November 23, 2001

Evans snubbed again
Cambridge University will face a new High Court challenge to its procedures for promoting academic staff following its renewed decision to deny lecturer Gill Evans a promotion.

The university's general board rejected Dr Evans's bid for a professorship this month, despite the fact she was put forward for the prestigious post by her faculty peers who said the merits of her case were outstanding. Dr Evans believes that her campaigns to improve Cambridge's governance, which have brought her into conflict with many of her peers, have meant there can never be a properly independent consideration of her case.

In May this year, her peers on the history faculty promotions committee awarded her top marks in all promotion criteria, recognising "clear evidence" of original research and intellectual leadership. Despite this, and despite the university's formal assertions that promotions should be determined entirely on academic merit, Dr Evans's promotion was blocked at the final stage by the general board.

Minutes of the general board promotions committee meetings show that several members declared an interest in relation to Dr Evans's case. At a meeting on July 26, five members declared an interest, but only one withdrew from considering the case.

Dr Evans has turned again to the High Court to challenge the decision, after winning leave for judicial review in 1998. "The university has given me no choice but to go back to court when it behaves so irrationally," she said.

Peter Clark, master of Trinity College and former chair of the history faculty promotions committee, which considered Dr Evans's case in the past, said that it was not uncommon for the general board, as the final arbiter, to overrule recommendations by the faculty committees.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he said: "Year by year and faculty by faculty, a relatively large number of applications get through the first round and a significantly smaller number get through the final round. There is surely nothing odd or suspicious about this, except... that misleading expectations may have been generated about the likely outcome."

Hefce's avowed 'openness' is questioned  
The Higher Education Funding Council for England's commitment to openness and accountability "that builds the trust and respect of all our stakeholders" has been questioned.
Anthony Beck, a former university law lecturer, believes Hefce sought to mislead him when it doctored a document relating to his complaints against the council.

Mr Beck was unhappy when Hefce declined to investigate concerns he had raised about his former employer, London Guildhall University. Hefce commissioned external consultants to examine his complaints about its handling of his case.

The consultants ratified Hefce's decision not to investigate, but Mr Beck was alarmed not just about the findings of the report, but about the format of the report itself. Its contents page indicated that it consisted of 14 pages, and its pagination matched this. But the report's cover sheet included the line: "This report contains 16 pages." Mr Beck was concerned that a flawed attempt had been made to disguise the fact that two pages had been removed from the report.

When he took his complaint to a higher level, his concerns increased. In a bundle of documents forwarded to him by the council as part of his appeal to its formal complaints panel, a new version of the report emerged.

The contents page of the new version included two sections deleted from the first version - one relating to the "professional judgement" of the auditor who first handled Mr Beck's complaints, and an another section called "The November 2000 cyclical audit visit", relating to a Hefce university audit.

Hefce declined to comment. It is understood that the council maintains it was correct to conceal the two pages from Mr Beck as they were justifiably confidential.

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