Statute U – Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What's all this fuss about?

    The university administration wants to make it much easier to make staff redundant and to sack staff for disciplinary matters.

  2. So how will it become easier to sack people?

    At present, university officers can only be sacked for ‘conduct of an immoral, scandalous, or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment’. This will be replaced by ‘gross misconduct’ which is expanded into a vague list of disciplinary offences including ‘unreasonable refusal to carry out a reasonable instruction’ and the catch-all ‘any other act of serious misconduct’.

  3. And that's going to harm academic freedom?

    Absolutely. The guidance even adds a list of ‘responsibilities’ to our rights. This will give plenty of ammunition to a Head of Department who wants to get rid of a staff member who has inconvenient views. Really bright and creative people – like Newton, Darwin or Dirac – are often a bit odd, even eccentric, and ‘don't fit in’. They may not care for departmental ‘responsibilities’ like sitting on committees. What's more, this list of reasons to sack people is in a Code of Practice, which can be altered by Council at any time. Academic freedom must be a matter for our Statutes, which are the University's constitution. We must not remove the checks and balances enshrined in the current Statute U.

  4. What about redundancy?

    The new proposals will give the university administration a free hand. At present the authorities have to win two votes in the Regent House to make academic staff redundant. They first have to win a vote on the principle – say that the Maths Faculty should be cut by 50%. Then once a list of people have been selected for redundancy, they have to win a vote on that too. The first vote is to ensure that there's an academic or financial case to answer, and the second vote is to ensure that they justify the actual selection (for example, if they're going to sack all the pure mathematicians). Under the new proposals they just have to win a single vote for a ‘redundancy situation’ – then the authorities can decide the scope and extent. What's more, the appeal process is much curtailed.

  5. Surely a Russell Group university wouldn't close down a core department, or a discipline within one?

    King's College London has decided to close computational linguistics, and Cambridge itself tried to close Architecture. On that occasion, the Vice-Chancellor backed off; that difficulty may have helped motivate the current proposals. Instead of an extended process, during which the authorities have to justify their plans in detail, we will have something much more summary.

  6. How did this come about?

    The authorities had been considering reform of the statute for years, and this may have got fresh impetus from the fiasco with Architecture. The proposals have now gone round our democratic process three times.

    1. Initial proposals appeared in December 2008, followed by a Discussion in the Regent House in February 2009, at which Regents were not impressed (see also the Guardian).
    2. There was then a "consultation" at which officials talked about the proposed reforms at public meetings; it turned out that they did not bother to keep records of what people said at these "consultation" meetings. They then presented a revised proposal with only minor changes; that was followed by a Discussion in the Regent House on 24 November and 1 December 2009 at which the proposals met with fierce opposition.
    3. The current version, which is being put to the ballot, has again had only minor changes since then; it drew a dissenting note from six Members of Council – the largest number ever.

  7. But the authorities say it's necessary to overhaul our grievance procedures.

    Few people would object to that; it can take too long for grievances to be heard. However, that's just one small aspect of what's being proposed here – perhaps the sugar on the pill. In fact, splitting the proposals into three sections would have made for a much easier passage through the Regent House. There's no need to bundle them together except to push redundancies through on the coat-tails of dissatisfaction about grievance procedures.

  8. So the authorities are being tactical about this?

    Yes, and another example is that we're offered two variants of the proposals to vote on. This is an old ploy to confuse people and split the vote. We must vote no to both variants. For yet another example of official manipulation of the Regent House, read The Tardis in the Combination Room.

  9. The authorities also say we have to reform our rules so that all staff are treated alike.

    The new proposals certainly don't do that. While the Regent House has to vote for a ‘redundancy situation’ before it can start making academics redundant, ordinary staff will have no such protection. And these aren't just manual staff either – the people who will get no protection are those who are not entitled to sabbatical leave. Thus, for example, language teaching officers will lose their employment protection, even although they work in almost all other respects as lecturers – they are hired by the Faculty Appointments Committee and even act as Chairmen of Examiners. Other affected staff range from librarians through computer officers to administrators.

  10. The authorities say that our disciplinary procedures need to be updated, and that our old-fashioned institutions such as the Court of Discipline are no longer fit for purpose.

    This is completely refuted by the former University Advocate, Christopher Forsyth.

  11. Where can I find out more?

    For the big picture, have a look at my article in the Oxford magazine. For the detail, here is a flysheet we wrote making the case against reform, which was signed by a large number of Regents. There's also a student flysheet. There are four flysheets that have been circulated in favour of the proposals: they are here, here, here and here. Finally, we wrote a rebuttal flysheet that deals with their arguments, while the Council exercised its right to the last word by issuing its own response here.

  12. What can I do about this?

    Vote Non Placet (No) to both proposals!

For more on the Campaign for Cambridge Freedoms, and more links, see our web page. See also the Unauthorised History of Cambridge University.

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