Oxford votes on promotions system

March 17, 1995

A postal vote on Oxford University plans for a promotions system that would create hundreds of new professors and readerships has divided dons. The university is counting the vote today. The proposals, discussed last month by the university's Congregation, represent a departure from traditional practice, which limited the number of professorial chairs and shunned what some saw as the academic "rat race" developing elsewhere.

In the 20 years before 1989 there were fewer than one promotion a year to a professorship and three to reader. In 1989, 12 professors were appointed under a scheme by which the stipend of the individual was brought to the level of reader or professor.

In 1990, were promoted to professor and 58 to reader in this way. Last year 19 new readers were appointed after a proposed professorial exercise was switched into a readership promotion. But pressure has been growing for rewards and titles for staff of high national and international status.

Under the plans, which received overwhelming support from Congregation, academics would be able to nominate themselves for promotion annually to go before an independent appointments committee. There would eventually be no limit on the number of promotions per year, although it is thought some "restraint" would be necessary in the first few years.

It was expected the scheme would spawn about 200 new readerships and create up to 100 new professors.

But the titles would be honorific, because the university would not be able to afford to increase salaries or make significant changes to the duties of staff.

John Peach, chairman of Oxford's general board, said a backlog had built up of staff who deserved promotion but had little prospect of winning it under the old system.

"In the past it has not been possible to address the backlog because of the cost implications. Under this scheme, it would be possible to give promotion to everyone who deserved it," he said.

But others thought the move to offer a title without extra money or a change in duties was an empty gesture. Peter Mirfield, a lecturer in law and a fellow at Jesus College, said: "I think it demeans us to compete for only the `gong' of a professorship or readership. We should be competing in the market of ideas, not of titles."

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