Call for Keele inquiry

February 12, 1999

Academics at Keele University are demanding an internal inquiry into the controversial sale of rare mathematics books for Pounds 1 million to a book dealer.

They argue that the university broke its own statutes when it failed to refer back to its senate a decision to overrule senate members' objections to the sale.

They are warning that if the university does not agree to a full inquiry they may call for a vote of no confidence in vice-chancellor Janet Finch and other senior managers. The demands could be taken to the university court, Keele's top forum for appeals and complaints.

Two out of four of Keele's mega-faculties - sciences and humanities - have voted in favour of an inquiry.

They are expected to be joined by the social sciences faculty when it meets next week.

The sale last year of the collection of early manuscripts donated to Keele by the late civil servant Charles Turner, which included books from Sir Isaac Newton's library, caused outrage among mathematicians and librarians across the country.

Last month The THES revealed that international book dealer Simon Finch had applied for an export licence for valuable items from the collection.

The university has insisted all along that it had understood the collection would be kept in the United Kingdom and not split up, and that the decision to sell was taken after proper consultation.

But academics organising the inquiry campaign have prepared a discussion paper for senate members that suggests the university may have failed to follow its own decision-making regulations.

The paper points out that Keele's council overruled a senate vote against the sale, and action was then taken without referring back to senate.

This was despite a Keele statute that states that "any act of the senate which is amended by council shall be referred again to the senate for consideration and report before being carried into effect".

They are hoping the senate will debate the issue when it meets on February 24 and put its weight behind the call for an inquiry.

One senior academic who is coordinating the campaign said: "It is possible there are enough people steamed up over this that the university will find it very difficult to resist an inquiry. There are many questions that need to be answered."

A Keele spokesman said: "Senate held a lengthy debate on this issue before the sale took place. If members wish to debate it again, it may appear on a future agenda."

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