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The Joint Distance Learning MA in Town and Country Planning: The Management Board

Introduction

This qualification was approved by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) for the first time in 1995. This followed a predecessor undergraduate diploma approved by the RTPI in June 1984 and by the Open University for a BA (Open) in the same year, although in its initial form this proved financially unviable. These have been the only planning qualifications available to students who cannot take day release so the scheme has been a monopoly. It is managed by the JDL Management Board on which all five universities are represented.
The Management Board’s terms of reference

Information provided by one of the members and other evdience raised questions about its terms of reference. The Council asked the RTPI for these in 2005 but was referred to the Course Director, John Allinson at the University of the West of England.

Therefore the Council wrote, under the Freedom of Information Act, to the Course Director on 14 December 2005. A reply in 20 days, as required by the Act, was not forthcoming so a reminder was sent 17 February 2006. Mr Allinson replied on 23 February 2006, enclosing a copy of the General Guide for the degree and a paper setting out the contractual and operating agreements reached by the Management Board. So these did not provide the information on how the Management Board was approved.

The Council had to write again on 15 March but its letter was passed to UWE’s Clerk to the Governors, Katie Owen-Jones. Her reply of 11 April 2006 stated that “The Management Board was established by arrangements approved by the University’s Academic Board under its responsibilities set out in the Articles of Government of the University made under the Education Reform Act 1988 as amended”.

However, neither the legal instrument setting up the Board nor the minutes of the Academic Board, was provided. The Council replied on 22 April seeking these documents. A holding reply of 3 May 2006 acknowledged that its letter had been received on 25 April and that there would be a reply as soon as possible but one had not been received by July so a formal complaint was made to the Information Commissioner on 14 July. This eventually led to a reply from Ms Owen-Jones of 10 October. Her letter reiterated that UWE was “conducted in accordance with the Instrument and Articles of Government, made following the 1988 Education Reform Act and revised in 1992 in line with the new legislation”. She enclosed copies of the:

Articles of Government for UWE;
Privy Council Order making the Instrument of Government for the UWE higher education corporation;
Academic Procedures for Approval, Validation and Review of New Programmes of Study;
Quality Assurance section of the Academic Regulations.

Ms Owen-Jones’ letter admitted that these copies “cover only the highest level of the University’s governance arrangements”. She added that the JDL Management Board was not designated under Section 121 of the 1988 Act but no evidence was provided of the Management Board ever having been approved.
Other evidence

Ms Owen-Jones’ evidence indicates that the JDL Management Board is part of UWE. They key question is whether it was formally approved by the Principal and Board of Governors as required by Section 3 (4) of the Articles of Government if it is a committee established by the Academic Board as indicated in her letter of 11 April 2006. If it was then UWE have either withheld the information, without any justification, contrary to the Freedom of Information Act, or have lost the documents giving that approval.

The Information Commissioner has determined that mislaying a single document is unlikely to lead to a practice recommendation. But the University may be open to censure from the IC for careless records management.

If approved, the JDL Management Board is clearly part of the UWE higher education institution. But that is not what UWE have claimed in the past. A letter of 23 July 2002 to a Member of Parliament from the then Registrar, Margaret Carter, stated that “the Management Board is not a UWE body” (her emphasis). At no stage had UWE stated that it held or did not hold the specific information requested, as required by Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. If it did hold the information UWE would have committed a series of criminal offences.

Therefore a new request was made under the Freedom of Information Act for the minutes establishing the JDL Examination and Management Boards and the legal instruments setting out their terms of reference. After 18 months, the university has failed to provide this information, despite repeated requests by the Information Commission.
Conclusion

It has become clear that the JDL Management Board and the JDL Examination Board have never been legally constituted for these planning qualifications. A court will therefore rule all decisions of these two Boards and hence the examinations and awards to be ultra-vires. A judge may rule that this is not a legally valid accreditation for RTPI membership. This has very serious implications for students who have followed this route, for the RTPI as the professional body and also the Open University as some students have used the planning courses towards their OU qualification.

Ethnic Minorities in Higher Education

There were some 200 of us attending the well-organised and managed event at London South Bank University on Friday 21 October 2005. It was the EquiNet Official launch, the network to represent Black and Ethnic Minorities (BMEs) in Higher Education. The panel presented their views and responded to challenging questions on the future of HE for both BME staff and students.

Imran Khan could not attend. However all other Panel Members were very knowledgeable and some made very passionate contributions to the debate especially Dr Robert Beckford, who was actually born in Britain.

