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No 6394

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Vol cxlv No 38

pp. 742–784

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Young was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Senior Pro-Proctor, the Junior Pro-Proctor, and thirteen other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 5 June 2015, on procedures for dealing with questions of fitness to study (Reporter, 6390, 2014–15, p. 619).

Professor G. J. Virgo (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have been involved in my capacity as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education in the development of the fitness to study procedure which is the subject of this Report. This has been developed after full consultation with, and the co-operation of, Senior Tutors and with the support of student representatives.

Whilst the majority of Colleges have their own fitness to study procedure, the Report provides for the creation of a procedure to be relied on by the University to respond to concerns about a student’s fitness to study. This University procedure will be relevant where there is a cause for concern about a student’s fitness to study which cannot be resolved by the student’s College or where the concerns impact on a University Faculty or Department.

The fitness to study procedure is required by virtue of the University’s duty of care both to the particular student, whose fitness to study is a cause of concern, and to other students and members of staff. The procedure allows for immediate action to be taken if absolutely necessary for the benefit of the whole academic community, but otherwise is subject to appropriate checks and balances to ensure that the procedure can be deployed quickly but fairly. It is anticipated that the procedure will not be invoked frequently, but case studies have been identified which demonstrate that the existence of such a procedure would have assisted in the quick resolution of difficulties in the past. Other Higher Education Institutions, including Oxford, have such a procedure, and it is vital that the University of Cambridge has one too, so that the rare but difficult case concerning a student’s fitness to study can be resolved appropriately for all concerned.

I commend this Report to the Regent House.

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History), read by the Senior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak briefly to welcome this development. However, the creation of a procedure is only the beginning. The hard part is implementing its provisions and discovering whether they could be improved. Many other universities which have created Fit to Study procedures have run into problems. ‘Fit to Study’ can be a minefield.

The first question is likely to be whether the student is ill or simply behaving badly in a disruptive way, but it is rarely as simple as that. Whether suspension of studies is suggested with a period of time out on health grounds, or as a punishment under a disciplinary procedure, may be a fine point, not only practically speaking but in terms of the underlying principles. It can also lead to reputationally damaging media coverage where a student becomes angry and makes it a ‘story’, as in a case this year covered in the Telegraph, Daily Mail, Mirror, The Sunday Times, Huffington Post, and possibly more.1 Where the presenting problem is thought to be medical, ensuring that disability legislation is complied with can be tricky, as it was in the case just mentioned which hit the headlines.

Where the presenting problem seems to involve culpable 'bad behaviour', the precise relationship of 'fitness to study' procedures to disciplinary procedures needs to be thought through very carefully, and the opportunity is there, now that student disciplinary procedures are being reviewed by the University at the same time, with a Report also for discussion today. I am sure I shall be forgiven for making remarks here which overlap into its territory.

I hope as the proposed changes to the student disciplinary procedures are worked out in more detail the question of college-university 'jurisdiction' will be clarified. Just as in a student complaint the first question is whether the complaint concerns matters which are the College’s responsibility or the responsibility of the University, so when a disciplinary procedure is in prospect the question of jurisdiction has to be settled at the outset. But here, in the proposed Fit to Study procedure, it is assumed that 'College routes for resolution of concerns about fitness to study will usually be followed before the University procedure is invoked'. That will be right if the problem is primarily medical but not necessarily if it concerns – for example – instances of disruptive behaviour in lectures which would properly fall to be considered under the University disciplinary procedure.

This procedure sets out the formal steps which will be taken by the University when there is concern that a student’s behaviour or health is seriously disrupting the welfare or academic progress of the student, or of others in the academic community, or has the potential to do so. (Emphasis added.)

I wonder about that last provision. In what circumstances should a student be subjected to sanctions on the basis of something not yet done? Threatening behaviour is one thing; a disability which may potentially affect academic progress, quite another.

