Contracts 'threaten academic freedom'

May 29, 1998

Proposed new staff contracts at Cambridge University will destroy academic freedom and shatter the unique historical structure of the institution, according to campaigners.

A review of the university's contracts is under way to "make contractual arrangements more transparent and to spell out the relationship between academic staff and their heads of department", the university said this week.

But the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards said that the proposed contracts, which would be applied to all new academic staff and to anyone who is promoted, would be in breach of academic freedom enshrined in the Education Reform Act of 1988.

Gill Evans, a leader of CAFAS and a member of Cambridge University's governing council, has seen drafts of the new contracts. She said that they would enable departmental heads and faculty board chairmen to dictate what their staff research and even where they publish it.

"The whole basis of this university is collegiality," Dr Evans said. "All of the academics here are equal. But there is a risk that we are taken over by managerialism for ever."

In science, Cambridge, in line with most institutions, already has a firm structure of line management. "But up to now," Dr Evans said, "those of us in humanities have never had a boss. It is absolutely iniquitous for the chair of my faculty board to tell me what I can and cannot publish."

The university insists that the new measures do not represent a radical departure. David Livesey, secretary to Cambridge's general board, said:

"The intention is simply to revise the contracts, as one has to do, to ensure they are up to date with employment legislation." He said the changes amounted only to a review of the wording. "We are not seeking to change the essence of this university," he said.

Dr Livesey conceded, however, that centralised management, which has long been alien to Oxbridge, was becoming more important.

"Cambridge is a corporate body," he said. "Academics, as employees, have a responsibility to the corporate body, and I think that needs to be understood."

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