Excuses for Cambridge University's belligerent decision to reject the independent mediation of QC Sir Brian Neill in its long battle over academic promotions with history lecturer Gill Evans were flowing thick and fast at a meeting of the university's parliament last week. Sir Brian, brother of the chairman of the Committee of Standards in Public Life, made recommendations for what he described as "a fair and sensible" way forward for the bitter dispute.
Dr Evans agreed to sign up straight away and withdraw all her litigation against the university. In return, the university would set up an independent panel to review her claims for promotion and "acknowledge that Dr Evans's aims are appreciated and that her untiring work has acted as a valuable stimulus for reform... as a gesture of goodwill". But Sir Brian's recommended gesture was not forthcoming. A transcript of the meeting reveals why. For June Whitehead, a council member and Association of University Teachers official, said Dr Evans did not deserve the acknowledgement because "I do not believe her work has been in any way valuable" and she has "behaved very badly". For Professor D. H. Mellor, a member of Cambridge's general board, Sir Brian's recommendations were an "ill-judged and ineffective attempt at appeasement". For R. Bowring, Sir Brian's report was "full of weasel words". But perhaps the most telling reason for the rejection of Sir Brian's report was given by Dr C. Morley, a council member. He took exception to Sir Brian's "superfluous flannelly phrases about goodwill". Back to mudslinging as usual, then.