Academic freedom on the line!

It looks like we won! According to UCU, we beat Grace 1 1119-491 and Grace 2 988-625. This protects academic freedom in Cambridge. The official result should appear in the Reporter on Wednesday.

For the detailed background, see our list of Frequently Asked Questions, our Flysheet, the articles in the Sunday Times and the Cambridge News, and Mary Beard's column..

On 24 November and, 1 December 2009, there was a very lively Discussion in the Regent House of the latest attempt by the authorities to change our disciplinary, dismissal, and grievance procedures. This had only minor changes since the previous report was discussed in the Regent House on the 3rd of February (see also the coverage in the Guardian). Since then there has been a "consultation"; it turned out that the Old Schools did not even keep records of what people said during the consultation meetings. Opposition is mounting rather than fading away as time passes. The current version, which is being put to the ballot, has only minor changes since then; it drew a dissenting note from six Members of Council – the largest number ever.

Like the original version, it contains a number of unpleasant proposals. For example, it will move some of our academic freedom guarantees from our statutes (which are hard to change – it takes a vote of the Regent House, plus approval by the Privy Council) to a Code of Practice (which can be changed much more easily). The main thrust of it is to make redundancies easier, of both academic and other staff; the Old Schools are keen to acquire such powers in advance of likely public spending cuts. However it's bundled up with a number of other changes, such as some streamlining of grievance procedures, into so complex a bundle that few people will want to slog through the detail. While some of these reforms would be welcome in isolation, the whole bundle will make it much easier for managers to sack difficult academics – such as people whose opinions annoy funders.

See also my article in the Oxford magazine and the Unauthorised History of Cambridge University.

There's a new blog on The Tardis in the Combination Room by Christopher Forsyth, following the story of how the Old Schools has trashed one of the university's great rooms, and resorted to all manner of underhand tactics to frustrate opposition by the Regent House.


Governance Ballot, February 2008

We won a vote to ensure that external members of Council, our governing body, will in future be nominated by a committee that will be largely elected by us rather than appointed by the Vice-Chancellor. The authorities were trying to undermine self-governance by increasing the number of external members; this vote took the wind out of their sails.

Events in 2007 at Oxford (see BBC and Guardian reports) led the Old Schools to try to increase the number of external members of Council here. We resisted this on principle. Cambridge is a self-governing community of scholars and should stay that way, despite bullying from HEFCE. Oxford also eventually saw off the attempt at centralisation.

We prepared two options for the governance ballot. The first flysheet (which faailed) asked Regents to vote against the proposed increase of the number of externals from two to four; the second flysheet (which succeeded) asked Regents to decide that external members should in future be nominated by a committee largely elected by the Regent House. There is also a more detailed flysheet that contains the detailed reasoning, and was drafted with the help of colleagues from the Law Faculty.

The establishment argued that we dare not stand up to HEFCE for fear of having our money cut. So I wrote to John Denham after he was appointed Secretary of State. His response was `Cambridge is and will remain an autonomous, self-governing organisation and will be free to decide for itself how to resolve the issues you mention taking account of the global competition it faces.' John Denham's letter is here. The University's constitutional expert, Professor Anthony Edwards, also wrote an open letter to the Master of Clare about the errors and improprieties of the Vice-Chancellor's proposals and campaign.

We won! External members of Council will henceforth be nominated by a committee that will be largely elected by the Regent House.


Council elections, 2006

Two CCF candidates - Ross Anderson and Stephen Cowley - topped the poll in our respective classes in the last Council election..

Here is Ross Anderson's election statement.

Five years ago, I founded and led a campaign to oppose the previous Vice- Chancellor's policy on intellectual property. Even though we did not get everything we campaigned for, the outcome was worth the effort. Scholars in the arts and humanities now own the copyrights in popular books they write; scientists and technologists similarly own the software they write; and if you patent an invention, then you can develop it yourself rather than giving it to Cambridge Enterprise. We thus face many fewer restrictions on disseminating and developing our ideas.

However, the incentives for centralisation and regulation will remain, both locally and nationally. We need strong academic representation on the Council to counter them.

The current governance tussles at Oxford are reflected in proposals that Cambridge add more external members to Council. I believe we must remain a self-governing community of scholars. This means that members in classes b and c - the members whom we Regents elect from among our number- should remain the majority on Council.

External threats to our autonomy also bear watching. My own field, cryptography and information security, was the target of heavy-handed attempts at government regulation during the 1990s; it was this that forced me to take notice of politics. Since 9/11, security regulation has become a hazard to many more researchers. But it is possible to resist. For example, I worked with UUK, the AUT and the Royal Society to get the House of Lords to insert Section 8 into the Export Control Act 2002. This exempts scientific research from export controls on technology transfers; without it, many scientists who collaborate with colleagues overseas would have been committing a crime unless we got an export license first.

As well as resisting tactical challenges to academic freedom, at both local and national levels, there are strategic issues to consider. Since Cambridge broke the link between teaching officers and college fellowships a generation ago, we have been able to adapt more quickly to opportunities than Oxford. However, now that fewer and fewer academics hold college fellowships, there are fewer of us involved in running things. This growing democratic deficit concerns me. It has both short-term and long-term effects. In the short term, we get administrative systems that are hard for academics to use - because few academics are involved in specifying them. In the long term, the loss of academic involvement in governance is likely to affect the very nature of our community. We risk losing a critical part of what makes Cambridge special - and successful.

I worked in industry until I was 35, then returned to do a PhD. I joined the academic staff as a lecturer in 1995 and became Professor of Security Engineering in 2003. I appreciate how working here differs from working in industry, and want us to build on our strengths.


Here is Stephen Cowley's election web page.


For more on the Campaign for Cambridge Freedoms, and more links, see our campaign web page on the IP issue, our old web page, and our page on the IP ballot result.

Show your support by linking to us at: http://www.freecambridge.org