Cambridge University Reporter

green papers

Review of disciplinary, dismissal, and grievance procedures: a green paper

7 January 2008


1. The Council and the General Board issue this green paper to seek the views of the University in a review that they are conducting of the disciplinary, dismissal, and grievance procedures in the University.

2. The reasons for the review and the current position are described in the Annex to this paper. In brief the procedures for academic and academic-related officers differ from those for unestablished and assistant staff. The former are extensively prescribed by Statute, do not sit well with current employment law, and need review. The latter are compliant with ACAS guidelines and are designed, in accordance with employment law, to achieve the fair and expeditious resolution of disputes.

The views of the Council and the General Board

3. The Council and the General Board wish to see a just and efficient method of dealing with disciplinary, dismissal, and grievance matters that is appropriate to the University. In accordance with their aim (exemplified by the new pay and grading structure) to achieve equal treatment for all staff, they would like those matters to be dealt with under a Statute that sets out the essential framework and that empowers the Council, after consultation with the General Board, to determine all other details of the necessary codes as it sees fit from time to time and as circumstances and the law change.

4. They have therefore sought to identify those areas which should distinguish the University from other employers and where safeguards are needed in addition to those provided by general employment law.

5. Their conclusion is that it is essential that the principles of academic freedom are given statutory force, as at present, in accordance with the formulation in the Education Reform Act 1988. Those principles (set out at Statute U, I, 1) are:

(a) to ensure that members of the academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges;
(b) to enable the University to provide education, promote learning, and engage in research efficiently and economically;
(c) to apply the principles of justice and fairness.

6. It may be argued that there are members of the University staff for whose employment those principles have little relevance. If that is so then a statutory requirement for them will make little difference. But, in the view of the Council and the General Board, those principles are a vital statement about the nature of a university, and one that should appropriately be set out in the University Statutes.

The questions

7. The Council and the General Board seek views on the following questions:

(a) Is it desirable that, so far as possible, there should be a single set of procedures for discipline, dismissal, and grievances for all University staff?
(b) If not, then in what respects are different procedures needed, and why?
(c) Is there anything else other than academic freedom that should be given statutory force?
(d) If so, what and why?

8. Responses should be sent by 13 February 2008 to the Registrary, University Offices, The Old Schools, Trinity Lane (e-mail


Review of discipline, dismissal, and grievance procedures - background to the Review

The Personnel Committee agreed in June 2003 that a working group should be established to review the University's discipline, dismissal, and grievance procedures. Work was done by officers on drafting revisions to grievance, discipline, and change procedures, but was put on hold once the pay and grading and CHRIS projects got underway. At the time the drivers for undertaking a review were identified as including:

The role of the working group is to make recommendations to the Personnel Committee on:

The Committee noted that, with regard to clinical academic staff, work was ongoing nationally to establish a framework for co-operation between NHS Trusts and universities for dealing with staff management issues, including disciplinary action.

Existing disciplinary and grievance procedures for unestablished academic and academic-related staff and assistant staff generally follow the ACAS model. The process for addressing any problem is explained, time limits for taking any formal steps are included, and issues such as who may accompany or represent staff at disciplinary or grievance hearings is dealt with.

While the original Model Statute has been criticized as being 'too prescriptive, legalistic, lengthy and expensive' (UCEA Circular 01/22), its articulation in Statute U is lacking in certain respects. For example:

A copy of the disciplinary and grievance procedures covering unestablished academic and academic-related staff and assistant staff is available at and a copy of Statute U is available at

A number of institutions are taking steps to review their discipline, dismissal, and grievance procedures. The case for a review and potential change at Cambridge is suggested as:

(i) a successful organization will have procedures for dealing with staff issues that comply with employment legislation, are clear and workable, and provide for matters to be dealt with promptly and at an early stage;
(ii) Statute U is not compliant with current employment legislation in a number of areas, including that it does not facilitate dealing with disputes without unreasonable delay;
(iii) the Higher Education environment is increasingly competitive and Cambridge must have available the appropriate procedures for reviewing and managing its staffing issues that will likely be available at other institutions.

A number of actions can be considered as contributing to the Review: