Bitter medicine

February 28, 2003

Reform of Cambridge University governance has not failed, as Gordon Johnson implies, through dons' narrow-minded obstinacy ("Stalled reforms are not cause for celebration", THES , February 21). The proposals were voted down mainly because they were ill-conceived and badly drafted.

First, the proposal for an "executive" vice-chancellor, for example, provided no mechanism to resolve conflicts between vice-chancellor and council, nor to remove an unsatisfactory v-c. Another proposal, likewise defeated, aimed to restrict discussions.

Second, the council's steam-rollering attempts met with protest. It had to back down from its first call for a vote over the Christmas break and its refusal to accept amendments in contravention of university statutes.

Third, the proposals came just after the university had, quite rightly, rejected a council proposal to amend the statutes ad personam to enable two principal officers, effectively made redundant by internal reorganisation, to keep their jobs and stipends without obviously useful duties. This move naturally made people wonder if the council was competent to propose any reform that could be taken seriously.

Finally, the proposals emanated from a management that - with the new Capsa accounting system fiasco and a massive budget deficit - is widely perceived to have run Cambridge into serious trouble. When you feel that it is the doctor who has made you ill, you do not trust the medicine he prescribes for you. Those behind the rejected proposals failed to explain how they would save us from future Capsas and budget deficits. No surprise, then, that we refuse to take Johnson's medicine, despite his warnings that important people will be cross if we don't.

Further proposals for the reform of governance in Cambridge should come from a body independent of council.

John Spencer
Chairman, Board of Scrutiny
Cambridge University

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