I wonder too about the decision to place this procedure at the level of regulation rather than Ordinance, Special Ordinance, or Statute. Careful attention has been given to ensuring that all appropriate amendments shall be made to existing legislation to provide for referral to the Fitness to Study Panel, but it does not seem clear exactly where the procedure itself is to sit. Oxford made its own procedure a Statute (Statute, XIII, B). A Cambridge regulation could sit under Statute D I, which provides for disciplinary regulations to be created, but this would not solely be a disciplinary regulation.

Report of the General Board, dated 3 June 2015, on the establishment of certain Professorships (Reporter, 6390, 2014–15, p. 623).

Professor G. F. Hayward (Head of Faculty, Faculty of Education), read by Professor K. B. H. Ruthven:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Faculty of Education welcomes this proposal to establish the LEGO Professorship of Play in Education, Development, and Learning. The study of early childhood development is a large and well established field of research, which includes the study of early brain development and functioning, and of early language, cognition, and emotional regulation. Understanding the contribution that play makes to child development is now recognized as a central issue for the field. At the same time, there has been a substantial expansion in pre-school education across the world in recent decades, as the significance of early development has been recognized.

It is intended that the holder of the professorship will lead the work of the recently established Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development, and Learning. Both these developments arise out of a long and fruitful research collaboration between members of the Psychology and Education academic group in the Faculty of Education and the LEGO Foundation. Research already undertaken or in course includes major reviews of literature in the areas of play, learning, and development, and a significant study of early childhood education in disadvantaged areas in South Africa. Further research collaborations are already taking place – or are under discussion – with Psychology (in relation to executive functioning), Psychiatry (in relation to the neuroscience of play), and Engineering (in relation to creative problem-solving in young children and adults).

Professor K. B. H. Ruthven (Faculty of Education):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I would like to associate myself with Professor Hayward’s remarks welcoming this proposal to establish the LEGO Professorship of Play in Education, Development, and Learning.

Report of the General Board, dated 8 June 2015, on Senior Academic Promotions (Reporter, 6390, 2014–15, p. 625).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Second-stage Report of the Council, dated 15 June 2015, on the construction of a new laboratory for the Schools of the Biological Sciences and Clinical Medicine (Reporter, 6391, 2014–15, p. 642).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the General Board, dated 12 June 2015, on the future arrangements for the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) (Reporter, 6391, 2014–15, p. 644).

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History), read by the Junior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) was established on the basis of a Report of May 2000.1 That makes quaint and optimistic reading now:

in the Annual Report of the Council for 1997–98 (Reporter, 1998–99, Special No 8), the Council and the General Board agreed to explore the possibilities for Cambridge of the concept of a 'virtual university' using the World Wide Web, and through their Planning and Resources Committee they have also been considering how these technologies could be used to enhance and extend existing teaching and learning resources within the University.

CARET, it was promised ‘will accomplish this goal’.

Its history has not been uncontentious. It was unavoidably involved in the skirmishes which led to a Topic of Concern Discussion published in the Reporter of 15 July 2009.2 There were consequential changes in 2010.3 Then, as this present Report notes, it ‘became a sub-Department of the University Library in January 2011’. It has a Committee of Management as specified in the Ordinances, which has a duty to make an Annual Report to the University Library Syndicate,4 but it has now been noticed that it has failed to meet at all, and its relationship with the Syndicate has ‘not been formalized’.

That is why the General Board was asked to ‘undertake a review of CARET’. So what did the University get out of its substantial investment in CARET and the efforts of all those people currently listed on its website?5

Whilst a number of innovative user-centric-designed solutions had been developed, not all of these had figured in mainstream development and delivery across the University.

…The Committee concluded that CARET should be suppressed as an independent entity and that, subject to the outcome of the necessary consultation with them, its staff should be reassigned to the UIS.

[mention of] operational services hitherto provided through CARET, including those supporting Open Access….

The remainder of the CARET budget should be allocated to the Digital Transformation Consultancy providing seed funding for user-driven new initiatives.

