduction of probation, and not only for those appointed to this new bottom rung; also for Senior Lecturers. As with the 'to be circulated' guidance on flexible working (p. 616) so here, 'a draft scheme' for probation procedures 'will be circulated to all relevant authorities in the near future'. Not to the officers affected, you notice.
Are these regulations to become Ordinances? If so, we need a Report to the University about the basis on which those appointed even to these to-be-devalued University offices can be removed from them after a while by their Heads of Institution. It is dangerous to allow regulations to become disjoined from the Statutes and Ordinances. Once again I point out that no administrative duties are required of academic officers. Look at Statute D, II, 4. So why is the University Lecturer to be 'required' to carry out administrative duties satisfactorily in order to remain in office? (6).
Is there to be appeal against summary decisions to end your employment because you have not completed your probationary period in a manner pleasing to the local baron or Big Leading Player? To whom are you to appeal? The Commissary has no jurisdiction to consider your cry for a fair hearing. We need to revise Statute U to accommodate this new nightmare scenario for our staff, but it is uncertain whether we can for this is derived from the Model Statute under the Education Reform Act of 1988, just revised nationally. The Personnel Committee know that because they are supposed to be working on adapting it for Cambridge. If the regulations are not to become even Ordinances, how are staff booted out on the whim of the local baron to seek redress except in the Employment Tribunal?
As far as I can see, para. 7ff. have become displaced. Surely this section is about the appointment to Senior Lectureships directly by open competition from outside and not about probationary arrangements for those who have been appointed. Should it not appear below after para. 13? Can those who approve this Report possibly have read it properly?
But wherever it ought to go, there is surely a difficulty which is not being addressed. A few days before Christmas, we let through a Grace which allows the General Board to limit the number of promotions per year on financial grounds. (Assuming there are ever going to be any more promotions. Still no sign of this year's process beginning.) So when a Senior Lectureship is advertised for open competition may one of our own officers apply, in the hope that this way he or she may get a chance of promotion which may be blocked by the artificial limit on numbers now being imposed? And how does the General Board propose to justify that limit on financial grounds if it is going to be offering posts for open competition? Which pool of money is this exactly? There will have to be a water-feature with little rivulets running from one pond to another. The same problems, as far as I can see, will arise in the case of Readerships advertised for open competition while a Readership promotion scheme is running.
Readers will not be on probation after appointment. Senior Lecturers will. Does this not undermine the presumption on which Senior Lectureships were introduced, which was that these were a different kind of office from Readerships, primarily designed to reward those whose main effort had gone into teaching and administration rather than into research? When exactly did we decide there was to be this ladder which Senior Lecturers were lowlier than Readers rather than equal but different? And that they needed to serve a period of probation, although Readers do not? I recall no Report proposing that bit of discrimination. Yet it is surely an important policy question.
Lest I be accused of being entirely negative, let me welcome one thing. At last there seems to be some movement on the problems faced by interdisciplinary academics held in stranglehold by the needs of single-subject-Faculties to which they were required to be attached. The General Board had a paper from me on that the other week, a version of which, without the detailed reference to the Cambridge Statutes, was published in the Oxford Magazine of Fourth Week, Hilary Term. I never had the courtesy of any feedback from the Academic Secretary. I shall be the first in the queue please if the proposal in para. 24 is passed. May I take the opportunity of publicly asking the Academic Secretary to put my request in his diary for urgent action on that point?
And it is not to end with this next bit of 'circulating'. Para. 5. There is to be a 'new scheme' coming along shortly. It is all getting like the old saw about waiting for a bus. You wait for a long time for the General Board and the Personnel Division to introduce greater coherence, then a convoy of greater coherences come along together, big red buses with 'Out of Service' on the fronts of some of them and 'Inner Ring Road' on others and no clear destination on any.
One last big red bus to point out to you as it sails past ignoring the patiently waiting queue. Para. 25 no longer sees any need to bother the appointments committees with the fixing of starting salaries. The disassembly of the vertebrae in the salary spine is now nearly complete. You can bargain for any salary you can get if you come in as a recruit but not if you are already an officer here. If I were applying for a Readership or a Senior Lectureship I would see many advantages in going for one of the 'open-competition' ones so as to take advantage of the freedom to negotiate my own pay I would then enjoy.
Ah coherence! Watch out for this new watchword of the 'believing' General Board in its next 'circulation'.
Matters related to governance. Discussion called for by the Board of Scrutiny (p. 598).
Professor Sir ALEC BROERS:
My purpose in speaking this afternoon is to clear up some misunderstandings that I have observed in the coverage, both inside and outside the University, of our debates on governance. I will also give some facts about the general standing of the University in order to place in context the need for reform. I speak as an individual and not for the Council of the University.
The first point relates to the decision-making powers of the Vice-Chancellor. Many seem to have interpreted the Governance proposals as being centred on the need to increase these powers. I would like it to be clear that I do not support, and have never supported, an increase in the decision-making powers of the Vice-Chancellor alone. I do support an increase in the decision-making powers of the committees that the Vice-Chancellor chairs and I feel it is necessary to clarify the relationship of the Vice-Chancellor to the other senior officers of the University, none of whom at present is accountable to the Vice-Chancellor. The Registrary is described in Statutes as the Principal Administrative Officer and the Treasurer as the Principal Financial Officer. The Vice-Chancellor should be described as the Principal Officer. It is scarcely feasible to hold the Vice-Chancellor accountable for the management of the University if no one is accountable to the Vice-Chancellor nor is it feasible for her or him to 'ensure that all University officers duly perform their duties', Statute D, III, 3. This is an important but not a major issue. The main issue is the need to increase the authority of the elected University Council. I argued this in my speech on 1 October last year and I will not repeat my views now; they remain the same. The powers of the Council were, in effect, reduced in 1989 following the Wass Report and I feel that they should be restored at least to the pre-1989 level. If the Council is to have appropriate powers it should also have appropriate membership. It is unacceptable in my opinion that the senior executive body of a major University should have no external members to bring a balanced perspective and specialist knowledge.
My second point also relates to the observed powers and actions of the Vice-Chancellor. I have seen in several places the Council's governance proposals referred to as the Vice-Chancellor's proposals implying that they had been drafted and put forward by myself alone. During my term of office all proposals placed before the Regent House have been those of one of the Central Bodies not those of the Vice-Chancellor and this was certainly the case in this instance. The proposals were initiated and drafted by a working group set up by the Council and the General Board. I was not a member of that group but I met with the group several times and gave their proposals full support. They worked extensively to seek a broad range of opinion and experience in the University and the Colleges as to how the University needs to change if it is to continue to be able to compete at the highest levels of international excellence.
Finally, some remarks about the general standing of the University. The University is top ranked in both teaching and research according to the assessments undertaken by the Higher Education Funding Council of England and the Quality Assurance Agency. It might be argued that these assessment exercises are not sufficient to assess the worth of an institution with the breadth and depth of Cambridge but they are at least an independent assessment of our relative performance. Financially the University has been growing strongly over the last four years (12.5% per year) but it had an operating deficit of £3.8 million last year, not £10 million as is repeatedly quoted in the press, which is 0.8% of the University's turnover of £450 million (not counting the turnover of the Cambridge University Press and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate) or 4% of its reserves of £95 million. The projected deficit this year is £11.8 million, which would be about 3% of turnover. The Government has recognized that research has been underfunded and next year our block grant for research will be increased by 14.8%. This will significantly improve the situation with respect to research. However, the entire higher education sector of the UK is under stress financially, and our teaching remains seriously underfunded. It is vital that the University's deficit be eliminated as soon as possible and to do this the management of the University needs improvement. We are not in crisis but we need to make improvements and be able to explain to ourselves and to others the reasons for remaining with our current arrangements, or we must change them. I am sure we all wish to maintain the Regent House as the body that determines issues of policy and strategy, but we must ask ourselves whether it is appropriate for it to be involved in the detailed management of the University. We need to be in a position where we can clearly explain, for example, why we do not fully meet any of the seven requirements for modern governance outlined in the article by Steven Schwartz in last week's Times Higher Education Supplement. It is not sufficient to say that our arrangements have served us well up until now. We must explain why they are fit for the years ahead.
Statement by the BOARD OF SCRUTINY (read by Professor J. R. SPENCER):
When the Board of Scrutiny officially invited the Council to call this Discussion it published a notice in the Reporter (p. 598) in which it explained why it had done so. Our statement today is in amplification.
It has no doubt that the governance and administration of the University is in need of further reform. However, although it believes the case for change to be pressing, it does not think that the way forward is for the Council to make a further attempt to persuade the Regent House to pass those parts of its governance proposals that were rejected in the recent ballot.
It believes that the proposals that were voted down failed because of their inherent demerits. In certain key respects, they would have achieved the opposite of what they were designed to do.
A major aim of the proposals was said to be to increase accountability: a commodity that under the present constitutional arrangements is widely thought to be lacking. The proposal for an 'executive Vice-Chancellor' was presented as something that would help to achieve this - and the fact that this part of the reform package was voted down was castigated by our local MP in the press, who found it 'inexplicable that this move to improve the accountability of the Vice-Chancellor was turned down by Regent House.' However, the proposal that was voted down would have produced the opposite effect. It would have extended the Vice-Chancellor's term of office from five years to seven, and extended his executive powers. But it proposed to do this without providing any checks or balances. In particular, it failed (perhaps as a result of unhappy drafting) to provide that, in the last resort, the Council - the executive and policy-making body accountable to Regent House - had the power, in the case of conflict between them, to give the Vice-Chancellor directions. And, whilst extending the Vice-Chancellor's term of office from five years to seven, it did not provide for any workable means by which he could be removed from office if he proved dictatorial, incompetent, inattentive to business, or otherwise unsatisfactory. Far from increasing the Vice-Chancellor's accountability, it would have effectively abolished it. The 'executive Vice-Chancellor' proposal, furthermore, was coupled with another proposal (also voted down) that was designed to raise from ten to fifty the number of members of the Regent House who are needed to call for a Discussion on a matter of importance to the University. Discussions are the method by which, when things go badly wrong, the actions (or inactions) of the University's top management can be called publicly into question. As the Regent House will vividly recall, a Discussion was the mechanism by which in October 2000 the Vice-Chancellor, Principal Officers, and Council were made to answer publicly for their responsibilities over the disaster that occurred with CAPSA.
The Board believes that another major reason why a part of the Council's governance reform package was voted down was a flaw in the process by which they were formulated, followed by further infelicities in the way in which they were presented to the Regent House.
The body that originally formulated the proposals was a Committee of members of the Council and the General Board. They met in private. The minutes of its meetings were not published. Initially, its membership was not even disclosed to the wider University in the Reporter. And it did not invite other members of the University to submit evidence or make suggestions until it had, in effect, decided on what should be done. It did indeed hold an extensive consultation on its draft proposals; but there was an underlying sense that the aim of this was to drum up support for these proposals - an impression accentuated by the fact that it was organized through the Press Office.
Such confidence as may initially have been felt in the reform proposals was undermined by the tactics the Council then adopted to persuade the Regent House to vote for them. As everyone presumably recalls, the Council first called the vote on the proposals over the Christmas vacation, a period when the University Messenger Service would be closed for part of the time, and the voters otherwise occupied for most of it - and, in disregard of the University Statutes, the Council initially implied that any amendments would not be welcome. In the face of protests from (among others) the Board of Scrutiny, it then called off the ballot and rescheduled it for Term time, and allowed amendments. But this change of heart did not destroy the impression that the Council was trying to rush the proposals through by using dubious methods. (This was in fact the fourth time in two years that a ballot has had to be cancelled, or the timetable for the voting changed: something that hardly increases internal or external confidence in the way that our affairs are being run.)
The impression of improper haste has now been reinforced by the revelation that even some of the governance proposals that were voted through were incompetently drafted. In the Reporter of 26 February, the Council put before the Regent House a Grace (Grace 6) to amend Statute 7, Chapter VIII, section 7. This new Grace was moved because the part of the governance proposals that purported to raise from 10 to 25 the number of signatures needed to move an amendment to a Grace omitted to change the Statute - a matter that the Council had failed to notice when it framed the proposals. This new Grace 6, in other words, was put forward in an attempt to mend a blunder: although the Council, in putting it before the University, did not either explain this or admit it. In last week's Reporter (p. 682) there is an announcement that Grace 6 has been withdrawn; and again, no explanation has been offered.
The Board of Scrutiny does not believe that its proper role is to tell the University (except when asked) about what the details of a reform should be, but it does believe its role includes commenting in public on the process by which changes in governance are brought about.
In his recent Darwin Lecture, Professor Malcolm Grant described the creation and the work of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, of which he is the Chairman. Having mentioned the difficulty with public trust that the Government was currently having over the issue of GM crops, he set out some principles for taking opinion into account as far as possible in decision-making processes.
'First, the process should be run not by the Government, but by a wholly independent steering board.
Secondly, issues for the debate should be framed not by the Government nor by the steering board, but by the people themselves.
Thirdly, it should not be a mini-referendum but it should have both qualitative and quantitative elements incorporating deliberative processes letting people think on the basis of information, arguing and coming to a view that goes further than a knee-jerk reaction. The debate must be well informed.'
