Cambridge bars outsiders

February 4, 2000

Students and dons have closed ranks against proposals to allow outsiders with real-world experience on to Cambridge University's executive council. One angry academic said the plan would destroy Cambridge's ancient status as a "self-governing community of scholars".

Cambridge had proposed to reconstitute its council, the elected governing body, to include two members "external to the university" as part of a modernisation drive.

The reform was recommended by a committee set up by the council to examine the implications of Lord Nolan's report into standards in public life. The council accepted that including external members would "improve its functioning and the contribution which it makes to the good government of the university".

The council, defined in the statutes as "the principal executive and policy-making body of the university", comprises 19 elected members of the university, including four college heads, four professors or readers, four other academic staff and three students. The vice-chancellor chairs it in an ex officio capacity.

The committee proposal was that two external members be appointed to the council on the recommendation of an advisory committee. The posts would be advertised and appointed.

"These members would bring an external perspective and external expertise to university business," the council said in a report.

But in a debate last week, dons lined up to criticise the plans. One Cambridge MA, T. N. Millner, cautiously welcomed the drive to bring "differing perspectives" to the council.

But he said: "I am concerned to see that the report proposes that the new external members shall be appointed on the recommendation of a committee ... this will introduce an unelected element to the council for the first time."

Mr Millner was supported by another MA, A. P. Connell.

Chris Morley, fellow of Trinity College, expressed similar concern, arguing that the move would "put an end to the university's status as a self-governing body".

He said he was concerned that the plans to bring in unelected external members would be at the expense of the current consultative committee, previously used as a less formal source of outside input. This would be abolished.

Dr Morley said: "In the absence of that committee, will those who desire special representation of the external world in the university's affairs feel that only two members of council, however carefully chosen, will be adequate?"

Other modernising plans were welcomed. The committee has proposed including an elected member of the unestablished short-term contract staff and a member of the assistant staff on the

council.

Julian Horton, from the faculty of music, said: "All universities rely heavily on post-docs - very few, however, acknowledge their existence outside the laboratory or library."

The Council said it would "consider what, if any, further action should be taken in the light of the remarks made".

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