CARET has not been cheap. It now seems to have quite a number of staff, and the advertisement for a Director of the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies in 2004 spoke of a salary of £51,394, which was a professorial rate at the time.6

It is to be hoped that lessons will be learned.

Joint Report of the Council and the General Board, dated 23 June and 19 June 2015, on the University’s student disciplinary procedures (Reporter, 6392, 2014–15, p. 666).

Professor G. J. Virgo (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education):

Mr Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am Chair of the Review Committee on Student Discipline which recommended to the Council and the General Board the changes to the University’s student disciplinary procedures that are set out in the Report. Before becoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor, I had been one of the Chairs of the Court of Discipline and was Senior Tutor at Downing College, and I am therefore familiar with the current student disciplinary framework, which has been more or less in its current form since 1970. The landscape in higher education has changed significantly since then, not least in the funding of a university education; students who are responsible for paying their own fees have a different outlook from their predecessors and therefore quite rightly complain if reasonable expectations are not met, and can take their complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator if University procedures have been exhausted. A number of recent cases have brought to light a new hybrid: a complaint by a student against the University combined with a disciplinary case by the University against the same student based on the same facts. There are also cases which present as a potential disciplinary matter but might more appropriately be dealt with under another procedure, including the proposed fitness to study procedure which is also being discussed today. The current student disciplinary structure is not designed to deal with such cases, so it needed to be revisited.

This Report is the first part of a two-stage review and prepares the ground for the second stage. Although a large number of amendments have been presented, most of these are relatively minor and address particular issues that have been encountered in using the current procedures. These include an amendment to the current structure to enable the student disciplinary procedures to be stayed if there is also a complaint made under the Student Complaints Procedure. I wish, however, to draw attention to two significant proposals: to grant the University explicit authority to charge a student under the disciplinary procedures in a case of suspected harassment; and to transfer more detailed provisions concerning student discipline out of Statute and into Special Ordinance. I hope the necessity for the University being able to act in a case of harassment is self-evident. This will encompass sexual harassment and will be applicable where a complainant does not wish to make a complaint to the police or where there is likely to be no criminal prosecution. This is a vital reform. Regarding the second significant proposal, the changes will allow the development of a disciplinary framework specifically for students; the Committee plans to bring before the Regent House proposals for a revised framework in the second stage of the review, after consultation on those proposals. That revised framework will be designed to enable swifter resolution of cases, provide better support both to students who are subject to the procedures and those applying them, and more accessible guidance. I commend the Report to the Regent House.

Ms A. S. E. Horgan (Women’s Officer, Cambridge University Students Union):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU) welcomes the proposed changes to the General Regulations for Discipline.

Harassment, in particular sexual harassment, has been an area of serious concern for students. Last year’s Cambridge Speaks Out survey revealed that 77% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment and nearly a third had experienced sexual assault. Across the whole spectrum of sexual violence over 80% of respondents did not report the incident to anyone in an official capacity – demonstrating a lack of faith in reporting mechanisms in the Collegiate University.

Harassment and violence can have a devastating impact on an individual’s mental health and general wellbeing. Students who have experienced harassment need better support and clearer regulations on acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

We all deserve to live lives free from harassment. Students, in particular, women students and other minority students, face harassment – from unwanted comments about their appearance or personal lives, to groping and assault – and these function not just as an individual act of malice but send out a clear structural messaging devaluing the contributions of women within our community, and reinforcing a culture of silence around harassment.

The proposed Regulation 6, concerning harassment, to the General Regulations for Discipline in the Statutes and Ordinances, will make an important difference to students. Often when a student is harassed by a student from a different College there is little that can be done to support them. Hopefully, this regulation would go some way to supporting students in that very common situation. Importantly, adding Regulation 6 sends out a clear message that harassment is unacceptable behaviour and should not be tolerated within the University.