The Board of Scrutiny suggests that these principles are equally applicable to constitutional reform in the University of Cambridge.
We believe that what is needed now is for the governance and administration of the University to be reviewed by a new high-level body, independent of Council. The internal mechanism to do this exists. An Occasional Syndicate established under Statute A, VI, 1(c) would obviously be an appropriate vehicle for this review.
In our view, it needs an external chairman (but ideally someone with Cambridge experience). Among its members there should be a lawyer versed in constitutional matters, a person knowledgeable in management, a financial expert, a representative of the Colleges (Head, Bursar, Senior Tutor), and someone with extensive experience at a senior level at another University. There should be a degree of balance in gender and in age. It should not be dominated by members of the central bodies. And above all, it should be composed of people who are able to commit a substantial amount of time to the job, and who command the unqualified trust of the Regent House.
As a final word, the Board of Scrutiny would like to remind the Regent House that at the end of the present academical year, our present distinguished Vice-Chancellor stands down to make way for his successor. Even if it were practicable to enact further constitutional changes in advance of her arrival, the University surely ought on principle to follow a timetable of reform that enables her views to be taken into account.
Professor J. R. SPENCER:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, with your permission, I would now like to add a few words spoken on my own account. Their purpose is to outline two reasons why I myself believe the Council's reform proposals were voted down.
The first is that they came from what might be called the 'management' of the University, at a time when trust in it has partly broken down. I greatly regret having to say this, because I think it is important that such trust exist, and I believe that in the past it has generally done so. But this point is serious, and must be faced.
The symptoms of the problem are obvious. In the recent elections for the Council, a successful candidate was an outsider to the world of University politics, who had come to prominence by trenchant criticism of the way the University is run. In two recent ballots on contested Graces, proposals put forward by the Council have been voted down. This is exceptional, because in ballots the Regent House usually backs the management, and Council's proposals are safely voted through. There has been a series of Discussions - like the four-hour Discussion on the Council's proposals on intellectual property rights - where bitter criticisms have been voiced by senior and responsible people in the University whose natural instincts are normally (like mine) to back what the 'management' proposes.
I believe the causes are easy to discern as well. The first of them, in 2000, was CAPSA. However much we needed a modern computerized accounting system (and we did), and however useful it is that we now have one (and it is), the catastrophe inflicted on us in the getting of it was completely unnecessary. In response to this disaster apologies were offered; but no senior heads ever rolled - or were even publicly offered by their owners for the rolling. The University is now confronted with a major budget deficit. Like CAPSA, this came about despite warnings from serious quarters about the way that things were going. Last year we also had the Council's proposals to confiscate our intellectual property rights: proposals so out of tune with general opinion in the University that they provoked a Discussion that lasted for four hours, in the course of which much anger was expressed by people who rarely if ever take part in University politics. Then, at the same time as the Council was putting before the University what purported to be a project of principled constitutional reform, it invited us to approve a proposal to amend the Statutes of the University temporarily and ad personam in order to enable the Secretary General and the Treasurer, who had been made effectively redundant in an internal administrative rearrangement, to keep their offices and their stipends without any obviously useful duties. This proposal, which would have been extraordinary at the best of times, was put before us when because of the budget deficit all academic posts were frozen. In those circumstances it is scarcely surprising that it was voted out.
Against this unhappy background, it is not surprising that the Regent House was distrustful of parts of the Council's proposed reform of governance. If you believe it is the doctor who has made you ill, you do not trust the medicine he prescribes to make you better.
The second reason for the failure of the governance proposals is not (as widely presented in the press) that conservative Cambridge academics are obstinately unwilling to take the obvious steps necessary to solve their problems. It is that a majority of Regent House believes that the solutions they were offered simply failed to meet a number of the most serious problems that currently beset us, and greatly worry us.
It is not surprising that we thought this, because the failure was publicly recognized even by those who were promoting them. At one of the 'road shows' held to explain the proposals, I myself asked Dr Johnson and Professor Grant, who were presenting them, if they thought the proposals would save us from a future CAPSA, and if so, how. They replied that they did not think they would. I was rather more optimistic than they were, because I thought that the proposal for extra Pro-Vice-Chancellors might realistically help, and with that hope in mind I cast my vote in favour of it. But the answer I had received gave me little inclination to support the others.
One of the most serious problems which the governance proposals fail to address is the cumbrous way in which University business is conducted. This problem has been presented in terms of the fact that decisions ultimately need a Grace of Regent House, which can be held up or even defeated by members calling for a ballot. No hard evidence has ever been presented that this is really the root cause of the delay, and I personally do not believe it is. I believe that the real cause is the byzantine structure of committees through which business has to pass before it ever reaches the stage of a final decision. A number of these (like the Finance Committee) exist by virtue of the University's Statutes and Ordinances. To this already complicated structure has recently been added, in a well-intentioned attempt to produce a more rational structure, various new committees (like the Planning and Resources Committee) that do not have a statutory basis. However, as these new committees are created the statutory ones continue to exist, and the overall effect is to make the decision-making thicket even thicker. In my view, the first step in governance reform should be to hold a radical examination of our structure of committees - and having decided what we want, to amend Statutes and Ordinances to create it.
The proposal for an 'executive Vice-Chancellor' was in part a reaction to this problem. As seen by some, the idea was that a new empowered Vice-Chancellor, wielding his executive powers like a machete, would be able to cut his brave new way through the administrative thicket. But this picture is an illusion, because the new executive Vice-Chancellor, like his predecessors, would be bound to obey the constitution of the University as set out in Statutes and Ordinances - in which the main elements of the Committee structure are firmly embedded. Unless and until this structure is reformed, giving the Vice-Chancellor extra powers would not solve this problem.
A further serious problem that I believe besets us, and which the governance proposals do not touch, is the way we deploy our senior University civil servants.
A sensible model for academic self-governance, I believe, is a committee of academics, served by a University civil servant of high quality, whose main remit it is to understand what is going on, process the business, and present the committee with a range of options for decision. Certain parts of the University do work this way - like the University Library, where a senior civil servant (the Librarian), with a dedicated team behind him, brings business before the Library Syndicate in a way that enables it to make principled decisions at a reasonable speed. Unfortunately, I believe that this is not the case with a number of the central bodies and committees. A range of senior civil servants are in regular attendance at all of them. One consequence of this is that they are seriously overworked; another is that their lines of responsibility are not clear. And a frequent complaint is that the academics who make up the Committees are swamped by large piles of undigested paper. I believe we need to rethink not only our structure of Committees, but the way they are serviced, and the responsibilities of our senior civil servants.
I believe that it is these inadequacies that were partly responsible for the CAPSA fiaso and the budget deficit - and which, at present, are responsible for the fact that the University appears to have no intelligible strategic plan.
When the Regent House is presented with a set of proposals to reform the governance and administration of the University that will enable these problems to be dealt with, they will have my unqualified support.
Dr J. P. DOUGHERTY:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, with an international crisis, and war in the air, our governance controversy may seem rather parochial. But in the long run the vitality and success of Cambridge University will retain their importance both to us and the wider public. It is our mission to cultivate and manage the University and to safeguard the excellence for which it is famed.
After several years of debate consuming literally thousands of staff hours, the University has, by the recent ballot, confirmed that it wishes to see the present highly successful governance model continued in essentially its present form. The vote might at first be interpreted as a draw, 3 all. But the first four Graces formed the substance of the governance question, and of these, Graces 2 and 3 were of the essence in the proposed shift from the collegial style of governance towards that of the stronger executive. These were the very two that were defeated. Grace 1, enlarging the Regent House, was if anything a move in the direction of extending collegiality, while Grace 4, more Pro-Vice-Chancellors, is conceptually neutral, and its success will depend on the performance and charisma of those appointed, as Professor Spencer points out; however recent experience encouraged me to vote against it. Finally, Graces 5 and 6 were of a more technical nature, and the Regent House's odd conclusion was probably the result of the misleading fly-sheet.
In my opinion the University should close the debate now and allow staff the tranquillity needed to focus on their normal activities. We need a moratorium from the aggressively power-hungry style of many recent proposals, and from the shrill responses they have engendered. I am also concerned about bad losers wanting to continue as if they had learned nothing. They often do this by a tendentious use of the word 'modernize'. One can see it for example in headlines such as 'dons reject modernization'. There is also a veiled threat that we may be putting ourselves at risk by not adopting the practices to be found elsewhere. I think we should be robust about this. We actually compete very successfully with all comers, so we must be doing a great deal right.
The view has been advanced that CAPSA revealed inherent weaknesses in our governance arrangements. I don't think this is so. CAPSA encountered major technical problems associated with large IT developments: going way over budget and way behind schedule. The University did not cope well with this. In my remarks at the CAPSA Discussion I listed several well-publicized examples of this happening elsewehere, notably within HM Government, including instances when the whole cost had to be written off. If this is going to be invoked by politicians to influence the way we run affairs, they should remember the proverb about the people living in glass houses! Although, I gather, there is still room for improvement, I think we have recovered from CAPSA, and its lessons are not about governance.
Finally, I thank the Board of Scrutiny for calling this Discussion and for their efforts over the last few years. I support their recent statement, and wish them success.
Professor D. F. FORD:
I would like to make several points aiming to connect our governance issues with both the core identity and mission of this University and the White Paper on the Future of Higher Education.
First, this is a critical time for us to be discussing governance not only because of internal problems and government initiatives in the UK but also because of the challenges confronting universities globally. It seems to me regrettable and even dangerous that there has been very little discussion of these three dimensions as they relate to each other. This university might be compared to a long-term, transgenerational ecology that has to take account of the international as well as national and regional environment. The top priority is to be clear about what are the conditions for our long-term flourishing internationally as well as nationally and internally, in continuity with what we judge to be of most worth in our past and present.
I would suggest that this University's health depends above all on long-term physical and social settings where we can both transmit across generations the basic values at the heart of learning, teaching, and research (such as truth-seeking, rationality in argument, balanced judgement, integrity, linguistic precision, and critical questioning) and also at the same time be responsible with regard to issues of meaning, ethics, economic and other applications, and the shaping of life in our civilization in various ways. Our values need to be continually articulated and embodied afresh, especially at such a time as this. In line with that I would see four core challenges facing us at present.
First, can we unite teaching and research well? This is one of our core values, but the marriage is at present in some difficulties. Can we both conceive a convincing rationale for the union of teaching and research and then find ways to help it work better?
Second, can we interrelate disciplines and promote their cross-fertilization and collaboration in appropriate ways? We do so of course in all sorts of ways, but we are quite limited in this: the potential is immense, and our future will be intellectually impoverished if we do not do better.
Third, can we contribute to society in ways that are in line with our core mission of teaching and research (through contributing understanding, knowledge, and, above all, well-educated, responsible people); and can we communicate the extent of our present contribution to society, to which justice is not done either by the crude criteria in use in most public debate or by the metrics of official procedures of accountability?
Fourth, can we not only sustain but improve our collegiality? This, it seems to me, is the most crucial of all. It is both fundamental and it is most under threat. The thriving of our intellectual values is intrinsically linked to the quality of our collegiality. This means centrally our Colleges, which have been outstripped by the massive expansion of Faculties and Research Institutes. How to sustain and develop our Colleges, enabling them to serve better the uniting of teaching and research, interdisciplinarity, and contribution to society, is vital for our future. But the collegiality of other levels is also important - in Faculties, in Institutes, and at the level of the University as a whole.
I think this is perhaps the largest problem in the University as regards governance: we have not yet discovered a form of polity that enables a collegiality at the level of the University that is appropriate to the size and complexity of the institution we have become. We have not yet found the right balance between self-government, leadership, and management. Nor have we found a way to have the sort of broad participation in a process of discussion, consultation, deliberation, and decision-making that could lead to a consensus for a better balance. The present process of debate is not adequate.
My own preference would be, first, for some immediate changes before the new Vice-Chancellor arrives (and I would favour, among other things, persevering in trying to change the Vice-Chancellor's role and to have external membership on central bodies); and, second, for a longer-term proposal on governance that might be proposed by the new Vice-Chancellor after a thorough process of consultation and debate. If as members of the Regent House we were to fail to put our best efforts into such a process, then we would be failing in our most important responsibility: that to future generations, who stand to lose most if we do not find a wise and long-term solution to our governance problems. One other thing is sure: if there is a vacuum created by our irresolution, it is likely to be filled by others who care and understand far less about the long-term future of this University, but who have very clear conceptions of the short-term results they want.
That brings me finally to the White Paper, responding to which is another immediate matter for the University. I just want to make three points. First, when I read the White Paper I was surprised at the strength of its encouragement to universities like ours to become more independent through building endowment. That surely must be a central aim for us if we want to preserve our long-term integrity in the face of the inevitably short-term policies of government. The fundraising campaign for our 800th anniversary in five years' time could be a landmark event in our history.
