Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6255

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Vol cxlii No 20

pp. 452–463

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Lynn Gladden was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Junior Proctor, a Pro-Proctor, and six other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Report of the General Board, dated 21 November 2011, on the establishment of an MRC Research Professorship of Biostatistics (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 388)

Professor A. W. F. Edwards (Fellow of Gonville and Caius College):

Madame Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have no remarks to make on the substance of this Report, but only on the title proposed for the Professorship. The name of an MRC Unit is not the business of the University, but the title of one of its Professorships is, and I suggest that in this case the one does not easily transfer to the other. ‘MRC Research Professorship of Biostatistics’ is not appropriate for two reasons.

First, the University does not have Research Professorships. There is no provision for them in the Statutes. All Professors have a duty to promote the University as a place of education, religion, learning, and research, to give instruction to students, to undertake such examining as may be required, and to advance knowledge in their subject. I hope the University will never go down the American road of Research Professorships, Distinguished Professorships, Distinguished Research Professorships and so forth. Let it continue to be sufficient distinction to be a Cambridge University Professor.

Secondly, the use of acronyms in the formal titles of Professorships ought to be avoided. Our titles should be comprehensible world-wide, and although acronyms such as MRC [Medical Research Council] may be familiar to us, this is not necessarily the case elsewhere. (Presumably the acronyms KPMG, BP, and GKN in the titles of existing Professorships are now the actual names of the organizations concerned, unlike MRC.) Furthermore, spelling ‘MRC’ out in full makes ‘Research’ in ‘Research Professorship’ redundant anyway. By contrast, the informal use of acronyms is of course entirely acceptable.

I should also like to record my regret over the misuse of the word ‘Biostatistics’. It is inappropriate shorthand for ‘Medical Statistics’ even though sanctioned by usage in the MRC and the United States. I speak as the former Professor of Biometry and former President of the British Region of the International Biometric Society. The prefix ‘bio’ refers to all life (‘organic life’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary) as in ‘biology’, ‘biometry’, and ‘biomathematics’, and should not be hijacked to refer only to humans and in a medical context. Cambridge should be specially sensitive to this misuse, the word ‘biometry’ itself having been coined here by William Whewell in 1831. I am therefore sorry to see the University adopting ‘Biostatistics’ in a formal title.

Report of the General Board, dated 23 December 2011, on the establishment of a Chong Hua Professorship of Chinese Development (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 389)

Professor W. A. Brown (Head of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences):

Madame Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences is delighted to receive the benefaction from the Chong Hua Foundation. The Chong Hua Educational Foundation was established by two individual investors in Hong Kong and mainland China who wish to remain anonymous. It has not received any donations from other individuals or from any government, or from institutions associated with any government. A fully funded Professorship in the field of development studies has been one of our aspirations for at least twenty years. The University of Cambridge has an excellent record in research and education in development studies that goes back over fifty years, but it has been based on an independent Committee structure. This fully endowed Professorship offers a more solid foundation on which we shall be able to develop the subject and its connections with other disciplines, in happy coincidence with the new Alison Richard Building in which it will be housed.

Professor A. M. Gamble (Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies) (read by Professor W. A. Brown):

Madame Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the generous donation from the Chong Hua Foundation to endow a Professorship in Chinese Development is a valuable permanent addition to the resources for teaching and research on China at Cambridge. It is also a major contribution to the expansion of Development Studies in this University. The study of modern China has become essential for understanding some of the most important contemporary forces reshaping the international economy and international politics. It makes the Department of Politics and International Studies a highly appropriate location for this Professorship and for the new Centre of Development Studies, and the establishment of both are warmly welcomed by the Department.

Report of the General Board, dated 11 January 2012, on the establishment of a Florence Nightingale Foundation Professorship of Clinical Nursing Research (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 390)

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 11 January 2012, on the establishment of a Professorship of Statistics (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 391)

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 11 January 2012, on future arrangements for the Interdisciplinary Centres in the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 392)

Professor W. A. Brown (Head of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences):

Madame Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the inter-disciplinary activity in the University around African Studies, Development Studies, Latin American Studies, and South Asian Studies, has evolved over the years. This has meant that, despite the excellent teaching and research that they carry out, their institutional and financial position has not been secure. With the creation of the new Faculty of Human, Social, and Political Science it makes sense to bring them together with the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), with which they are now sharing the new Alison Richard Building. This Report provides them with constitutions, which will protect their academic focus. The School of the Humanities and Social Sciences strongly supports it.

Professor A. M. Gamble (Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies) (read by Professor W. A. Brown):

Madame Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the interdisciplinary Centres at Cambridge have long played an important role in bringing together researchers and teachers from many different Departments and Faculties. It is essential that this role be preserved. Bringing the Centres together with the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) in the manner proposed will protect the academic autonomy of the Centres while strengthening interdisciplinary collaboration and administrative support, and will provide a new focus for Cambridge’s teaching and research on international, area, and development studies, and the large postgraduate community associated with them. The Department of Politics and International Studies looks forward to a fruitful collaboration with the Centres and to helping them raise their profile in the University and beyond.

