Academics lose majority on Cambridge council

March 20, 2008

Proposals to double the number of outsiders on the University of Cambridge's governing council were voted through this week.

The academics, college heads and senior university officers who make up the university's 3,800-strong Regent House voted 711 to 344 in favour of having four external members, instead of two, on the council. The council's total membership will now rise from 22 to 24.

The outcome, which critics say will erode the university's status as a self-governing community of scholars, means that ordinary academics will no longer elect a majority of the council's membership. Dons will now elect 12 of the 24 members, instead of 12 of 22 members, with the vice-chancellor holding a deciding vote.

A second vote ensured that academics will be responsible for electing the members of the committee that will nominate the external members.

This change was proposed as a safeguard to academic self-governance. It was put forward under a provision in the university's statutes that allows academics, if they have the support of 50 or more members of Regent House, to propose new legislation to be put to a ballot of all Regent House members.

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering and a member of council, said that across the university a "ruling elite" chose members of various committees, which has led to a "self-perpetuating clique".

"That system is not acceptable when it comes to the core governance function," he said. "This poison pill will ensure that appointment of externals is wrested away from the patronage system."

Cambridge, like the University of Oxford, is under pressure from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to be more accountable to the public.

Academics at Oxford, which already has four external council members, last year rejected reforms that would have led to a majority of outside members.

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