Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6208

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Vol cxli No 12

pp. 313–364

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor John Rallison was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Junior Proctor, one Pro-Proctor, and seven other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Report of the Council on membership of the Regent House (age limit) (Reporter, 2010–11, pp. 187–88).

Professor J. Herbert:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, earlier this year, I signed a flysheet. When it appeared, I was astonished to see that my name had been removed. I was further astonished that no one had had the courtesy to let me know it had been removed. I should make it clear that I am employed by the University (at that time I was paid part-time through a couple of my grants), and I have a contract and a payroll number. So I was being prevented from exercising my right to express my views solely on account of my age.

I do not need to remind the University that this is in direct contravention of both the EU and UK guidelines on ageism. I am thus very pleased that the University has, at last, taken steps to put this matter right, before public damage has been done to the University’s reputation as a liberal and equitable institution. Although the Council’s Report seems to link their proposals with the imminent change in the regulations for the retirement age, the two issues are, to a large degree, separate.

Irrespective of these changes, to deprive me and anyone in my situation of our rights on the sole ground of age is outrageous. By what criteria does the University think that people become incompetent at 70? So while I welcome the Report, I am less impressed by the fact that it appears to have taken this incident to galvanize action, which should have been taken proactively, years ago, by the relevant University administration.

Professor A. W. F. Edwards:

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it cannot be right to create a new class of persons exempt from the age limit of 70 for membership of the Regent House whilst denying the same exemption to the existing classes (b), (d), and (e). I, for example, fall in class (d), Fellows of Colleges who conform to the residence requirement, and I am disqualified solely on account of my age.

I propose that the pre-1996 position be restored, and the age limit abolished. It was introduced following a recommendation of the Wass Syndicate on the government of the University, which reported in 1989. That Syndicate quoted the Grave Committee, which in 1967 had suggested to the Council of the Senate an age limit of 67. The Council changed this to 70 and the Grace for the acceptance of the principle was unopposed. However, though many subsequent Reports and Graces implemented most of the Grave proposals, no change of Statute to implement the age limit was ever put forward. An unimplemented recommendation is hardly evidence.

In 1989, Wass recommended a limit of 70 except for the ceremonial officers and the Heads of Colleges, whom, they argued ‘are entitled, in some Colleges, to continue to hold office after the age of sixty-seven’, quite forgetting that in some Colleges there are Fellows that similarly continue. For the avoidance of misunderstanding, the Fellows here referred to are the actual statutory Fellows, excepting Honorary Fellows, and do not include Bye-Fellows, Emeritus Fellows, Benefactor Fellows, Benefactor Bye-Fellows, Visiting Fellows, Associate Fellows, Fellow-Commoners, or any other persons to whom the epithet ‘Fellow’ has been loosely attached.

The Wass proposal was approved in principle by Grace 3 of 11 December 1991, by 769 votes to 261. There were no fly-sheets arguing either for or against. The Statutes and Ordinances Revision Syndicate, of which I was a member, then had no alternative but to draft a corresponding statute. At this late stage, Dr G. A. Reid, of St John’s College, intervened to argue cogently for the preservation of the interests of Fellows of Colleges arising from the 1923 Oxford and Cambridge Act. The Act requires that the consent of the Colleges be obtained, which it had not been. At the Council’s request, the Syndicate therefore agreed to hold back the relevant part of the draft statute for further consideration. It was subsequently passed by Grace 1 of 6 July 1994, opposed by neither Dr Reid nor anyone else, and approved by Order in Council on 13 December 1995, the delay I believe being caused by an unsuccessful appeal to the Privy Council by Dr Reid. (In my experience too, appealing to the Privy Council in its capacity as the arbiter of the 1923 Act is a doomed enterprise, however watertight one’s case.) November 1996 was therefore the first promulgation of the membership of the Regent House which observed it.

In view of the inequity of proposing an exemption that does not apply to all classes, and in the light of the developing legislation on age-discrimination, it seems best to abandon the restriction, for which no convincing argument was ever advanced. But it should perhaps be possible to resign one’s membership, as I observed in an earlier Discussion on the subject. We may note that there is no age limit for Parliament.

The Council cite ‘academic collegiality within the University’ in support of their proposal. Collegiality does not exclude the Colleges.

Dr G. A. Reid:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, this Report proposes changes of Statute to provide (a) that University officers should continue to qualify for membership of the Regent House beyond the age of 70 years; and (b) so also should such categories of person employed by the University in academic appointments as may be designated by Ordinance from time to time.

The Report does not discuss the position of persons in the Colleges, which is a notable omission simply because hitherto there has been a plain element of symmetry in the recognition of their position as parallel to that of University officers and persons of similar standing in the University. Thus, simplifying only very slightly, the membership of the Regent House currently comprises:

(i) the University officers (classes (a) and (b));

(ii) Heads and Fellows of Colleges (classes (c) and (d)); and

(iii)such other categories of persons holding appointments in the University or a College as are specified by Ordinance.

Currently there is an age limit of 70 for almost all of those who qualify.

Both of the Council’s proposals are entirely reasonable in themselves. The first is somewhat premature, for what will become of the University’s retirement provisions after the Government’s proposed abolition of the default retirement age remains to be seen. If the outcome is that University officers continue beyond the age of 70, then it seems clear that they should continue as members of the Regent House. But is it not similarly clear as regards persons in College offices? I do not refer here to Fellows – a Fellowship is a rather different thing from an office or employment – but I would invite the Council to consider the position of those still in work in Colleges.