Joint Report by the Council and the General Board, dated 23 January 2012 and 11 January 2012, on student membership of the two bodies (Reporter, 2011–12, p. 405)

Mr G. H. Tully (student member of the University Council, and President of Cambridge University Students Union):

Madame Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I warmly welcome the proposals contained in the Report. Its suggestions will make for a stronger electoral process as far as election of student members is concerned; and second, it enshrines a significant point about the kind of relationship this University wishes to have with its undergraduate and graduate student populations.

On the first point: if we consider that the University Council and General Board are bodies of the utmost importance, and we agree that election rather than appointment or any other mechanism is the best means by which we should supply the members of those bodies, it follows that it is desirable to have as rigorous and as participatory an electoral process as possible.

In the case of student members, this has long been offered by the Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU) and Graduate Union (GU) annual elections. Over four thousand students voted in the 2011 CUSU Elections, many times the number who voted in the University Council and General Board elections which followed shortly afterwards. The CUSU and GU elections generate significant attention in the student press and have a packed schedule of hustings and debates, which provides a level of scrutiny and substantive debate about character and policies that the University’s own elections have not managed to generate among the student body. We successfully run ballot boxes in almost every College – 30 out of 31 last year – by tapping into the goodwill of JCR and MCR Committee members to manage and oversee them.

The University Council elections, coming as they do at the very end of a busy term, have often failed to be as widespread, which is to the detriment both of students who might wish to have easy access to voting, and to the Council and General Board’s standing among the student body. It is a welcome development that the University feels that CUSU and the Graduate Union have sufficiently well-developed and legitimate processes to consider our electoral systems able to elect student members. We work hard each year to craft a strong and enforceable set of rules, ensure independent and external oversight of the counting processes, and generate as much student interest as possible.

There is however an important distinction – which is that we do not propose the Council and Board members elected under this system will be bound by the policies of the Unions which employ them, nor should they hold office as any kind of ‘ex officio’ arrangement. The election to the Council and General Board are separate and distinctive positions conveyed by the same electoral process which chooses the relevant student Sabbatical Officers, rather than a subservient component of the job description for those positions. This is an entirely fair reflection of the importance memberships of the Council and Board have in their own right.

Enshrining student representation at the highest levels of the University is vitally important. It strengthens channels of communications, gives student representatives buy-in to the key strategic decisions the University is making, and fosters an atmosphere of partnership rather than an adversarial one. With the impending review of Statutes coming to the Regent House, I am pleased to see the Council and General Board take such a strong stance in defence of student membership – full, responsible membership – of the most important committees in the University. I therefore commend this Report in its entirety.

Mr M. A. Wild (student member of the University Council, and of the General Board, and Education Officer of Cambridge University Students Union):

Madame Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to echo unreservedly the endorsement of this Report by my colleague Mr Tully, and warmly thank the officers of the University who have put the hard work into bringing this Report before the Regent House.

This is a reaffirmation of the seriousness with which the University Council – and, we confidently hope, the wider University – treats student representation. Student representation is now guaranteed across the University, in almost all areas that affect students. With that representation comes a far more productive relationship between students and the University.

We believe that the substantial advances that the University has made in making sure that students’ views are adequately represented at all levels – of which this Report is the most welcome – reflect a much more consistently positive attitude towards engaging with students than has, perhaps, historically been the case.

We were, of course, somewhat concerned by the draft for the technical review of the Statutes which was put out for consultation.1 The proposed elimination of the statutory requirement for student representatives at University Council contained within that document reflects a far more worrying approach to student representation. The accompanying note suggests that the rationale for ‘permitting’ but not ‘requiring’ the election of student members is that there are ‘potentially onerous obligations’ that flow from being a charity trustee.

As a current student member of University Council, I feel I can be quite clear in saying that I do not find the obligations, important as they are, too onerous – though I do thank the author for his concern. And this Report has reassured me that the Council and the General Board fully endorse the importance of student representation and, rather than taking the backwards step suggested in the Technical Review, wishes to yet further enshrine students at the heart of University governance.

Mr S. R. Wakeford (Trinity Hall) (read by Mr M. A. Wild):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I was the author of the original October 2009 paper presented to the University Council’s Standing Advisory Committee on Student Matters (SACSM) that is annexed to this Report; and also of remarks at the April 2010 Discussion referenced in this Report that exhorted the Council to ‘expedite’ these necessary changes.

It would, of course, be disingenuous of me to express surprise at the length of time that has since elapsed, and would perhaps be churlish to note that SACSM has itself been disbanded, and that I have begun and then completed a full term of office on the Council in the intervening period. The arguments in favour of change are longstanding and overwhelming, and I leave my colleague-successors to present them again here. I wish only to emphasize that the more recent student paper, annexed as A (ii), represents the consensus student position, and that the developments it incorporates in aspects of minor detail, relative to the earlier paper in A (i), have been long agreed. I commend this Joint Report to the Regent House.