Second, I see the White Paper as in other ways, too, mostly favourable to Cambridge. It challenges us to concentrate our energies on sustaining and developing ourselves as a truly first-class international institution. That is what the Government wants us to be, as last week's funding allocations underlined. The Government deserves to be met half-way, the first step being for us to give a well thought through response to the White Paper making clear what our specific contribution to higher education in this country is. The White Paper ends with an invitation to dialogue, opening the way for a thoughtful exchange between this University and the Government, aimed at re-establishing the sort of consensus-building that has not been seen for some decades.
But, third, all this requires that we also recognize the importance of the governance issues before us, and draw on all our understanding, knowledge, and wisdom in order to come up with a settlement that might rebuild the trust that recent events have damaged, and contribute to us having the sort of confidence in our self-government, our leaders and our management that we already have in our learning, teaching, and research, and in the collegiality that underlies the flourishing of our University.
Professor A. W. F. EDWARDS:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, Graces numbered 6 have a habit of causing trouble. I am grateful to you for withdrawing Grace 6 of 26 February 2003, if only because I found the cover-up in the footnote contemptible. The fact is that Grace 6 of 20 November 2002 was flawed and the Council were at fault in promoting it, as Professor Spencer has indicated.
But as this may well be the last time I speak in this House on constitutional issues (unless the Council are so unwise as to attempt anything more than a tidying operation before October) I am going to take a long view of the University's difficulties over its government. (I regard 'governance' as a weasel-word that conflates, probably deliberately, government and management, which it is essential to distinguish.)
I shall start with another Grace 6, that of 23 May 1979. I was Senior Proctor at the time and at the Discussion on 24 April, on behalf of the Proctors, I had drawn attention to some procedural difficulties entailed in the formulation of a recommendation of a certain Report. The Council was trying to fudge the issue of non-Cambridge academical dress by proposing a Grace to authorize a separate ballot so that they would not themselves be seen to support any change.
In their reply the Council declined to acknowledge the difficulties. Instead they promoted Grace 6 for the approval of the procedure of doubtful legality. After taking legal advice (of the highest standing) I asked the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Alan Cottrell, to withdraw the Grace. He declined. The Proctors decided not to non-placet it on the grounds that the constitutional point was a legal one not amenable to determination by vote.
On 17 October 1979 the ballot supposedly authorized by the Grace was announced, and since I was no longer a Proctor I felt entitled to mount a challenge. I wrote a flysheet advocating the status quo on the grounds that the procedure was illegal and threatening to use Statute K, 5 if any change of regulation were to be made as a result of the ballot. I took care to obtain fifty signatures, that being the number required to appeal to the Chancellor if the Vice-Chancellor, by then Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, were minded to agree with his predecessor.
There was no other flysheet except that replying on behalf of the Council, which consisted of a long Opinion from Dr Reid which proclaimed the Council's view that the procedure was lawful. I won the vote. My flysheet had added that, whatever the result, we would call for a Discussion on Regent House procedures.
As it happened, at a Discussion on another matter the day before the ballot was announced, I had already suggested 'that we reflect on the possible need to distribute the Council's functions along new lines; that we recognize that the Council of the Senate is not the best body to propose measures for its own reform; and that we establish an ad hoc Syndicate in the old-fashioned way, graced by the Regent House, to enquire into the matter'.
I relate these events because I date the bad blood which occasionally erupts between the Council and the Regent House from then. It is time we put a stop to it, and I have devoted a good deal of effort in the ensuing 23 years, on and off the Council, to that end.
The Discussion to which my flysheet referred took place on 22 April 1980, and I ended my remarks by asking 'If I obtain one hundred signatures requesting them to do so, will the Council sanction the submission of a Grace ... setting up such an ad hoc body to enquire into Regent House procedures and report to the University? And if not one hundred, then how many?'
The only other speaker was Dr J. H. Baker, now Downing Professor of the Laws of England, whose comments on voting procedures are so relevant to Grace 6 of 20 November 2002 that I ask the Registrary to consider including them in the Council's papers.
The Council's response to the two of us was to set up a Committee consisting of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir James Beament, Professor Gareth Jones, and me. This seemed like progress, so in the Michaelmas Term I stood for the Council and was elected to serve from January 1981. A year later we presented our unanimous report to the Council. It included a Code of Conduct designed to regulate and improve relations between the Council and the Regent House.
The Council published a Report with recommendations, printing the Committee's report in full. But the Principal Administrative Officers of the day, using techniques with which I was to become wearily familiar, leant on the Council not to support the Code of Conduct, and I felt obliged to append a note of dissent.
There was of course a Discussion, on 8 June 1982. 'It is just as I feared;' I said, 'the Council is in the dock for its constitutional behaviour over the last decade or two; we cannot legislate to improve its behaviour because the Council controls the Graces through which alone we can legislate; and when a not-inconsiderable Committee suggest that the worst effects would be mitigated if only the Council would stick to some conventions, the Council throws out the suggestion lock, stock, and barrel, even before the Discussion has been held'.
I ended 'Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am now fairly clear in my own mind that we are well-administered but badly governed. If the Council of the Senate could only recover its former responsiveness to University opinion and assist those 'friends of compromise', to use Keynes's phrase, the necessary reforms could be put in hand. Otherwise, by our own procedures, we are stuck'.
Two speakers asked for the Code of Conduct to be put to the vote. The Council majority (I was of course still a member of the Council) simply ignored the request in their reply.
One of the clauses in the rejected Code is very relevant to some of today's concerns, and arose directly out of the 1979 dispute. It said that when there are a number of options to be considered, the Council will invite the Regent House to chose by the STV system which one of them is subsequently to be put forward in the formal Grace.
In due course the Syndicate for which I had repeatedly asked over a period of eight years was set up, but not without a huge effort. Supported by the Librarian, Dr Ratcliffe, and the Master of Selwyn, Sir Alan Cook, I collected 194 signatures for a Memorial requesting the establishment of a Syndicate on the government of the University, the Wass Syndicate.
When that Syndicate recommended an increase in the number of signatures required to call a ballot, by Grace 11 of 7 March 1990 the Regent House determined that the matter should be decided in the way the Code of Conduct had specified. First an STV vote was held to choose whether the number in the legislating Grace should be 100 as the Syndicate had recommended, or 20, 25, or 50, or indeed 10 (which would presumably have meant no substantive Grace being put). A flysheet recommended 10; the only other flysheet was by Dr Johnson, on behalf of the Syndicate, urging 50 or 100.
In the event, 50 came out on top under the STV system even though 10 commanded the most first-preference votes. Dr Galletly, in her interesting remarks on 28 January last, gave the details. 'Voters', she added, 'were outraged by the result, and when the resulting Grace came before them rejected it emphatically'. There were three separate well-supported non-placet flysheets, and no placet flysheet except a long statement on behalf of the Wass Syndicate, again by Dr Johnson. Placet 350, non-placet 709.
The present Ordinance governing the procedure is Regulation 9 for Graces and Congregations of the Regent House. It is more or less in the form recommended by the Statutes and Ordinances Revision Syndicate in their Third Report (Reporter, 28 May 1993). As a member, I signed the Report and accept my share of the responsibility for what, I now see, was a slight mistake. Unlike the Council, I apologize.
I must have let my guard drop for a moment, because what we should have drafted was a regulation embodying the principle given in the Code of Conduct and, as already mentioned, used once by authority of Grace 11 of 7 March 1990, viz. that when there are multiple choices, as may occur with amendments, first the preferred option or amendment should be chosen by STV and then incorporated in the substantive Grace. (It is actually better if the status quo is not included in the STV vote at all, for it only confuses the issue.)
This point is highly relevant to the modern Graces 6, of 20 November and 26 February, the latter now withdrawn.
On 7 February, after the alleged approval of Grace 6 of 20 November, I sent the Registrary a long letter offering the Council suggestions on how to resolve the difficulties they had themselves created. With respect to the error in Grace 6 of 20 November I thought that, after the Vice-Chancellor had ruled the new Ordinance ultra vires the Statutes, 'If the Council wished to pursue the matter a fresh Grace for the amendment of the Statute as well as the Ordinance would be needed, and since a ballot might well be called on that it would be best to clear up the present difficulties first'.
The Council did not heed my advice, but given the withdrawal of Grace 6 of 26 February they are now in a position to do so. There must obviously be a fresh start. Not only was the STV vote on Grace 6 of 20 November topsy-turvy like its earlier cousin in 1990, but of course it must be completely disallowed because it included options which were ultra vires.
The long solution is to approve a 'notwithstanding' Grace vis-à-vis Regulation 9 allowing a non-legislative STV choice amongst all the options other than the status quo followed by a formal legislative Grace for the option preferred. But why not just interpret the voting figures as a straw vote for the number 25 if there is to be any change and put it in a proper legislative Grace as was done at the time of the Wass proposals? Regulation 9 (and 8) should then be amended in due course.
I hope the Board of Scrutiny get their Syndicate. To expedite matters, this time it should be a drafting Syndicate from the very beginning. I shall not be offering it any fresh evidence; just all the evidence I placed before the Wass Syndicate fifteen years ago.
Finally, whatever happened to Maynard Keynes's 'friends of compromise'? I think they have disappeared from view because recent Councils have forgotten their dual role. Difficulties are being caused by members failing to distinguish between the Council's role as a decision-making body when using its statutory or delegated powers and its role as a recommending body for the more important decisions which under our constitution are the prerogative of the Regent House as governing body.
In the first role members may, if they so wish, embrace the doctrine of collective responsibility, and as usual anyone unwilling to do so on a particular issue will have to resign, as I once did. In the second role, however, members should only sign Reports if they agree with them, responsibility in that role being individual and not collective. This is not just a convention, but is a requirement under Statute K, 19. Sometimes an individual, or a minority, might even feel so strongly that there would be a note of dissent to a Report, rather as happens with Royal Commissions, which similarly act in an advisory capacity.
To forget this point is to tie down the safety valve. It would be remarkable if the Regent House were to elect sixteen members to the Council who would all be so unrepresentative of their electorate as to agree to a set of proposals likely to be contentious. And when such proposals turn out not only to be contentious but unacceptable to the Regent House, the Council, having inappropriately applied the notion of collective responsibility, is left ruing the burst boiler. It then only has itself to blame.
An immediate improvement in the University's affairs can thus be achieved by the Council rediscovering its historic role when advising the Regent House, and only applying the doctrine of collective responsibility to those decisions which it is itself authorized to take.
Professor M. J. GRANT (read by Dr G. JOHNSON):
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I am sorry not to be present in the Senate-House this afternoon for this important Discussion, but I have literally been summoned to appear elsewhere.
I fear that there is a serious flaw in the approach proposed by the Board of Scrutiny of setting up an occasional Syndicate to undertake a high-level review.1 They cite in support of this approach a reference made by Professor A. W. F. Edwards to 'the constitutional principle that a body should not initiate proposals affecting its own constitution'. That is a misquotation: Professor Edwards used the word 'composition', not 'constitution'. 2
But whichever version is used, there are two problems with it.
First, it is a meaningless aphorism. All sorts of bodies - corporations, partnerships, professional societies, and informal organizations - regularly initiate proposals affecting their composition and their constitution. Those which fail to keep them under review and to initiate revisions of them when necessary can expect to atrophy and perish. To suggest that there is some 'constitutional principle' against this process is to misuse the language of constitutionalism.
But that is not to say that it might not be politically sensible, in cases where there is controversy, for the body concerned to engage independent people in their review.
That brings me to the second problem, which is that the 'body' initiating the proposals in our case is not the Council, but the University. So even an occasional Syndicate would fail the test, because it would itself be part of the body initiating the proposals for reform. However objective its approach and however rigorous its procedures, the recommendations of an occasional Syndicate could not be given statutory effect without going through exactly the same processes as the last round of governance proposals.
If, for example, the occasional Syndicate were to come to the clear view that there should be a recalibration of the relationship between the Council and the Regent House, perhaps that the Regent House should be composed in a different way or be given different functions, that very recommendation could then be voted down by a ballot of the Regent House. The Wass precedent is not encouraging. It led to a botched constitutional settlement which failed properly to allocate responsibility. Nor is our recent experience satisfactory.
I find deeply troubling, in particular, the rejection of the proposal to appoint three external members to the University Council: does the Regent House (or at least those who bothered to vote) really believe that all wisdom ceases at a point 20 miles from Great St Mary's Church? I hope that nobody was misled by Professor A. W. F. Edwards' suggestion3 that there was a 'legal' objection to such a statutory change because it would be contrary to the views of the Asquith Royal Commission.4 In fact, that Commission made no recommendation on the point. It did, however, make positive recommendations that Cambridge should remain mainly and predominantly a 'men's University' though of a mixed type, that the number of women graduates should be limited by University statute to 500,5 that the offices of Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, and Proctor should not be open to women; and that the Statutes of the University should prohibit the admission of both men and women as members of the same College.6 It is fortunate that Professor Edwards' 'legal' objection stems from a simple misunderstanding of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act 1923, because even if it were only half-right, this University could not lawfully have changed its Statutes in pursuit of providing equal opportunities for women.
Our recent experiences persuade me that those who are now to be charged with considering the constitutional reform of the University must have the broadest terms of reference and must be able to undertake a principled review without having to engage in political compromise. They should not have to water down their proposals in order to get votes, for to do that is to become captured by one part of the very constitution which they are required to review. That is not to say that they should not listen to all of us as members of the Regent House in the conduct of their enquiry, nor that they should be insensitive either to history or democratic principle.