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History), read by the Junior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is clearly timely for the University to review procedures which have a far older history than student complaints procedures but should rightly now be considered alongside them. The University of Cambridge does not come out well in the Annual Letters round of the office of the Independent Adjudicator, now in their fourth year, with the three previous years’ outcomes published.1 Complaints about the handling of disciplinary matters form only a small proportion of the OIA’s caseload but the OIA mentions a number of points relating to disciplinary procedures in the guidance referred to in the Report we are discussing.2 The Competition and Markets Authority guidance does not consider disciplinary procedures but only complaints, which is a structural weakness. This may prove important as the impact of this guidance on the requirements imposed upon universities becomes clearer.3 For all these reasons, better documentation of the number of disciplinary cases being handled through the Court of Discipline or its successor is important, as is acknowledged.

Welcome on the face of it is the proposal to stay any disciplinary process if a student makes a complaint relating to the same facts, though if the stay is to continue until the complaint has run its full course and gone to the OIA and been found there to be justified or not, that could be a matter of years in total. Is this workable? And if the vexed question of what to do if complaint and disciplinary procedure confront one another is being resolved for students, should this not also be revisited for employees where a grievance and a disciplinary process are both in progress in relation to the same matter?

It ought to be obvious that it is a good idea to add provisions about harassment. The wording is of a sort quite usual these days. Harassment is defined as:

conduct towards another person which is reasonably likely to have the effect of (i) violating that other’s dignity or (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for that other.

However this is an area with notorious potential for unfairness to the person accused, perhaps over the tone of voice used in a robust academic argument.

Certainly good is the attempt to ensure that procedures are familiar to all those who will be following them and that there is consistency in the way investigative meetings are conducted. Would that the same might apply in the University’s conduct of its disciplinary and other procedures for employees.

I am however uneasy to read the Committee’s view that a requirement that the student be accompanied is ‘unnecessary’. A student surely must normally have an adviser there, able to help ensure some measure of equality of arms where the disparity of power between student and University is so great and the playing field so far from level?

Why dispense with the wearing of gowns at hearings? Anything which sets an appropriate tone of seriousness is surely protective for all involved.

Coming to the big question whether disciplinary procedures should continue to be ‘juridical’ I wonder whether this is the right word. The point surely is that the process is adversarial and not designed to make room for a commonsense informal discussion or the use of mediation where that may be appropriate. But if the student is accused of a disciplinary offence and denies it, fairness demands a formal adversarial process tested to the University chosen standard of proof, which is beyond reasonable doubt. It would be good if that could be completed more speedily, but not at the expense of fairness. I see that further work on this question is planned so presumably there will be a second Report in due time.

It is not clear why the level of statutory protection for students should be lower than that for eligible employees. The steady demotion of parts of the Statutes to Special Ordinance continues to trouble me. ‘Matters more properly within the purview of the University’ presumably refers to the removal of the final check by the Privy Council which is the safeguard when there is a change of Statute. A change of Special Ordinance could go through – for example – at this time of year when members of the Regent House are much less likely to be about and reading their Reporters with thoroughness every Wednesday

Second-stage Report of the Council, dated 23 June 2015, on the North Range of buildings on the New Museums site (Reporter, 6392, 2014–15, p. 679).

Professor G. J. Virgo (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education I strongly support plans for the development of the new Student Services Centre. Students are at the heart of the Collegiate University and the University is committed to ensuring the highest quality provision for our students, which complements the support available in Colleges.

Under these plans key University student support functions will be brought together in a single building. Current accommodation for these student services is scattered across Cambridge, with many units in unsuitable and inaccessible accommodation. The North Range of buildings will provide proper disabled access, modern office accommodation, and improved examination halls, the latter forming an essential part of the strategy to ensure that appropriate provision is made for examinations in the 21st century. The space in the Student Services Centre has been carefully designed to allow flexible and efficient use throughout the year, and to allow services to develop over time. Experience at many other universities has shown that co-location of student services has significantly improved their visibility and accessibility. Co-location will also provide significant opportunities for collaboration between different units leading to an enhanced service to students, and to improved operational efficiency.

I commend the Report to the Regent House