Benign dictators need academics

October 27, 1994

Thank you for your leader "University Democracy" (THES, October 21), referring to the colloquium held that day by the Council for Academic Autonomy. The purpose of the council is to ensure that there is public debate and that in that debate the need to protect academic freedom is central.

May I therefore follow up some of the points you make? First, my letter of September 20, to Gillian Shephard has still not been answered or even acknowledged (open government?). But it will be. Second, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals did indeed give a "dusty answer" to my question as to whether they should concern themselves with univeristy constitutions. (They feel it inappropriate to have any views). I have written back asking what the Jarratt Report was, if not (as Professor John Griffiths recalled in our colloquium) an extremely damaging intervention in internal structures.

You yourself comment in you leader, "Furthermore he (myself) is simply unrealistic if he supposes that a university can survive in today's competitive climate if no decision is to be taken without the consent of every academic". I did not say that, any more than if I supported holding a referendum I would be arguing that the outcome would have to be unanimous. I do argue that in every university every established member of academic staff should have clearly-defined voting rights and responsibilities relating to decisions made by the university as a whole.

The academic staff at Oxford and Cambridge have always had such rights. Do international assessments and comparisons suggest that these two universities have failed to "survive in today's competitive climate"? What is it about our colleagues in other universities that makes it unrealistic even to discuss whether they should have similar rights and responsibilities?

FERGUS MILLAR Chairman of Council for Academic Autonomy

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