But they must surely have the capacity to consider not only the question of rights, but also the question of responsibility, both individual and Collective, for the governance of a complex collegiate university and the effective management of its resources. The Board of Scrutiny offers us advice as to the scope of any review.7 I would urge them, along with the Council and the Colleges, to concentrate urgently on the last of their points: that any changes should be designed to equip the University to face the major strategic issues with which it is currently faced.
An alternative approach is a Royal Commission of Enquiry. Such a body would be appointed by the Queen in Council. This has been done on three previous occasions, in 1850, 1872, and 1919, all of them shared with Oxford, when the constitutions of the two Universities were widely believed to be in need of reforms that they were incapable of initiating themselves. In each case, the recommendations led to Parliamentary legislation appointing a further set of commissioners, this time statutory commissioners, whose task was to amend the Universities' Statutes in line with the Royal Commissions' recommendations. If this approach were to be followed again, both the University Council and the Regent House would have rights to participate in the process, and to make representations on the final recommendations. But they would be by-passed in the changing of the constitution.
I am uneasy about proposing such an approach. I seem to remember the function of Royal Commissions once being described by Harold Wilson as being 'to keep minutes and to take years'. It is unlikely to be a swift process, yet there is great urgency to provide our new Vice-Chancellor with the structures and tools she needs to lead the University through the next seven years. And for the University to invite the Government to establish such a body would be to confess that we have failed to reform ourselves, and that we have no real prospect of doing so. I can see that, despite the clear advantages in principle of our seeking a Royal Commission, there are strong countervailing pragmatic arguments against it.
And so I put the question to all of those, including the Board of Scrutiny, who propose an occasional Syndicate: how free will you allow this body to be to undertake a principled review and to see its recommendations through, and what undertakings are you willing to give now to abide by its eventual recommendations and promote their acceptance by the University?
1 Reporter, 19 February 2003, p. 598.
2 See Reporter, 16 October 2002, p. 83
3 Reporter, 16 October 2002, p. 83-4
4 Report of the Royal Commission on Oxford and Cambridge Universities Cmd 1588 (1922)
5 Though note the powerful dissent of Mr William Graham at page 254, concurred in by Miss Clough at page 255.
6 Op cit, Recommendations 112, 116, and 118.
7 Reporter, 19 February 2003, p. 598.
Mr A. D. YATES (read by Dr G. JOHNSON):
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I intervene in this Discussion with some trepidation, both as a relative newcomer to Cambridge and as one who has returned to academic life after a sojourn of some sixteen years in what some are pleased, if mistaken, to call 'the real world' of business and commerce. I have followed with interest and some increasing alarm since my arrival in Cambridge first the CAPSA report by Professors Finkelstein and Shattock, then the various responses to it, including that of the Board of Scrutiny and finally the Council's proposals on University governance, most of which were rejected by the Regent House.
Much of the debate, though I accept by no means all of it, has been concerned with the relationship between the University's central administration, the academic members of the Regent House, and the various University committees charged with exercising those disciplines and counsels of academic democracy and self-governance which characterize this University. I am sure I have no need to remind anyone that a democratic system of governance involves responsibilities as well as rights. The problem with Athenian-style democracies in institutions as large as this University is that they fall victim rather too readily to tyrannies of obstruction by minorities whose views are forcefully and cogently expressed but which are not necessarily representative. This situation is exacerbated by a level of apathy or bemusement towards many of the issues, engendered either by the fact that subjects for debate and decision are presented in copious undigested paper form, requiring consequently far greater time to study and absorb than most busy academics have the time to devote, or because issues of principle become too readily ensnared by punctiliously expressed points of procedure or constitutional nicety which, while not wholly irrelevant, should be designed to assist an orderly process of decision, rather than be ends in their own right.
These preliminary observations might be taken to be leading towards support for the Board of Scrutiny's request for a high-level review of the governance and constitution of the University. I do not necessarily oppose that if the purpose is to examine whether our current methods of governance equip us to meet the enormous challenges the University will face in the coming years. Such a review may need to be undertaken and I am certainly not convinced that the relatively minor changes proposed by Council, most of which were recently rejected by the Regent House, were sufficiently linked in their presentation to those challenges to make the case for change persuasive. I am not, for example, clear on how they would have helped us to avoid the mistakes of CAPSA, to meet the challenges of access, or to ensure maximum accountability and efficiency in the use of the resources the University has at its disposal at School, Faculty, and Departmental level.
However, the Board of Scrutiny is proposing major review. Major reviews take time to complete. They are quite properly debated at length and frequently interim reports are sent back for further consideration. A lengthy final report with many interlocking recommendations may eventually emerge. These recommendations will then begin their stately progress through the current machinery of governance where they are selectively adopted or rejected, compromised, mediated, and perhaps emasculated prior to those proposals that have the ability to offend the fewest people being adopted. That is the way with grand reports. It happens with governments, it happens with universities. This University has been down this route before.
In the meantime, the University is facing some pressing issues. Of course, universities last a thousand years. Governments are lucky if they last a thousand days and we should not be ready to jump just because a government, let alone a Chancellor of the Exchequer, tells us to. Nevertheless, we are facing a serious credibility problem over our governance among those who have some influence over our financial health. We are reliably informed that our credibility would be enhanced by having external members on our Council. Why turn our back on this simple step unless it would do us harm? I have been a member of the academic staffs of four universities, all of which had a considerable lay representation on their Councils. The lay members offered valuable advice, were useful points of contact into all manner of aspects of the life of our country and never, in my experience, even attempted to meddle in the academic life or work of the University. I remain mystified at the suspicion manifested in the recent vote of the Regent House, about the presence of such a small number of external members in our midst. They would bring us advice, different perspectives, and, strange though it may seem, credibility to our governance. Surely three and a half thousand are not fearful of a takeover by such a tiny number of so-called 'outsiders'. We should try that idea once again, now, not wait for the Board of Scrutiny's grand review to make its slow and steady progress.
Then there is the matter of our financial management. There is ample evidence that we are not very good at it. We have spent a fortune on a financial information system that, in the words of Professor Finkelstein, 'cost the University a lot of money, damaged the integrity of the University's financial processes, and soured relationships between academics and administration'.
We are now budgeting for significant deficits. This University cannot survive for many years on deficit financing. The opening pages of the Seventh Report of the Board of Scrutiny make unhappy reading. We are told the University now has more non-Chest (i.e. restricted) income than Chest income. Yet Departments and Faculties continue to press for central University Chest monies for projects while hanging on to caches of restricted funds which might well be available to pay for the very projects for which central monies are sought. Our need, to use the words of the Board of Scrutiny, is for some 'joined-up' budgeting. Indeed, it goes further. We need, as a matter of the utmost urgency, to implement a system of management of our financial affairs in which those responsible for looking after our money, planning our spending, prioritizing our spending, and authorizing our spending form a cohesive team that is not only empowered to make decisions but is accountable for the consequences. This cannot be this Regent House, nor can it be a large committee or group of committees, where responsibility and accountability are so diffuse that when something goes awry the field of fire is suddenly devoid of targets and no one is in charge. Have a grand inquiry into our system of governance by all means but, in the meantime, let us swiftly and effectively put in place a system of financial management and accountability that ensures that the power of decision and responsibility for its consequences are not vested in different parts of our governance system.
Dr G. JOHNSON:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I am glad of this opportunity to contribute to the Discussion this afternoon, the more especially since I am no longer a member of the Council and the various committees on governance in which I participated have been discharged, so I feel less inhibited, as an ordinary member of the Regent House, as to what I might say now and in the future about our government. First, I agree with all those who believe we must move forward and pay urgent attention to the constitution of the University; and I am in favour of establishing a syndicate whose remit should be to have under constant review matters relating to University government. There is plenty for such a committee to consider in bringing the University's constitution up to date: much as some will regret the fact, the University and Colleges do not stand where they did in the 1920s or the 1960s when the last major changes were made, either in relation to each other or in relation to society at large. Unless we take active steps to acquire the resources necessary for our work and have in place constitutional and administrative systems that are relevant and efficient, we will come under increasingly irresistible external pressure, we will lose the collective freedoms that actually matter, and our position as a leading international university will be lost.
However, the setting up of another committee to examine our constitution is not sufficient in itself, and I am not at all persuaded by those who say the Council should now step back and take no further initiative in this matter. It was striking that, in the recent postal ballot, barely a quarter of those entitled to vote did so. Many explanations have been put forward for low participation in what was an important matter for the University: Professor Spencer told readers of the THES that we resented the way in which the proposals were being steam-rollered through, and that many used the occasion to express their hostility to the central bodies for a number of reasons, none of which had to do with the reforms themselves. Others have said that the matter was so complicated it was difficult to work out how to vote, while others again, in more cynical mood, have said that the reforms were so trifling as to be not worth fighting for. Whatever the reason, the lack of interest which led to some proposals being defeated by 400-odd people out of an electoral roll of around 3,500 does not bode well for our democratic process.
Indeed, it is perhaps that very process which has prevented Cambridge from reforming itself in the past twenty years. Those keen on a new syndicate might bear in mind the fate of the Wass Syndicate: two years of work, a measured set of interlocking proposals, and all we got after the Regent House had done with it was the Vice-Chancellor exiled from the Colleges to Latham Road, with hardly any structural changes to the administrative and constitutional order of the University that would allow the holder of that office, or any other body, to work effectively; and we got a Board designed to scrutinize a structure which had not come into being.
And those who have argued that the Council's more recent and more modest proposals were rushed forward without opportunity for discussion conveniently forget that over a two-year period the committees at work consulted widely and deeply: we had a Reporter of nigh on 200 pages with comment on proposals; we had discussions and Discussions. No wonder the ideas lost crispness and edge and that people got bored with them: they were consulted to death and were put to the vote in complex and compromised form.
There is no doubt that these recent events have damaged the reputation of the Regent House as a responsible body capable of managing its own affairs. So I hope that, alongside the establishment of a new committee on governance, the Regent House will expect the Council to take a lead and poll us in a simple way on the question of adding external members to the Council. The Council might also like, perhaps with the help of a Grace supported by fifty or more members of the Regent House, to consider clearing up such statutory muddle as may exist in relation to the Vice-Chancellor and other senior officers. None of this need wait for a grander review and it would signal a recognition among us that changes need to be made and can be made internally. Failure to move now will inevitably strengthen the hand of those within and beyond the University who believe, as did their forebears in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that the University needs saving from itself in order to survive: we tend to have a rosy view of the Reports of the Commissions which were published in 1852, 1874, and 1922 which actually imposed radical change upon us; I'm not so sure that attempts to impose reform upon us now would lead to such benign results.
Professor M. SCHOFIELD (read by Dr N. J. B. A. BRANSON):
Mr Vice-Chancellor, perhaps the most dismal thing about the governance vote was the paperwork. Even people who thought they had some idea about what the issues were found it dauntingly complex. Judging by the numbers voting in other recent elections and ballots, it looks as though perhaps 300 people who might have been expected to vote didn't do so. This is a serious indictment of the Regent House's democratic procedures as currently operating.
The introduction of amendments was one of the most confusing elements in the procedures. They had been trumpeted by the THES as 'wrecking amendments', and that is what they proved to be. What they wrecked above all was understanding and clarity. The provision for amendments was a proposal of the unlamented Wass Report: a well-meaning but silly idea of recent invention. Amendments have proved a dreadful mistake, and we should now proceed to get rid of them.
Professor J. K. M. SANDERS:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I am speaking in a purely personal capacity but need to declare two interests that inevitably colour my view of the University's governance. Firstly, I was for some time a member of the Council's working party that drew up the governance proposals. Secondly, as Head of the Department of Chemistry, I am responsible for the management - and I use that word deliberately - of roughly 4% of the University's personnel and turnover. I wish to make three quite separate points, one procedural and two about the governance proposals themselves.
It seems to me that most of the electorate failed to vote on the governance Graces because they didn't understand what they would have been voting for or against. As a result, a vocal minority have imposed their will on a bemused and silent majority: even with what you might call my inside knowledge I could not make sense of some of the booklet containing the proposed changes and the flysheets. I think it would be helpful if important proposals were accompanied by a clear explanation of what is proposed, what the alternative courses of action - or inaction - are, and what would be the consequences of each: a risk assessment or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. I further suggest that in the present difficult atmosphere such a commentary might be written by an impartial freelance chosen for the clarity of their prose rather than the strength of their commitment for or against any particular proposal.
I do agree with Professor Spencer that the Statutes and Ordinances urgently need to be completely recast, and that the roles of academics and senior administrative officers need to be rethought and redefined, but that will take too long. Meanwhile I apologize for being pragmatic and personal rather than legalistic.