The second of the Council’s proposals is more immediately apposite, for employment (though not generally the holding of office) in the University beyond the age of 67 is already with us, including a number of persons of very considerable academic distinction. There are persons of entirely similar distinction too in the Colleges, who hold, or have held, College Teaching Offices. If their Colleges have extended their employment in a similar way, then why should they not be included within the scope of the Council’s second proposal?

Finally, and rather aside from the main thrust of my remarks above, have the Council considered the position of those continuing work in the University under voluntary research agreements, to whom the Council’s observations about academic collegiality might also be thought to apply?

Professor G. R. Evans (read by the Junior Proctor, Dr J. Spencer):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is not long since 70 was established as the cut-off age. A number of elderly members would persist in voting and it was felt inexpedient to allow that to continue. The argument, I seem to remember, was that they were too old to be able to think clearly at 70. (In Oxford, a similar debate led to the fixing of the present age-limit of 75 for Membership of Congregation, so perhaps powers of mind wear better there.) To allow membership of the Regent House to continue to a more advanced age now that retirement is to come later is obviously unavoidable. But it is perhaps worth noting drily that the old arguments about the mental fitness of ageing academics now themselves look less durable than they did.

The substantive proposal in this Report is, however, to disjoin the holding of a University office from the right to Regent House membership, based on the holding of employment in the University. Statute A, III, 7(e) already allows this, but I suspect it was intended to apply only as an emergency measure. It is very broadly drafted to include:

such other persons holding appointments in the University or a College in such categories and subject to such qualifying periods of service as shall be determined from time to time by Ordinance.

The present Report is so phrased as arguably to widen the gate still further. ‘A category of senior salaried academic staff employed by the University’ could include, presumably, those not holding an ‘appointment’ as such, and certainly those on short-term externally funded contracts where the University is the host institution for a research project.

An example is the recent advertisement for ‘two motivated social scientists’, to become respectively a research associate and a research assistant in the General Practice and Primary Care Unit.1 The proposed change of Statute includes not only the senior posts mentioned in the prolegomena, but a much longer list of more junior and seemingly even ‘casual’, and definitely unestablished posts, namely ‘holders of the appointments of Director of Research, Principal Research Associate, Senior Research Associate, Research Associate, Lecturer (unestablished), and Assistant Lecturer (unestablished). The first of these two new appointees would apparently get into the Regent House, the second not. But what will prevent the use of inflated titles to make advertisements more attractive? At least with established posts and University offices you know where you are, because there has been a moment when they were created in full view of the Regent House.

There is another problem, which Oxford has encountered. Cambridge has so far chosen not to give Regent House rights to its short-term contract scientists. At the time of the North reforms which came into force in 2000, Oxford decided to grant membership of Congregation to many members of the same category. I remember the discussion of the importance of making these career-challenged individuals feel (and be) voting members of the University’s sovereign body. That of course gave them Statute XII rights, the equivalent of the Statute U rights enjoyed in Cambridge by members of the Regent House. Statute XII rights feature explicitly in their contracts.

Oxford now faces many difficulties about their right to Statute XII protection when they face redundancy. The University has had to take legal advice about the consequences of, in effect, dispensing with the Statute XII requirements and I am afraid you will have to watch this space while we wait to see whether the Information Commissioner will force the University to disclose Counsel’s opinion supporting this pattern of conduct. It will not have slipped anyone’s mind that Cambridge has just had its Statute U debates and voted down proposals to change the rules in Cambridge about redundancy. If this goes through, Cambridge will have the same problem as Oxford if it wants to get rid of these people once they are members of the Regent House.

For constitutional and practical reasons, then, I ask the Council to pause, give us a Report on the nature of a University office and a chance to think this through properly before rushing the University into numerous expensive future employment tribunal cases and a sea of uncertainties about the rights to create posts bearing membership of the Regent House (or not).

Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on the introduction of a degree of Master of Corporate Law (the M.C.L.) (Reporter, 2010–11, pp. 189–92).

Professor D. J. Ibbetson:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak as Chair of the Law Faculty Board.

Law has been taught in Cambridge for something in excess of 750 years, so I hope we will not be thought too precipitate in having brought forward a proposal for the creation of a new Master’s degree in the subject to complement the existing LL.M.

The development of the Master of Corporate Law is at the heart of the Faculty’s strategy to move forward into the twenty-first century. Without this sort of initiative, there is a risk that we will gently stagnate, slowly being overtaken by more thrusting competitors in the United States and elsewhere.

The course builds on Cambridge’s existing research and teaching strengths in the subject. More importantly, it will be a world-leading programme in one of the most significant fields of law in the modern world, covering such matters as corporate governance, the legal regulation of financial markets, and pensions. Central to it is the belief that it should not simply be a course within which complex rules are described, evaluated, and where necessary criticized, but that it should enable students to grapple with the way in which the rules operate. To that end, a significant part of the course will examine the structure of actual legal deals in the commercial world, with input from practising lawyers responsible for putting them together. It is this that constitutes the most distinctive feature of the course, marking it off both from our own LL.M. Degree and from other Master’s degrees in Law.

We have, of course, thought long and hard about the economic aspects of the introduction of the new degree at a time when higher education is facing serious financial tribulations. We are firmly of the belief that there is a substantial demand for a high-quality course of this nature, even with a relatively high fee level, and that we will have no difficulty in filling the twenty-five to thirty places planned for the course with students of very high ability and ambition.

I commend this Report to the University.

Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on the future of Ordinary Examinations and the Ordinary B.A. Degree (Reporter, 2010–11, pp. 208–10).

No remarks were made on this Report.