Some contributions indicated that the Race Relations Amendment Act has so far had very little impact on improving the opportunities for members of the ethnic minorities. What is more, the Higher Education institutions in general pay lip service to equality of opportunities and have become very adept at winning their cases at Employment Tribunals and the Law Courts. So, a frontal attack on these institutions is unlikely to be productive.

The main speakers were:

Dame Jocelyn Barrow
Robert Beckford
Arvinda Gohil
Baroness Lola Young
Carol Campayne
Garth Crooks

Kind regards.
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Topics for Discussion written by Harold Hillman

In recent years a great many cases of apparent abuse, malpractice and bullying have come to light in the higher education sector and the institutional responses have virtually never been satisfactory. With this in mind, CAFAS has contacted the government agencies responsible for funding and quality assurance in our higher education institutions. The aim is to open a dialogue about the procedures and principles applied in these cases.

Below, are listed the topics these agencies are invited to discuss with CAFAS.

TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION WITH NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE (NAO)

These topics relate specifically to the role of NAO in relation to alleged irregularities and improprieties in the Higher Education sector.

1. Means by which matters for investigation get to NAO; criteria for deciding whether, and how, to investigate and report.
2. Basis on which NAO advises the Public Accounts Committee whether to hold a hearing on an NAO report.
3. Quality assurance arrangements in NAO investigations, testing of evidence.
4. Mechanisms for responding to controversial reports and correcting any errors in reports.
5. Role in monitoring the use of public funds, e.g. in judging the reasonableness of payments by an institution and in monitoring financial settlements.
6. Criteria for judging fraud; action taken in the event of such a finding by NAO.
7. NAO’s advice on appropriate ways in which individuals should address suspected irregularities; the role of the police, reliance on institutional governance.
8. Location of NAO’s responsibilities to “whistleblowers” who have pointed out irregularities.

TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION WITH HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council)

All these topics are concerned specifically with HEFCE’s role and activities in the Higher Education sector.

1. Basis of appointment of HEFCE Council.
2. Mechanisms for monitoring institutions’ adherence to the terms of their Charted Articles, in the interests of good governance.
3. Monitoring of the numbers of freemasons involved in university governance and senior university positions.
4. Mechanisms for obtaining and testing information about the governance and performance of individual institutions.
5. Availability of mechanisms by which members of staff of individual institutions may refer matters of concern to HEFCE.
6. Procedures by which individual institutions or individual members of staff of an institution may have complaints, against HEFCE’s actions or decisions, dealt with.
7. Responsibility and mechanisms for ensuring the proper use of public funds.
8. Policy on dealing with representations about improprieties in universities, especially concerning finance and governance.
9. Policy and procedures regarding the repayment of public funds that have been misapplied.
10. Actions in dealing with conflicts of interest in individual institutions and in HEFCE itself. HEFCE’s actions in monitoring and ensuring avoidance of such conflicts of interest.
11. Policy on involvement with institutions over disciplinary matters, e.g. through the offer of advice or solutions.
12. Commitment to/responsibility for the protection of “whistleblowers” in the Higher Education sector. Guidance given by HEFCE on this issue.
13. Actions to advise on and monitor the use of Compromise Agreements by universities where staff are dismissed or otherwise leave.

CAFAS TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION WITH A UNIVERSITY

These topics relate specifically to the approach of the Universities in relation to governance issues.

1. Responsibility for ensuring adherence to the Articles and other governance requirements.
2. Mechanisms for preventing conflicts of interest on the part of governors and senior staff.
3. Procedures for appointing members of the Board of Governors, transparency of those procedures.
4. The extent of freemasonry among governors and senior staff and the implications of this for the good governance of the university.
5. Mechanisms by which the Board of Governors responds to allegations of misdemeanour on the part of senior members of staff or governors.
6. Arrangements for protecting “whistleblowers”.
7. Policy on requiring repayments of public funds that have been misappropriated.
8. Determination of payments to departing staff on termination of their contracts. Public availability of information on such payments and whether they are included in audited accounts.
9. Arrangements for providing redress in the event of errors, injustice or ultra vires actions. Procedures for appointing members for any committee of investigation and arrangements for ensuring transparency of its proceedings and conclusions.