My first substantive point concerns the Vice-Chancellor's executive authority, and it draws on my personal experience. As Head of Chemistry, I have to account for expenditure of around £20 million each year, of which only a third is what we quaintly call Chest expenditure. I also manage over 300 employees of the University, less than a third of whom are University officers, and most of whom are excluded from the College dimension of which we are so proud. I am also responsible for hundreds of undergraduates and postgraduates in the Department. I consult, hold meetings, and delegate as much as possible, but on occasion I have to take decisions urgently and essentially alone; delay can put jobs, funds, and (in a Chemistry department) lives at risk. After the event, one is of course accountable both upwards and to the electorate but the authority to act is vital. If that is true with my relatively small job, how much more so it must be for the Vice-Chancellor whose responsibilities are so much larger.
Finally I turn to external membership of the Council, and again I draw on my own experience. In Amsterdam each December, I join German and Belgian colleagues to form a supervisory board that distributes 3 million euros of Dutch Government funds for catalysis projects in Dutch universities. Authority and accountability reside entirely in this international board to ensure that the best science is supported without regard to parochial interests. And in Barcelona, I am one of the international members that form a majority of the appointments board of a new research institute, conducting interviews and making decisions to ensure that impartiality and quality take precedence over local favouritism. And of course, for many years Cambridge has had external members of Boards of Electors to Chairs, recognizing that we do not have all the specialized expertise ourselves.
So, the principle of external voting memberships of University bodies is long established. What about the Council? Sir David King, my predecessor, established a Chemistry Advisory Board of distinguished individuals whose blunt opinions about our activities are sometimes uncomfortable but always constructive and valued. This University has many distinguished friends who care deeply about Cambridge and its future. They can provide frank and robust comment - including criticism - about our strategies, procedures, and attitudes, and they can tell us how we look to the outside world. We need their help, experience, and advice, and we need it at the highest level, on the Council. To turn our back on such help is complacent, foolish, and short-sighted. We have been, and remain, very successful academically. But the world around us is changing very rapidly: Cambridge must learn to look outwards and forward rather than backwards and inward, otherwise we will sink into mediocrity and well-deserved obscurity.
Mr W. P. KIRKMAN:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I am Secretary of the Cambridge Society. I do not wish to offer any detailed comments on the 'scope and objects of governance reform' (to quote from the statement by the Board of Scrutiny). I do, however, wish to refer to the proposal - which was of course defeated - for the inclusion of external members on the University Council.
The Cambridge Society gave careful consideration in 2001 and 2002 to ways in which in changing times it might most usefully continue to provide help and support for the University (for which it was established by the University in 1976). In 2002 the Executive Committee of the Society suggested that the Society should provide one of the proposed external members of the Council. In making such a nomination the Society would have regard not only to the personal suitability of the nominee but also to any criteria agreed by the University.
It was disappointing to find that no reference was made to this offer (or indeed to a considerable number of similar suggestions made by individual non-resident members of the University) when the Council reported and submitted its governance proposals to the Regent House. It was also surprising to note that the (rejected) proposals for external membership of the Council suggested no means of seeking nomination of candidates - which would surely be desirable if external members were to be genuinely independent.
I believe it would be foolish for the University not to recognize - and use - the fund of support and good will that exists among its non-resident members.
Dr S. G. FLEET:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I speak with some hesitation, as one who once carried certain responsibilities in these matters, to support the proposal of the Board of Scrutiny. I think it is now best, after rejection of some of the recent proposals, for reform of the governance of the University to be considered by a high-level review body that is independent of the Council.
I hope such a body will go back to first principles and consider reforms which deploy the services of those most centrally involved in senior leadership roles of the University and Colleges, within a structure in which senior bodies are sub-sets of those from which they are derived.
The Regent House as the governing body should comprise those active in teaching, research, administration, and the other primary activities of the University. Qualifying offices for membership of the Regent House should be chosen accordingly, including only those members of staff expected to be in relevant posts for significant periods.
The Council, as the cabinet, should have membership derived exclusively from the Regent House with appropriate representation from Colleges, the Professors, Readers, and other officers and staff, together with student representation as at present. Delegation of academic planning and strategy to the Schools should be increased, and Chairmen of the Schools given an enhanced role, whether or not as Pro-Vice-Chancellors. These Chairmen should be on a reformed Council ex officio, perhaps merged with the General Board as a single central body whose membership should be kept as small as practicable, if possible no more than 25.
The Vice-Chancellor should be given an enhanced role, as the principal academic and administrative officer of the University, but under the Council. As Chairman of the Council, the Vice-Chancellor would have greater authority than if there were a lay Chairman, and be better able to lead and influence the policy and strategy of the University. A pyramidal structure - Vice-Chancellor/Council/Schools/Regent House can be devised in a way which is consistent with a self-governing and collegiate community of scholars. Such reform, admittedly closer to the current Oxford model than ours, could go with the grain and not against. Cohesive self government without 'bolt-on' external components, is more likely to foster a sense of ownership on the part of members of the University on which morale and motivation depends. It is more likely also to offer a framework in which essential delegation of authority to Schools, Council, and Vice-Chancellor, on a necessarily greater scale than hitherto, will be willingly agreed to.
Dr J. DAWSON:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I shall be brief. Juvenal wrote, 'quis custodiet ipsos custodes?'
It seems fitting, in the context of the present Discussion, that this appeared in one of his Satires.
French Farce had not then been invented, but is alive and well, and living in the governance proposals of the University of Cambridge.
Professor G. R. EVANS:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, it is good to have you in the chair again, as you were once before, for the Discussion of the CAPSA inquiry, and also to hear from you speaking as just 'Sir Alec', in which capacity you approved the satirical jibes of the Vice-Chancellor of Brunel in the Times Higher Education Supplement last week.
It has become plainer and plainer in the last few weeks how hard the Government was driving what I am tempted to call our 'Government' Committee. The result of supping with politicians, and of having that famous hot line of recent years between Nos 10 and 11 and the Old Schools, has been superficial approval when we seemed to be doing what the Government wanted. The sudden bestowing of the CMI Ltd millions in 1999 on flimsy and unexamined promises that we would do something 'new' and 'exciting' with it, is an example. But when we do not deliver what is expected, things turn nasty. We are threatened with financial punishment, sanctions, and invasion. Our local MP Anne Campbell has been talking of Government intervention in the press (Varsity and Guardian Education Web pages). Now look at the Treasury's menacing new Lambert Review consultation questions, which may be found on the Web1.
This interference is a real possibility. The Education Reform Act 1988 s. 134(7) prevented the Secretary of State interfering in the affairs of any specific institution by way of 'conditions of grant'. Despite the protests of MPs who saw the dangers to University autonomy, the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 moved the goalposts. It empowers the Secretary of State to intervene directly in the affairs of named and specific universities. S.81(3). 'If it appears to the Secretary of State that the financial affairs of any institution within the higher education sector have been or are being mismanaged he may give directions' to the HEFCE 'about the provision of financial support' etc.2 Cambridge, and in particular the failure of CMI Ltd to deliver the goods, is being publicly held up by the Chief Executive of HEFCE as the reason why the Government is now moving actively to change the way universities are run. And of course the model is the corporate business model.
We were very exposed immediately post-CAPSA. We are far more exposed now to the consequences of projects like the Lambert Review and to direct interference by a new Secretary of State who thinks education for its own sake is a waste of money.
So whose fault is all this? I believe that the Council did us a grave disservice in insisting on putting proposals to the vote before they were really ready, and could be seen to command the support of the community. After the appointment of the new Vice-Chancellor, there was every reason to wait until she was in office to make any proposals for constitutional change. Parallels between the 'press-on-regardless' Walrus and Carpenter, and Bush's present conduct irresistibly suggest themselves, as he rolls on to war in the face of world opinion. History will know where to lay the blame.
The purpose of this speech is to wake the University up to our danger, if it needs waking up, for I am sure many others have read the runes like me. It is also to look to the future. So I do not want to take more than a moment on the rumour that the same flawed proposals are being put to us again next term in pretty packaging with pink ribbon, in the hope that we shall, on second thoughts, just vote them through. I had intended to say that, despite Gordon Johnson's heavy hint in his recent Opinion piece in the Times Higher Education Supplement, I would not insult the members of his committee by taking that tale at all seriously. It would be the act of a spoilt child stamping its foot because it had not got its own way.
Then I opened the Reporter of 26 February and found two Graces unaccompanied by any explanatory Notice. Only those who have the nous to turn straight to the Graces on receiving the Reporters were likely to read the small print of that footnote which should have been a Notice. There was no apology for the quite unnecessary bad drafting of the original Graces of 20 November 2002, which had made it necessary to run them once more. Now Grace 6 has had to be withdrawn again for further consideration by the Council on 17 March. In its revised form it would have created yet another anomaly within our Statutes and Ordinances. I want it to be quite clear that I intend no criticism of the University Draftsman in saying this.
How can we possibly be expected to place trust in the Council and its Governance Committee when they blunder along in this way and repeatedly produce such poor quality work? What we were offered was intellectually and constitutionally shoddy. Where is the evidence that the non-voters would have backed the proposals? We were right to vote it down if only because a great University deserves to be engaged with at the highest intellectual level when it is invited to adjust its constitution. 'Top-rank' is our watchword, Sir Alec has just said. Those rambling roadshows and their paltry marketing ploys were frankly nowhere near.
Have a look at the University's Annual Report, 2002. On page 25, under the heading 'Cambridge Changing' you will find Gordon Johnson's cheery face putting an optimistic construction upon these same governance proposals. On the back cover you may read an inaccurate 'Governance Statement', which would have you believe that the Regent House 'comprises the Resident Senior Members of the University and the Colleges' and that the Vice-Chancellor is already, de facto, 'the principal academic and administrative officer of the University'. There is further partly inaccurate explanation of our governance and administrative structures in the section of the self-evaluation statement submitted to the Quality Assurance Agency in December 2002 which was published in an issue of the Reporter on 3 March (Where are the appendices please? We need them published for the historical record).
Quality matters. We must now demonstrate, if it is not too late, that we are a constitutionally sophisticated democracy which can command the best quality draftsmanship of our domestic legislation. I think the Walrus and the Carpenter should sit down very quietly in a corner and wait to be forgiven.
So my proposal is that we take the politicians' threat to all we are and do with the utmost seriousness. I heartily support the Board of Scrutiny's proposal for a 'high-level review body that is independent of Council'.
In Cambridge the proper way to provide ourselves with the independent body we need is to set up a Syndicate under Statute A, IV not to invite a Royal Commission. There is bound to be some muttering that we did that when we established the Wass Syndicate. The clear simple lines of Wass's 'new world' of common-sense, openness, and mutual trust, were quickly lost sight of, but there was much to recommend there.
We need to appoint to the Syndicate in the manner of the new mode of appointment the public service now uses. Was it sensible to keep Anthony Edwards off the Wass Syndicate when he was its chief architect? That is what you get with 'insider nomination'. The Chairman should not be a Head of House or anyone involved in the internal power-struggles of the University. Sir Robin Butler might be just the right successor to Sir Douglas Wass. He was reported as discovering, as Head of House at University College, Oxford, that the realities of University politics severely tested the skills developed in a lifetime as a senior civil servant. He would be alert and knowledgeable. The membership of the Syndicate must please include the 'radical extreme conservatives' of today, those paradoxically said to be opposed to all change while constantly calling for it. Their voice now needs to be heard 'inside' a balanced and measured process please.
The Board of Scrutiny is correct in saying that the presenting of the symptoms of our problems should be the first port of call for this Syndicate. Until we have a correct diagnosis we shall not know what ills we have to treat and cure.
We should ask the Syndicate to begin with our administrative difficulties, which are at present clouding the issue, and then invite them to do some quiet, non-ideologically driven thinking about the best way to achieve two things in the reform of our governance:
|(i)||Distinguishing the kinds of matter which are properly the subject of day-to-day decision-making from those which raise policy questions and should be put to the Regent House, promptly, and not hawked round and round the committees first.|
|(ii)||Taking the temperature of the community in a timely way, so as to avoid the repeated end-game confrontations of recent years.|
I have made many speeches in which I have pointed out that a big policy change underlies some apparently small proposal in a Report. It should be someone's job in the Old Schools to spot this kind of thing and ensure proper open debate at the earliest stage. Why were the press given the financial text to be published in the Reporter tomorrow and briefed on it before the Regent House knew anything of it at all? True 'coherence' is important.
We must allow Alison Richard to arrive. Only a few weeks of Full Term separate us from her presence among us. Surely she should now be allowed to find her feet and then (but only then) express her views?
We must ensure that the Syndicate is set up with a time-frame which will make possible an overhaul of our Statutes, to make them internally consistent, accessible, and clear.
