Hood loses Oxford vote

December 1, 2006

Oxford University academics this week voted decisively to scrap their vice-chancellor's controversial plans to reform the way the ancient institution is run.

The dons' parliament, Congregation, voted by 730 to 456 to abandon proposals that would have ended an 800-year-old tradition of academic self-governance, in a serious blow to vice-chancellor John Hood.

But Dr Hood's reforms could be saved. The vice-chancellor's supporters have until December 6 to call for a postal vote of the full 3,500 members of Congregation. Just over 1,100 members were present at this week's vote.

Andrew Dilmot, principal of St Hugh's College and a member of the University Council who supports the reforms, said: "We have been at this for two years and today has been an important part of it.

"I am disappointed by the number of people who turned up, and the outcome. We now need to reflect on how to go forward. A postal vote might be a route. Only about a third of the electorate has expressed an opinion."

The earliest deadline, under the procedures, for a ballot, is December 14, with a result possible within a few days of that.

Dr Hood had proposed to reform the University Council, the executive body of the university, by replacing its 25 members, four of whom are university outsiders, with seven external and seven internal members, plus the chancellor as chairman.

This would effectively give outsiders the majority on council, taking decisions out of the hands of elected Oxford dons.

Academics packed the Sheldonian Theatre and overflow buildings for a debate on the plans, which lasted almost three hours. The proposals were published in a white paper in May this year, the culmination of a two-year review of Oxford's governance.

Critics said that Oxford management had provoked a brain drain and replaced "democracy with oligarchy".

Nicholas Bamforth, a lecturer in law and member of the University Council, said: "We are very pleased with this result, which shows how unhappy the majority were with the white paper. The margin is significant and better than we expected.

But there were no calls for Dr Hood's resignation. "Its our job to work together now," said Professor Bamforth.

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