Oxford colleges seek to curb v-c

November 25, 2005

Oxford University's colleges and subject divisions have called for a tight rein to be kept on the powers of Oxford's vice-chancellor and senior management team, in response to proposals to reform the way the university is governed, writes Tony Tysome.

Many who have responded to a revised governance "green paper" are demanding the creation of a scrutiny committee to keep a close eye on senior managers' decisions and actions - a move that is dismissed as unnecessary by the consultation paper.

Responses to the paper received by last Friday's deadline, which have yet to be made public by the university, indicate that many colleges and subject heads are uneasy with proposals that could hand more unchecked powers over to vice-chancellor John Hood and his pro vice-chancellors.

Some voice concerns about the way in which the make-up of a proposed new ruling university council - with 15 members including eight external representatives - would be decided.

Direct calls for the introduction of a scrutiny committee are made in responses from Somerville, St Peter's, St Edmund's, and Magdalene colleges.

Exeter College also calls for independent checks on management powers, commenting: "Our main doubts concern the potential for centralising executive power and the inadequate way in which central management is to be scrutinised and restrained."

All Souls College says it is likely that the "very limited discussion" of the role and prerogatives of the vice-chancellor and his team in the redrafted paper "is intended to secure as broad and unobstructed a remit for executive action as is possible", and it asks: "Are we right to proceed along this path?"

The university's division of mathematical and physical sciences says it is concerned that the paper is silent on the role of the pro vice-chancellors in relation to the division heads, and is "somewhat alarmed at the prospect of any further control or management of departmental research activities beyond those already in place".

Lady Margaret Hall expresses "serious concern" that proposals to elect members of a new university council from candidates pre-selected by a nominating committee could lead to a "self-perpetuating council".

The responses will now be considered by a university working party, which will then produce a "white paper" on the plans, expected early in the new year.

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