In conclusion, let me go back to the Parliamentary debates of the period when the drafting of the Education Reform Act of 1988 was being hammered out. 'We are dealing with matters of broad principle which go to the heart of academic freedom and freedoms within society', said Kenneth Baker, then Secretary of State for Education and Science.3 This is, remember, only a decade and a half ago. In 1988, MPs clearly saw dangers. 'Academics want protection from the Government-for instance when the Department of Health and Social Security issues statements that it will not publish research without the permission of the Secretary of State. If universities are put under financial pressure academics will need to have their freedom protected. They also need protection from industrial sponsors.'4 Such concerns were still well in evidence during the debates on the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, although those who thought differently subsequently had their way. 'It must be obvious to everyone that universities must be free to conduct their own affairs and to undertake their own teaching and research. They must in particular be free of Government intervention Universities may be threatened by governments directly and should be free to criticize them if they felt that that is right. In this country today there seems to be a coalition between Government and big business.'5
The dangers to the very heart of what we do, our very core purposes of 'fostering education, learning, and research', are now driven by politicians ruthlessly intent on making us get our funding from industry; pack our Council with nominated businessmen externals; and do the kinds of research which lead to the production of marketable goods and the kinds of teaching which make our graduates into commercial employees and entrepreneurs. Heading in the new Newsletter: 'Commercializing research at Addenbrooke's'. The interests of Government and industry have coalesced nicely since 1988. Even then it was apparent how 'the law and the creation of a psychological climate can march together' and 'social engineering' result.6
One of the Amendments to the 1988 Act (247) would have included the requirement on a higher education corporation itself 'to preserve freedom of scholarship, research, publication, and expression within the limits set by law'; Amendment 274B by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead carried the day at last, and his clause, though it seems to be only declaratory, is now in s. 202 of the Act and our Statute U, 1. It ensures that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom without putting themselves in professional jeopardy. That puts the onus on us, as academics, to speak out, in defence of this ancient University and its historic purposes, to get our priorities right and our administrators and the central bodies visibly under control.
There are many reasons why those of us who want the University to be better-run are sorry that this Discussion has had to be called. But the Board of Scrutiny was right to do so. This is the moment for a sober public stock-taking of what we can do to get the reform of the University's conduct of its affairs back on track before those circling vultures, the politicians, and the big corporations, descend on us to pick over the carcass. Enough of the wind-up toys and their road-shows. Time for some hard thinking and fine writing, and matured and polished proposals, which will not confuse an intelligent electorate; and let us surprise a sceptical world by showing how well we can govern ourselves. We have the brains. At least no one disputes that.
2 'The Bill gives the Secretary of State wide powers to intervene in individual institutions. Those powers, it seems to us, go beyond his legitimate concern to safeguard public funds' [HL Deb 21 November 1991, col. 1031, Baroness Blackstone].
3 Standing Committee J House of Commons, 25 February 1988, col. 1762.
4 Mr Hawkins, Standing Committee J House of Commons, 25 February 1988, col. 1778.
5 HL Deb 21 November 1991, col. 1057, Lord Grimond.
6 Mr Straw, Standing Committee J House of Commons, 25 February 1988, col. 1780.
The Vice-Chancellor apologizes for his departure at this point and the Chair is taken by Dr G. Johnson as Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
Dr D. A. GALLETLY:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Cambridge prides itself on its ancient democratic system of governance and wishes to preserve it. And rightly so. But perhaps it is worth examining quite how democratic the system we currently have is and then taking steps to ensure that failures in the system, where they exist, are rectified rather than ignored. In this context, there are two issues that I wish to address: the design of ballots and the choice of voting system.
Professor Grant is quoted in the Guardian of February 11 as feeling 'deep despair' over the low turnout for the governance ballots; in the same paper on February 25, the Member of Parliament for Cambridge, Anne Campbell, bemoans the 'dismally low turnout'. Less than one third of those eligible to vote filled out their ballot papers. And this in an institution that claims to be a democratic community of scholars. The question that must be asked is: why?
Do Regents not care about the future of the University? I rather doubt that that is the case. Do Regents not have time to fill in the ballot papers? In some cases most certainly they do not, but this is probably not a generally applicable answer. Do Regents not have time to understand the issues, and therefore leave voting on them to those who either do or think they do? Quite possibly some do, but I doubt that there are that many who are so humble.
Or is it that some of the ballots were designed in such a fashion that they would not have been unworthy as a brainteaser in a national newspaper and that people, despairing of managing to find a way of filling them out that actually expressed their wishes, decided they ought not to fill them out at all? I should imagine this was the case for many people.
Consider, for example, the ballots on Graces 5 and 6 of 20 November 2002. Figure 1 shows the logical ways that votes can be transferred between options at the point at which the first such transfer takes place.
Pity the poor voter whose first choice preference was for the status quo: 'ten signatures, e-mail not permitted'. Is the number of signatures more important than the means by which they may be transmitted, or vice versa? Or is it more important to concentrate on how hard it is to call for a Discussion or for a ballot? And in that case is it easier to collect ten signatures in writing, or twenty-five, or even fifty via e-mail? Or maybe one is so opposed to the existence of amendments that one's only other choice is 'fifty signatures, e-mail not permitted'? (I had assumed that such people no longer existed, so I removed that line from Figure 1. It would appear, from Professor Schofield's remarks, that I was wrong to do so.) How to decide? The voter is being asked to make subjective decisions on matters about which he has no, or minimal, information. Small wonder if he reaches for the headache pills, or more likely a stiff drink, and consigns the ballot papers to the waste-paper basket!
Supporters of three of the other five positions will find themselves in a similar quandary. Supporters of the two extreme positions at first sight appear to have an easier time of it, but even they are caught by the dilemma of whether 'more signatures, e-mail permitted' is easier than 'fewer signatures, e-mail not permitted', as they are the two positions most likely to be concerned with the difficulty of calling for a Discussion or for a ballot.
So, what are the lessons to be learned from this? Firstly, ballots need to be designed so as to be as simple as possible. A 'yes/no' question requires only minimal thought to answer, but ballots with many subtly different options lead to confusion; the KISS ('Keep It Simple, Stupid') principle springs to mind here. Secondly, voters should not be expected to have to guess as to what the effects of voting for a particular option might be, or even which one would be a more appropriate choice to achieve the effects that they would like to see. Only when the effort of filling in the ballots is minimal is it likely that the overworked majority will be able to particpate in the University's governance.
I now turn my attention to the selection of an appropriate voting method. The utility and fairness of a voting system can be assessed according to various criteria. Perhaps the most fundamental is the monotonicity criterion, which is that, with the relative order of the other candidates unchanged, ranking a candidate higher should never cause the candidate to lose, nor should ranking a candidate lower ever cause the candidate to win. This seems like common sense, surely? Any method that does not comply with this criterion cannot sensibly be described as fair. The good news is that almost all methods satisfy the monotonicity criterion; the bad news is that Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which is the single-winner variant of STV and thus the system that is used for ballots of the Regent House, is pretty much unique among popular methods in failing to. A simple example, adapted from one on the website of the Election Methods Education and Research Group1, illustrates the point quite strikingly.
Imagine a case in which a university (hypothetical, of course) finds itself in dire financial straits. Four, highly disparate, proposals are suggested as to how the situation should be handled. The first (option A) is that the ten least profitable Departments should be closed down; the second (option B) is to take control of the ownership of researchers' intellectual property and to set up a new division who will, with luck, be able to exploit it in a more profitable fashion; the third (option C) is to sell off several of the University's primely sited buildings; and the fourth (option D) is to do nothing and if the University goes bankrupt then that is God's will. A ballot has been called to decide which of the four strategies should be adopted.
Much lobbying has been occurring within the University, and most people consider that selling the University's properties is short-sighted at best and must be avoided. A small splinter-group think that this is an optimal strategy. Various factions have formed, and few people have had the strength of mind to resist joining the appropriate departmental faction. The electorate initially intends to vote as in Table 1, with the ballot proceeding as in Table 2 leading to option B being adopted.
However, just prior to the start of the voting period, the official newspaper of the University publishes a Report in which the twenty least profitable departments are listed. Many of the advocates of option C are shocked to find their departments on this list, and therefore 88 of those who initially intended to vote (C,D,A) now decide to favour option B above option D (C,B,D), as they believe that B is more likely to succeed than D. All other votes remain as in Table 1. The revised ballot proceeds as shown in Table 3. Option A now 'wins' instead of B, and the ten departments are shut down. The 88 people who sought to prevent this by ranking B more highly than A have thus caused A rather than B to be adopted! This would have been a dismal failure of the current voting system, were this a real rather than hypothetical case.
So, what should be done? While not wishing to dwell unduly on the negative, it seems to me that continued reliance on such an inherently flawed scheme - so flawed, in fact, that we cannot even tell whether any of, for example, the governance ballots suffered a similar fate - would be foolhardy at best. Cambridge may have thought itself ahead of the times in adopting STV in 1926, but better voting systems were already in existence.
In my search for a fairer and more reliable voting system I came across an interesting debate amongst another democratic community of intelligent individuals who have been contemplating changing their voting system due to it suffering from another potential failure mode: that of the Condorcet voting paradox. This group of individuals, the developers of Debian GNU/Linux, finally appear (after over three years of discussion and pondering on the matter) to be close to agreement on an improved system. Whilst their needs are considerably more complicated than our own the basic system that they are contemplating adopting, Condorcet pairwise elimination with a technique known as Cloneproof Schwartz Sequential Dropping (CpSSD) to resolve the voting paradox, seems to me to be of considerable merit, and quite possibly the fairest method that is currently known.
For entertainment, I decided to apply this method to the hypothetical ballot described previously. Amusingly enough, this case also throws up the voting paradox; but using CpSSD leaves A the preferred option in the initial case, and B the preferred option in the revised case. Much more sensible; those who revised their votes achieved their aim, rather than hindering it.
Dr S. J. COWLEY:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am Secretary of the Board of Scrutiny but I speak in a personal capacity. My theme today is misrepresentation, inconsistency, and lack of openness. I believe that at the beginning of the Discussion the Vice-Chancellor stated that he had sought not increased decision-making powers. As I understood it what Professor Sanders was saying was that as a Head of Department, he has to make decisions, and similarly the Vice-Chancellor needs power to make decisions. Hence, it would appear to me that although the Vice-Chancellor might not have been seeking increased powers of decision-making, one of those who was on the Council at the time that the Report was signed does think that the Vice-Chancellor needs increased powers of decision-making. What about those of us who voted against Grace 3? Are we necessarily against increased powers of decision-making for the Vice-Chancellor? Are we against the idea that the Vice-Chancellor should be the Principal Officer of the University? Let it be clear that Grace 3 had two parts to it. One part was that the Vice-Chancellor should be recognized as the Principal Officer of the University: a part that I believe very few people would have much trouble with. The second part proposed that the Vice-Chancellor, should be 'responsible for the management of the University and its finances and for the direction of University business within the framework of approved policies and subject to the responsibilities the Council and other bodies established by or under Statutes and Ordinances'. I think that part would have given the Vice-Chancellor increased decision-making powers. I believe it would have made him a chief executive without the necessary checks and balances. That is why I voted against it.
Let me now refer to something that Gordon Johnson said. I believe that he suggested that the Regent House has been damaged by the recent process. I do not believe that the Regent House has been damaged, but I do believe that the University, and in particular the Council, has been damaged - that is different from saying the Regent House has been damaged.
Next I turn to external members over which a severe misrepresentation has been purported this afternoon. It has been suggested that those of us who voted against Grace 2 were against external members. Well I voted against Grace 2 and, courtesy of instruction by senior members of the University last year, I am in favour of external members of the University Council. So why did I vote against Grace 2? Well that Grace was linked with an external member as Chairman, the dilution of the representation of non-Professors and Readers on Council, and the continuation of Heads of House as being the only eligible candidates in class (a), amongst other things. You cannot conclude by the fact that the Regent House voted against Grace 2 that they are against external members per se. Those who sought to suggest so this afternoon are once again spinning and misrepresenting the outcome of the vote. This misrepresentation would probably be picked up by the press (who I note are present today) if a correction were not rammed home.
What about the Regent House? Apparently a vocal minority have imposed their will on that body. Apparently the fact that only a third voted is a serious indictment of the Regent House, this is despite the fact that the same person who made this allegation mentioned, so far as I remember, that the paperwork was dismal. Sombody else suggested that the electorate did not understand the issues. So should I conclude that the Regent House does what I want (because I presume that I am one of the vocal minority), and is incapable of understanding what is going on? I do not have such a low opinion of the Regent House.
Let me now turn to my prepared speech. In the THES of 7 February 2003, Caroline Davis wrote that 'Cambridge University could be excluded from the Government's elite tier of research universities after academics dismissed proposals to reform the way the institution is run'. In the Guardian of 11 February 2003, Donald MacLeod reported that 'Ministers, infuriated by what they see as the failure of 'the best university in Europe' to sort itself out, are threatening to withhold recognition of Cambridge as one of a handful of elite research institutions - a move that would threaten its funding'. After the outcome of the governance ballots were known Anne Campbell, our local MP, is quoted as saying that 'I hope the University will look again at what it is doing in the light of the pressure from ministers'.
As one of those who campaigned against some of the recent governance proposals, these threats, if true and if implemented, are sobering. Have those who opposed these changes thrown the baby out with the bath water?
Of course a key question here is the accuracy of the Reports, and to that end it would help to know who are, as Gordon Johnson put it in his polemic THES article, the 'shadowy figures in the Government, suggesting that Cambridge [is] now done for'. It might even help to know who informed the THES that 'ministers are believed to have told [our] senior management [that Cambridge's] place in the elite is jeopardized by the way it is run'. However, let us suppose that the reports are correct. What to do?
