Cambridge lecturer takes High Court stand

May 9, 1997

A CAMBRIDGE lecturer is seeking to take the university to the High Court for allegedly breaching its statutes governing the promotion of academic staff.

Gill Evans, a history lecturer and public policy secretary of the Council for Academic Freedom and Standards, has applied for leave for a judicial review in the High Court.

She accuses Cambridge of ultra vires breaches of its promotions procedures. Dr Evans is embroiled in a long-running campaign against the university's "outdated" promotions procedure and policy. Last March she said that the university was contravening its mission statement by denying staff legitimate promotion opportunities, after spending Pounds 1.2 million drafting in stars for the research assessment exercise.

The issue came to a head last week in a heated debate in the university senate.

Dr Evans has now mounted a legal challenge. "This affects every promotion candidate at the University of Cambridge and the whole promotions business in the academic world," she said. "It is also a matter of public concern, because it involves the distribution of public money. It is a test case."

Dr Evans argues that David Livesey, secretary of the general board of the faculties at Cambridge, acted beyond his powers and thus invalidated all of the latest round of promotions decisions. Dr Livesey, as secretary general to the promotions committee, made managerial and academic decisions beyond his remit. "He cannot have had authority to give instructions to a committee of which he is not a member but only the secretary," Dr Evans told the senate: "On that count alone he certainly acted ultra vires."

Letters that Dr Evans cited in senate show that Dr Livesey instructed the promotions committee to "disregard" evidence in support of promotion applications submitted after the July 31 deadline - six months before the committee met to consider the applications.

"This is unreasonable," Dr Evans told the senate. "Would the secretary general tell the committee to disregard the fact that someone had won a Nobel prize after July 31?" In defence of Dr Livesey, general board member and professor Hugh Mellor told the senate that "none of the matters that were presented to us (by Dr Evans) gave me any reason to doubt the propriety and good faith of Dr Livesey's actions.

A Cambridge University spokeswoman said that the university had to stick to the specified deadline. "I understand that Dr Evans's promotion papers were rejected because she sent them in too late. The university has to stick to its rules and has backed the action of Dr Livesey. The promotions procedures are becoming more open, with clearer feedback. Dr Livesey has spent a couple of years on the issue to ensure there is the widest consensus. With limited resources the university cannot reward everyone. There are always going to be applicants who will be disappointed."

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