17 July 2004

Contact
Harold Hillman

Corruption of Scientific Integrity

Meeting Report

The four main speakers were Prof. John Ziman, Prof. Nancy Olivieri, Sir David Weatherall and Prof. George Monbiot. Also present, as chairpersons, Prof. Fergus Millar and Prof. Ray Dils, as panel members, Dr. Michael W. Fox and Dr. David Secher and, as the organisational force behind it all, our own Gillian Evans.

I’ve never really been a meeting man myself. Many colleagues have enjoyed jetting off wherever but I always found such things a strain and was glad to get back to test tubes and books and computers. However, the CAFAS meeting, held on Wednesday 2nd. of May at the Royal Academy, was different. It came so close to directly addressing my own concerns that, inevitably, I would attend it. This report is partly factual and partly a report of opinion from the meeting but it is also interspersed with my own take on the issues raised. In other words, it summarises the understandings and feelings with which I left.

Attendance was very good, about 100 people, and the four main speakers, delivered four very good talks. I can do no more than touch upon main points and the final discussion.

John Ziman asked, “down what river is academic science being sold” and his answer was, “down the river of utility.” He gave an account of science divided into two camps. On one side, the non-instrumental science of the academic institution, something he also called mode 1 science and what was once called pure science. On the other side of science is the instrumental, mode 2, useful or applied science supported by commerce. These two sides, argued Prof. Ziman, are distinguishable by the values they espouse.

Characteristically, non-instrumental science is publicly accessible, universal, imaginative, self-critical, has public and open debate and is pursued in a disinterested way. In short, non-instrumental science epitomises the search for knowledge for its own sake. By contrast, instrumental science is proprietary (someone’s property), local to certain elites or power groups, prosaic to a few defined problems, pragmatic in being judged only by practical success and partisan.

Modern science, argues Prof. Ziman, is being increasingly taken over by the instrumental science championed by commerce and Prof. Ziman is far from happy about this trend. He believes that it makes the scientists into a serf or even a slave, a mere instrument to serve the purposes of commerce. He does not deny the need for such workers but points out that society looks to scientists for more than new products on supermarket shelves. Society needs scientists to give it realistic conceptions of the world around us, awareness of areas of public concern and even a sense of wonder and curiosity. On a philosophical level, he argues, the scientific attitude of critical rationality, gives society a benchmark way of thinking that helps to keep other, more dictatorial modes of thought in check.

Over recent years, scientific philosophy has been a part of my reading and I have to declare the pre-existing bias that Prof. Ziman has not been my favourite author. To me, he seems to express a series of opinions, rather than develop a coherent framework within which to view the scientific process. His talk contained an example relevant to the concerns of CAFAS; he listed a series of opinions, some of which were, “theories are for testing, dogmas are for doubting, conjectures are for dismissing.” I wonder how Prof.

Ziman can tell, when presented with a new scientific theory for test, whether it represents a dogma being doubted or a conjecture he should dismiss.

Later, when asked by Prof. Connerade about the hypocrisy visible in many institutional claims, Prof. Ziman suggests this shows old institutions still claiming old virtues. Perhaps so but I have serious reservations about Prof. Ziman’s position and I doubt whether those virtues ever really existed.

Although couched in up-to-date language, he painted a quite traditional portrait of academic science, one that I think is a myth. Though I am sure many individual scientists have tried to personify it, it seems to me doubtful that science ever had any “good old days” when the ideal of disinterestedness was a dominant, institutional, virtue. I think scientific inquiry has always been motivated by the carrot of personal gain. Following the greedy eighties, today’s generation are increasingly pressured into pursuing that carrot.

Desire for gain has always led to scientific corruption but open reporting, numerical rigour and experimental tests have made science more objective than many commercial fields. If scientific corruption is becoming more visible now, it is because the existence of company funding makes the vested interests of individual researchers easier to identify, showing up the corruption in much sharper relief.

A shocking and clear example of corruption was related by the next speaker, Prof. Nancy Olivieri of Toronto University’s Hospital for Sick Children. She was developing a therapy for children ill with thalassaemia, though the western world has few such children. Thalassaemia is one of several haemoglobinopathies, diseases arising from inherited defects in the haemoglobin gene; sickle cell anaemia is a better known example. These

diseases are quite common in areas where malaria is prevalent because that parasite seems to find the faulty haemoglobin distasteful. Carriers of the gene are protected from malaria.

In the west, thalassaemia sufferers are given monthly blood transfusions but haemoglobin contains iron and the combination of disease and transfusions impose an extra iron loading on the body. This iron accumulates and patients die as teenagers. To delay death, patients receive a subcutaneous infusion of chelating agent, a chemical that binds to iron ions, makes them soluble and carries them away with urine. This treatment is very arduous, lasting several hours per day, but extends life expectancy into the forties or fifties.