Surely the first thing to do is to ensure that the Government, and at least our local MP, have the facts. One presumes that the Press Office has been hard at work. It is therefore disappointing that Anne Campbell is reported as stating that 'day-to-day decisions should be taken by the Vice-Chancellor' and that 'democracy was all very well but it did not mean there had to be debates on every decision'. When was the first debate on CAPSA/CUFS? Was it not after the day-to-day decision to go live? Is our MP suggesting that there should not have been a debate on the IPR proposals?
In Varsity and then subsequently in the Education Guardian Anne Campbell wrote that 'the council proposed that the Vice-Chancellor should be recognized as the principal academic and administrative officer of the University accountable to the University Council. It is inexplicable that this move to improve the accountability of the Vice-Chancellor was turned down by Regent House'. What was the Press Office doing, at least between the two appearances of the article? First the proposal was that the Vice-Chancellor should be the principal officer of the University (since the Registrary is already the principal administrative officer of the University). More importantly, as Professor Spencer explained earlier, the proposals would have made the Vice-Chancellor less accountable to the University Council (unless of course you believe that making the 'Vice-Chancellor subject to the responsibilities of the Council' has some meaning; the lawyers I have consulted suggest that it does not). It is essential that those who represent us in Parliament, and those who govern us, have accurate information. It seems to be the case that they do not. Why not? When Anne Campbell was here with Margaret Hodge was she briefed? Was Margaret Hodge briefed? If so, what were they told?
Anne Campbell also refers to the 'dismally low turnout', while in the Guardian on 11 February, Professor Grant is reported as saying that 'he felt 'deep despair' over the low turnout - fewer than 1,000 of the 3,200 members of the Regent House voted and this raised concern about democratic legitimacy'. Was the turnout dismally low? Not by the standards of, say, local government elections, as surely the former Chairman of the Local Government Commission for England would recognize. Do local government elections lack legitimacy? Does the leader of the City Council (also a member of the Board of Scrutiny) lack legitimacy? Should Her Majesty's Government impose external members on the City Council? What about a return to aldermen? Personally I think that it rather remarkable that nearly 1,000 of my colleagues were willing to plough through 22, or was it 23, pages of explanation and six voting forms. Was the complicated nature of the ballot explained to Anne Campbell by the Press Office, or by whoever briefed her?
If those in authority within the University are so concerned about democratic legitimacy why was the voting procedure needlessly complicated? Why hold the votes on Discussions, ballots, and amendments at the same time as those on the core governance proposals? Why were the votes originally scheduled to take place, for the most part, over the Christmas vacation when many would have been away or have had other matters to attend to? Why was it left to the Board of Scrutiny, which was concerned about democratic legitimacy, to make representations over the timing of the vote?
Why has the University received such bad press since the results of the votes were announced? Why do those that govern us nationally seem to be misinformed? I have heard it suggested from a number of sources that Cambridge is one of the main reasons that Gordon Brown has recently extended the scope of the Lambert Review of Business-University Collaboration to cover business's views on the governance, management, and leadership arrangements of higher education institutions. It is clear that there is undoubtedly a need to convince those external to the University that we do know what is wrong, and that we do know how to fix it.
Our local MP and Professor Grant are on the record as being concerned about accountability. The Board of Scrutiny is also concerned about accountability (as illustrated by its response to the original governance proposals), and so was Professor Shattock. Indeed nearly 17 months ago Professor Shattock recommended that the University draw up a statement of levels or hierarchies of accountability within the University. As of this morning 'a statement of responsibilities has been prepared and agreed by the Finance Committee and the Council. But this has not been developed into a full statement on accountability processes'. 17 months. Has this clear need been held up by a Report, a Discussion, a debate, or a vote? Is democracy to blame? Is Professor Evans to blame?
Some might argue that a full statement on accountability processes was of less importance than the governance reforms. I disagree. As Professor Spencer has already observed, in response to a direct question it was admitted at one of the 'road-show' seminars that the governance proposals in themselves would not have stopped the CAPSA debacle. Having read the Shattock and Finkelstein reports more times than I like to admit, I would put it more strongly than that: the governance proposals would have made essentially no difference. What would have made a difference were clear lines of accountability and, possibly to a lesser extent, a change of personnel.
In his section on 'Who was in charge of the CAPSA project?' Professor Shattock describes how responsibility for making a decision on CAPSA shuttled back and forth between the Finance Committee and the Planning and Resources Committee (PRC). Herein lies a key problem, possibly also related to the deficit. The University seems to be running two streams by which financial decisions are made. First there is the shadow system, i.e. the statutory Finance Committee. Second, there is the non-statutory stream stemming from the PRC. One might ask why we have two streams that seem to have resulted in duplication of effort and confusion of responsibility. Why, when the PRC was established in 1998, or thereabouts, wasn't the relationship between the two committees made clear? Has it been now? The suspicion arises that an attempt was made to superimpose a system that a new management was comfortable with, rather than that management working within the system they were hired into.
If the Governance Committee was concerned with accountability, why did they not recommend changes to the Statutes and Ordinances to clarify the role of the Finance Committee and the PRC? I gather that some clarification is in the process of being approved, but I again note that it is 17 months since Shattock's report. How come 'reforms' that did not tackle keys issues were fast-tracked, while those that are crying out to be implemented are taking the Virgin route?
Let me make it clear, I am not saying that all of the governance proposals that were defeated were wrong. We need external members on Council, but as I have already explained that proposal was linked with an external member as chairman, the dilution of the representation of non Professors and Readers on Council, and the continuation of Heads of House as being the only eligible candidates in class (a). I am in favour of the responsibility for 'the implementation of policy decisions being placed more singly', and to that end the Vice-Chancellor should both be recognized as the Principal Officer of the University (as I noted at the start) and be responsible for the implementation of the decisions of Council, General Board, and their Committees. But, the Vice-Chancellor should be subject to the authority of Council (and what we were asked to vote on was unclear on this point). During the consultation, the Board of Scrutiny made a positive proposal on this issue by commending Oxford's Statute VI, 3(1) for consideration, and in particular the opportunity it provides for Oxford's Council to delegate to a person as well as a body. That recipe would have allowed the Council to grant greater executive powers to the Vice-Chancellor, while still ensuring that he or she was accountable to them and under their authority.
I am not one of those who, as Gordon Johnson puts it, oppose all change; indeed I agree with Gordon Brown that the University can learn from the business world (but not uncritically).
What about business planning? What could we learn from, say, the mobile phone companies and their bid for 3G licences? Was that good business planning? Or has the University somehow learnt the wrong lesson with our rushed and not fully costed building programme? In fact this is a lesson that we should not need to learn since the Ordinances already require the Finance Committee to draw up a business plan. Specifically: 'It shall be the duty of the Finance Committee of the Council to advise the Council whether a site and funds both for the estimated capital cost and for the recurrent costs of maintenance and use are likely to be available for a proposed building'.
What about providing a service to consumers? I am considering buying a television. My choice, with a 5-year warranty, costs £497 pounds at John Lewis, and £668 at Comet. Who serves the consumer better? Which one is the partnership?
Maybe we can learn something from Enron. I presume that we have no special purpose vehicles, and that our accounts are full and fair.
Or what about Marconi? Their management effectively bankrupted the company. Was the management model changed (for example to a collective), or was there a change in management?
At the end of her article Anne Campbell stated that 'In order to flourish Cambridge must exercise its great collective mind on the necessary reforms. This is the least that the next Vice-Chancellor can expect'. Yes, we need to exercise our minds to come up with reforms that command broad acceptance rather than a narrow majority, reforms that are directed first and foremost to rectifying matters that are demonstrably wrong within the present arrangements after proper recognition of what has gone amiss, and reforms that are designed to equip the University to face forthcoming major strategic issues. In order to carry out this process we can learn from Professor Grant's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission over issues of balance, open working, and inclusive decision making.
I apologize to the Regent House for exceeding the time limit.
Dr N. HOLMES:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have come here today to support the call by the Board of Scrutiny for a more reflective and careful rethink of any further attempts to reshape the governance of the University in the short- or medium-term. Of the Graces recently decided by ballot, the only reform of real practical significance which was rejected was the change in composition of Council. Much has already been said on this matter, some of it by me, and I do not intend to repeat myself now. A number of speakers have referred to their surprise that the proposal to change the composition of Council was rejected. May I suggest that if the proposal had simply been to add 3 external members to Council, it might well have been approved. It would certainly have gained my approval.
It must be clear to all that the governance of the University is a highly complex affair. It arouses real passions in a large number of members of Regent House, not least where they feel the influence of our Governing Body is threatened. It also attracts interest from outside the University. I think for all these reasons it is necessary that any further proposals must be well-thought through and properly consulted upon. For these reasons, as well as the sound constitutional argument of Professor Edwards, it is necessary that an independent body must deliberate, carefully, and if necessary, at length. This can best be achieved by a Syndicate as proposed by the Board of Scrutiny. The membership of the Syndicate should be different from the previous Governance Committee. It should contain independent thinkers and ideally be chaired by someone not presently engaged in our administration who commands the widest possible respect. It would be a cardinal error to try to 'rig' the result. I would also argue that the Syndicate should include persons with a thorough knowledge of constitutional matters.
Of course, the results of all the ballots on the Graces of 20 November 2002 were fairly close and this might tempt some to think it worth re-running those whose outcome they disagreed with in the near future, with little or no alterations. Such thinking would be a fundamental mistake. Logically, the same argument can be applied to close ballot results whether the Grace passed or did not. If some proposals were rejected by only 400 or so, those which were approved were supported by a very similar number. Despite the fairly close results, I think that the majority prevailed with one possible exception.
While we are on the subject of the ballots on our governance arrangements, I want to draw attention to a problem with our arrangements for flysheets, also referred to by Dr de Lacey in an earlier Discussion. I believe that some incorrect statements and some misleading prejudicial statements were made in the flysheets circulated with the recent governance ballots. I believe the effect of these statements was more influential because they were endorsed by the Council or by numerous individual members of the Council. Our present arrangements for flysheets do not permit factual errors to be corrected except by Council. The Council has the right to reply to any flysheets, but this right carries with it a responsibility to endorse only fair and accurate statements. Perhaps it ought to carry a responsibility to correct inaccurate assertions and I have no doubt that that would be done if the inaccuracies were prejudicial to the Council's position. My view is that, while Council members have the same rights as any other Regent in signing flysheets in a personal capacity, a reply on behalf of the Council itself has a duty to accuracy, fairness, and I might add, temperance of language.
I want finally to say something about the role of external influences in our affairs. We have to be attentive to public opinion and the collective views of our elected representatives. But we do not have to be craven, we can fight our corner. Of course the basis for our governance arrangements were put in place by Parliament, and Parliament can change them at its will. But the will of Parliament is not the same as an administrative fiat of Government. The views of government departments change far more frequently than governments themselves. Our governance arrangements should not be so changeable. I have a considerable faith in our system of self-governance. I know that it is the envy of many colleagues at other universities around the UK. Let us keep this in mind and not be swayed by sticks or carrots into acting against what we perceive to be the right course. I know who would look foolish if our University was excluded from any list of Britain's 'world-class higher education institutions' - and it is not Cambridge.
Dr D. R. DE LACEY:
Mr Vice-Chancellor, in every one of our scholarly disciplines, from Anglo-Saxon to Zoology, there are various universal criteria which we apply to our work if it is not to be dismissed as unworthy of this great University. Research in the Humanities no less than in the Sciences strives towards an accurate and coherent model of its universe of discourse; and then seeks to analyse the model according to proper criteria of evidence, and ruthless critique.
All the more surprising then that a body of Cambridge academics charged with studying our own governance appears to work in so unscholarly a fashion. What initial analysis of the problem was presented to the Regent House for peer review? None. What correlation was indicated between problem and proposed solution? None. What predictions were made on the model to test its accuracy? None. What safeguards were built in to roll back if we discover the new model is inaccurate or inappropriate? None. But one might argue - perhaps - that it was at least a reasonably coherent model of a way ahead; and its protagonists demonstrated an admirable missionary zeal in promoting it, with its coherence underlined by Council in the linking of the first four Graces which attempted to implement it. The Regent House has rejected that coherence.
The result? Abandoning all semblance of coherence, Council has now attempted to press through individual bits, perhaps hoping that it can wear down the opposition and get the rest through later, perhaps desperately clinging to that mantra so popular in government: something must be done; this is something and therefore it must be done. The withdrawal of Grace 6 is much to be welcomed, not only because of its dubious statutory status but also because the electorate was clearly confused by the options on offer. I was myself. But Grace 5 remains to demonstrate how little a logical, coherent, and meaningful model of our governance actually matters to those who seek to force it through.
Reference has already been made to the intervention of the local Member of Parliament. I myself wrote to her, trying to show how what the press labelled as the opposition were also in favour of change and modernization; indeed I pointed out how the modernity of e-mail was opposed tooth and nail. Her ill-informed reply was unfortunately quite tangential and irrelevant to my points. I shall refrain from quoting it because of the time: I suspect many of you will have seen it, or a carbon copy.
