Rebels push for vote on Oxford v-c

February 3, 2006

Senior figures within Oxford University are considering a vote of no confidence in the vice-chancellor, to reflect continuing opposition to his management style, The Times Higher can reveal.

New Zealander John Hood, appointed vice-chancellor in 2003, is the first outsider to head the collegiate university in 900 years. While Dr Hood has some strong support, his proposed governance reforms and the way he has made other changes have been highly controversial. Some academics have accused him of acting like a chief executive and trampling on centuries of tradition.

A senior Oxford scientist told The Times Higher : "One scenario would be to collect a number of signatures to debate the motion that this Congregation has no faith in the vice-chancellor. His position would then be untenable.

If Hood continues to be inflexible and doesn't understand how this place runs, I don't see any alternative."

Peter Oppenheimer, president of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, said: "It is conceivable that there will be a vote of no confidence. You wouldn't think that one individual could cause so much divisiveness and such an unpleasant atmosphere in such a short time."

He added: "It is very much a personality issue. If there wasn't the sense that he is trying to control everything and trample on Oxford's traditional way of taking decisions, what has to be done now would not be done."

A senior college figure said: "It is probably right that there will be a push for a vote. But Council should discuss this without Dr Hood present.

If the view is negative, he should fall on his sword."

Dr Hood's proposals for a more corporate style of governance sparked a bitter dispute last year, but the university insisted that this had died down.

A spokesperson said: "Today's Oxford is a vibrant, exciting, successful centre of teaching, learning and research, where the vice-chancellor is taking forward plans up to the year 2010 on the basis of wide support."

However, the rebels have been further inflamed by the appointment of Julie Maxton, dean of law at Dr Hood's old university Auckland, who becomes registrar in March. Professor Maxton has no previous experience as a registrar, but was the unanimous choice of a committee that included Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University.

Mr Oppenheimer said: "Many of us believe that Hood thinks of the new governance structure as a lever by which he can increase his own power, cutting out insiders and bringing in outsiders who will do his bidding. The new registrar is a case in point."

David Palfreyman, bursar of New College, called for an inquiry into the selection process. He said: "Other UK universities have a detailed procedure for appointing to the key post of registrar in their statutes - a crucial constitutional check and balance - but we have one line leaving it all to Council."

Oxford said the registrar post was advertised widely, and headhunters made a global search.

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