FoI documents reveal 'unfair promotion criteria'

October 23, 2008

Academic promotions at the University of Cambridge are being decided on the basis of a subjective, unfair system, it has been claimed.

Biochemistry lecturer Nick Gay told a meeting of the university's Senate House that data he had obtained from his department using the Freedom of Information Act showed that promotion decisions were being made according to criteria unknown to the candidates.

Following an unsuccessful application for promotion this year, Dr Gay used the Act to discover the rankings and evaluations of the other candidates in the biological and medical sciences department.

He said that he was surprised to find that "essentially all" of the applicants had been judged to have met all of the official criteria for promotion - "indicating that all applicants should have advanced", he said.

This meant the criteria were redundant, Dr Gay said, and had been replaced by "an opaque and secretive secondary system of ranking".

"It is this unspecified procedure that actually determines who is promoted and who is not. Decisions about promotion are no longer being made in relation to a common set of relevant criteria, but instead by subjective and arbitrary assessments, the nature of which is not known to the candidates."

Dr Gay was speaking at a debate on this year's report from the board of scrutiny, the university's internal standards and financial watchdog.

The board recommended that procedures relating to academic promotions be enshrined in the university's statutes and ordinances.

But Dr Gay said that the general board, which is responsible for the academic and educational policy, had not suggested that the criteria for promotion should be listed in the statutes - perhaps because "the criteria that really count are either secret or do not exist at all".

Cambridge declined to comment.

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