Surely it is now time for us to replace our scholarly hats. The major factor which binds all disciplines in this University is the recognition that understanding only grows by exposing new ideas to peer criticism. Some on the Governance Committee seemed particularly sensitive to criticism, resorting ultimately to dissimulation and mendacity to prevent certain modern approaches to our procedures. But our scholarly work only proceeds by proposal and criticism, by trial and error, by changes of beliefs, prejudices, and models. Why not here also?
I plead, with the Board of Scrutiny, for the establishment of a new Governance Committee with a clear remit; firstly to present a clear statement of precisely where the structures of our current governance (and administration) cause real problems; and then how a proposed model will solve them. It is not enough, Sir Alec, to say of our current arrangements 'we must explain why they are fit for the years ahead'. The same obligation lies even heavier on any innovations. Any new model should also clearly indicate how the recommendations of the Shattock-Finkelstein reports are to be incorporated and to demonstrate that the proposed changes would prevent a repeat performance of past woes. It would be helpful to see just how changed governance would encourage Professor Ford's four core issues. It would make academic sense if issues such as the size of the Council were considered in the light of Human Group Theory, as to the effect of size on efficiency. It might usefully examine in detail how a true modernism - that of modern communications for instance - can be incorporated into our various structures, and include analysis of essential parts of our processes such as our committee structures, and our particular version of STV ballots so well exposed by Dr Galletly. A series of straw polls of the Regent House might help to assess the proposals as they develop, and ensure that the committee stays on the right tracks. The whole process should end in a clear and simple ballot form which should not need a mathematical doctorate to work out the implications of the questions and one's choices.
A propos mathematical doctorates, I am distressed to see in the current Newsletter that we are expected to be gladdened by the commercialization of medical research. I cannot share in the enthusiasm over a trend to value commercial over academic value, still less the suggestion that the worth of academic study is to be measured in pounds sterling. It seems to be of a piece with the enthusiasm to sell off the family silver - at least, that part of it in Trumpington Street - to make our current spending-spree seem less profligate. May I remind the Regent House of the apologia of G. H. Hardy, the mathematician who laid the foundation for the whole of quantum mechanics and modern relativity theory. In 1940 he could still say that these subjects were 'useless'1 and almost his closing words were 'I have never done anything 'useful'. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world. ... Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil; and outside mathematics it is trivial anyway. ... The case for my life, then, or for anyone else who has been a mathematician in the same sense in which I have been one, is this: that I have added something to knowledge'2.
We must value our work for its own sake, and seek to preserve that academic pre-eminence we currently enjoy.
1 G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology (Cambridge: CUP 1940, re-issued 1992), 131.
2 Op. cit, 150f.
Dr M. J. RUTTER:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the opportunity to discuss once more the process of governance reform, now after the Graces and ballots have passed, is most welcome. Just as our governance was, and remains, less than perfect, so too has been the process of reform.
It was a pity that the turn-out for the Ballots was so low: none of the successful options attracted as many as 500 votes, which is under one in seven of those eligible to vote.
It was a pity that we were presented with just one reform package.
It was a pity that that one package was presented in an à la carte style which resulted in a somewhat inconsistent selection being taken. I doubt I am the only person who feels that he has been served two starters simultaneously and never a main course.
I hope that the reform process will continue. Indeed, I believe it must continue if we are to achieve the more effective and more accountable governance that most would seek.
We were offered, and accepted, an enlargement of Regent House. I hope this results in an increased percentage turnout for ballots, although most past experience would suggest the opposite. I also hope that this is not a mere token of inclusivity, but that it will be reflected in Colleges' policies on Senior Combination Room membership. A significant proportion of Regent House being outside the collegiate structure, which is so much a part of this University, and which so greatly enhances inter-departmental dialogue and understanding, would surely be undesirable.
We were offered changes to the membership of Council, about which I speak as a distant outside observer. I have great faith in the abilities of those who are currently members of Council, and I do not see that some minor changes to the membership categories would have significantly enhanced their combined skills. Yet Council sometimes appears to be much less than the sum of its parts. It is a largish committee, and to work effectively it surely needs an effective, well-defined, subcommittee structure which can return clear, concise recommendations back to the full Council. It needs the ability to avoid spending time on trivia, and yet to be able to spend full time on important matters. It also needs to be seen to operate thus. That so few academics decide to stand for Council elections suggests that it is not seen to be the effective, efficient, and worthwhile instrument of governance that one would hope for.
We were offered, and accepted, restrictions on the ability of members of Regent House to propose amendments and to call for ballots, reforms which came with strange inconsistencies on when the use of e-mail was acceptable. Odd reforms, when the majority of Graces thus challenged recently have not subsequently passed unamended: it would seem that this check which prevents Council from ignoring the prevailing opinion in Regent House was working well. Odd too when a recent ballot needed to be re-run due to administrative errors (Reporter, p. 218). Far from there being too many ballots, it would seem that more practice at them is needed.
In an earlier Grace, changes to the conduct of Discussions were accepted. On reading the reports of Discussions - I am rarely present - I often see cogent, serious points raised. But often the only reply one can find is a bland statement saying little more than that 'the remarks made at the Discussion of such-and-such a date were noted'. One feels that these speeches, many well-prepared, simply dissipate in the æther. Is there anybody out there? It could be advantageous to have a more transparent mechanism for determining if anyone outside this House is listening.
We hear strong rumours that the national Government is following our own internal reforms not with merely detatched interest, but with something dangerously close to intervention. It is true that we receive large sums of public money, and, as is the case for any large organization, some money is regrettably wasted through poor management. However, that should not be the criterion by which we are judged. Should we not rather be judged by whether overall we offer good value for money to the tax-payer? I believe we offer excellent value for money, and so too do many independent reports. So can we not be permitted to discuss our governance in peace and not in the national press?
Finally, we hear siren voices telling us that we are out of line with other universities, and that we must become just like them. Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the day on which we become in all respects just like any other university is the day on which we should close, having lost our raison d'être. Those who would lure us down that path do us a grave disservice.
Mr N. M. MACLAREN:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I apologize in advance for saying things that will sound pretentious, but I cannot see how to talk about governance otherwise. I shall not be talking about democracy, which I regard as grossly over-rated, at best, and take my theme from Alexander Pope:
For forms of government let fools contest;
Whate'er is best administer'd is best.
My concern is that, in this University as in the country as a whole, we are seeing changes that are intended to improve the effectiveness of the administration have quite the opposite effect. We need change, but let it be an improvement as well.
It has been said that the opposition to extending the Council was opposition to external members. The considerable debate on the discussion newsgroup indicates otherwise. It was primarily opposition to the reduction in the influence of the Regent House on the composition of the Council. Most of the dissenters supported change, and often went further than the proposals. Let us have more accountability - but to the University as well as to anonymous outsiders.
It is often said that power corrupts, but it is not as simple as that. What often seems to happen is that a powerful person or organization attempts to make improvements, meets well-meaning but strongly felt dissent, and finds the strain of dealing with it too much. The dissent then gets regarded as opposition, and then as reactionism, antagonism, and mischievous troublemaking. The next step is often to suppress the mechanisms which the dissenters are using to express their opposition.
This has, of course, not yet happened in this University, but most of us will be able to think of many examples in this country. What is immediately obvious to a neutral observer is that it has not led to any improvement in administrative effectiveness - quite the converse, in fact. The reason is largely because the streamlining of the mechanisms usually has the effect of removing the checks and balances which are so critical to avoid catastrophic mistakes.
At this point, I suppose that I should mention CAPSA. One of the main reasons for its release being an 'unmitigated disaster', to quote Professor Finkelstein, was because the people who would have to use and support it had no effective mechanism to express dissent. They did so, but their views were rarely listened to by anyone with the power to act upon them. Do we really want to make the paths of influence even more unidirectional than they are already?
I am not simply talking about the relationship between the Regent House and the Vice-Chancellor and Council, but at lower levels, too. The University's treatment of its Computer Officers has not been good, but its treatment of many of its so-called assistant staff has sometimes been disgraceful. And yet it is common for relatively junior staff to be the real experts on many aspects of the University's business. If we are serious about improving our administrative effectiveness, then ensuring that influence flows up as well as down is essential.
Related to this is the English addiction to institutional secrecy, perhaps the most corrosive influence on administrative efficiency ever invented. Let us ignore the use of secrecy in hiding mistakes, negligence, and even corruption, as that is not currently relevant to the University. However, it is relevant that it is easier and faster to take decisions if they can be kept secret until after they have become irrevocable or at least fixed in their general form. But skimping review often leads to poor decisions.
The Board of Scrutiny has a remit that allows only post hoc review, but both it and individual members of the Regent House have repeatedly asked for information to be provided in time for proper consideration. The common response that such things are not yet ready is too often a euphemism for them being kept secret until after it is too late to change them; the University should be careful that it does not slip further down this path.
This is not the only harm that secrecy causes. It is very common for it to be used to hide covert and even improper pressure by external bodies, either on the administration as a whole or against individuals. One of the strongest defences an administration has against this is a requirement for it to have to justify its actions and decisions to its constituency. It is easy to see why certain parts of the Government want to reduce the University's openness, but less easy to see what the University has to gain by abandoning it.
One possible change would be to extend the Board of Scrutiny's remit to being able to demand information on decisions yet to be taken, and to be able to require that such decisions are justified in advance of being taken. For example, it is an obvious body to demand that a new building, Department, or even Chair be properly costed, that such a costing be submitted to the Council, and that Council should take the decision and justify it to the Regent House. This would remove a weakness from Statute A, III, 4.
Naturally, there will be circumstances where pressure of time or other constraints mean that the Vice-Chancellor has to act alone, but similarly it should be possible for either the Council or the Board of Scrutiny to insist that such an action be properly documented and handled in the same way as above. This would remove a weakness from Statute A, IV, 1.
Another would be to have some body, obviously independent of Council, whose purpose is to scrutinize all changes to Statutes and Ordinances, with the powers to request a redrafting or force a ballot on any that appeared controversial or ambiguous. If we had had such a body, the current confusion could have been avoided. Even in the Westminster Parliament, there is the concept of the official Opposition! This would remove a weakness from Statute A, III, 2 and 3.
Lastly, I feel that the Board of Scrutiny's statement in calling for this Discussion is precisely right; the objectives in any change should be to rectify what is demonstrably wrong, to minimize the chance of repeating recent mistakes, and to be seen to be neutral by most of the University. Any deviation from those objectives, whether to satisfy particular political demands or for any other reason, is almost certain to compromise the benefits of change.
Dr M. CLARK:
Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I shall try to be brief. I had prepared something more extensive but most of the points that I wish to make have been very eloquently put by speakers before me, but there are a few points that I think deserve reinforcing. During the course of Discussions on the governance reforms and then also on the IPR issues (as I think these two issues are not completely separate - I think that they are related) it became clear that there is political intervention from central Government behind many of the proposals, and that essentially our Council and the Vice-Chancellor have not been completely open with us about the motivation behind their changes. I feel that it is very important that they are completely open and transparent as to the reason behind many of these changes. There has been a lot of bad press as a result of the results of the ballots on governance and I agree with the points made by Diana Galletly, and also with the points made by Stephen Cowley, that in essence the Council and whoever is feeding comments out to the press are misusing the results of the ballots to essentially cast in a bad way those who voted against the proposals. I was one person who in those recent ballots voted against the governance proposals, but just as Stephen Cowley mentioned before, I am not anti reform and were proposals put to me that I could have honestly voted for, I would have voted for them. But the construction of the ballot paper, and I take the points made by Diana Galletly on this, was such that it was impossible for me to actually vote for any proposal that I felt was reasonable. Earlier on we heard comments from Professor Sanders, discussing the composition of the Council and that is one of the examples of how I had great difficulty in voting for the proposal. I am one of those people Stephen Cowley mentions who would endorse a position whereby external representation was placed on our Council, but we were not asked to vote for external representation on the Council. We were asked to vote for such a change in composition of Council that we had an enlargement of Regent House and yet a reduction in the representation of that enlarged Regent House. What was in fact being proposed was that certain factions of the University maintained their position on the Council, or were only slightly reduced, whereas the greatly enlarged Regent House had a much smaller representation, and for that reason I had to vote the proposal down - not because I was against external membership, but because I was against the final composition. I must say that one of the things that I was against, and Professor Sanders reminded me of this, is that a large number of members of the Regent House under the proposed enlargement would be members of the Regent House who have no representation in College, and yet it was the Colleges that would retain a very strong representation on Council because members could be voted onto Council both on behalf of separate College positions, and also in other positions, as Professors, as Readers, and as other members of the Regent House. Yet other members of the Regent House, the vast majority with no College affiliation, would not have had such a large representation. So there are very many reasons why the ballot papers were essentially impossible to decide upon in any reasonable way.
It is the political pressure that worries me the most though. It is the reforms that we are being asked to go forward with on governance and also potentially on intellectual property rights, I think, which are the most worrying, because these are short-term political pressures that are being put upon us by one party; as we all know political parties change, governments come and go, but the University we hope will be here for centuries. So I think it is very important that we take a long-term view of our governance changes and I support the call for a Syndicate, by the Board of Scrutiny, and I look forward to being able to vote for reforms that I can truly believe in for the long-term.
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