Enter Prof. Olivieri. Her aim was to develop a chelation treatment that could be taken in pill form. With public funding, she synthesised a possible agent and carried out initial trials, which looked promising, and she published them. However, further public funding was withheld as this research was considered suitable for commercial development and, to continue it, she was obliged to reach a “partnership” with a local drug company called, I believe, Apotex. They took over the potentially valuable patent rights, undertook further synthesis of the agent and imposed some quite dubious terms about publication of additional work.

Then problems arose. The additional trials did not support the drug’s early promise and Prof. Olivieri wanted to publish these new but less promising results. The drug company, facing a sharp decline in the potential value of its patents, did not. They summarily withdrew funding from her work, removed drug samples from her laboratory and contracted other, presumably more compliant, laboratories to continue the trials.

What is more, the university, with substantial other funding from the company, sided with them and against Prof. Olivieri. The following years seem to have been nightmarish. She was, in turn, the victim of each of the four Ds – Deny, Delay, Divide and Discredit. Her two employers, denied there was an issue; delayed resolution of any kind, for example by asserting that it was all a matter of debate, that her results were part of a scientific controversy; divided her from access to allies and the literature; discredited her by character assassination, including accusations of incompetence. She added her own fifth D, dismissal; five times she has been dismissed by the university.

On the plus side, she did enjoy support from colleagues in Toronto, from the CAUT (Canadian AUT), who paid her considerable legal fees and from workers in the same field overseas, such as Sir David Weatherall. That support at least preserved her job and, if appearance is any guide, her emotional well-being also. A considerable achievement, given that the University outdid even the company in its vilification of her, while its in-house ethics committee maintained a complete silence.

Prof. Olivieri is concerned about the general validity and disinterestedness of drug trials, given that academic Professors are increasingly promoted for pursuing company agendas. The result is, she suggests, that drug trials are not objective. Noting that the Canadian MRC did not take up funding of her work when the company withdrew, she wonders who has an incentive to pursue findings that drugs lack efficacy, or even that they might be harmful. She notes that investigators routinely fail to declare their financial interests in publications, that institutions have no policies in place requiring them to do so and that funding source seems the strongest single indicator of the outcome of medical trials.

All considerable cause for concern but, says Sir David Weatherall, the involvement of companies in biomedical science will not go away. He deplores the lack of commercial acumen previously displayed by Britain’s pure scientists, mentioning the failure to patent penicillin and monoclonal antibodies as examples.

Then, taking the human genome project as his example, Sir David spoke about the spiralling costs of research and how this makes company involvement inevitable. Unless the culture of commercial naivety is changed, he asserts, companies will not make their funds available. Future studies in molecular medicine, addressed to hereditary disease and the diseases associated with age, simply will not go ahead without company backing.

Sir David is concerned by the way an increased reliance on industrial sponsors leads to conflicts of interest, bias, contractual pressure on scientists and even ghosting of papers. (Ghosting is the practice by which the company writes a paper that is then signed by the “disinterested” academic scientist.) He calls for changes to reduce the pressure for short term gain, rationalisation of patent law for biologicals, funding to give scientists long term careers in clinical science, protection for scientists in disputes and, should any dispute arise, external, disinterested review.

(By which he seems to mean anonymous peer review.) In particular, he calls for open debate about the proper form the inevitable partnership between academia and industry should take.

Apart from his support for anonymous peer review, most people would agree with Sir. David’s comments. I suspect that the interests of the young people who do science will be squeezed out, as the great and the good from both sides conduct their “open” debate.

Also many people are concerned about sciences that have no potential to produce saleable products but are, even now, important for diseases of old age – ecology, epidemiology, large areas of dietetics and other lifestyle issues. What happens to these following a corporate takeover of science?

The last speaker, Prof. George Monbiot, is prominent among those who express such concerns and his presence gave the CAFAS meeting an unexpected timeliness. Only the previous day, central London had been faced with the May Day, anticapitalist protests. Prof. Monbiot is not a spokesperson or figurehead for such groups, they are, after all anarchists. However, his writings are often seen to articulate the issues and the media sometimes ask him to explain the origin of these protests. Prof. Monbiot showed himself to be an outstanding speaker. He used no slides or other presentational aids, yet the packed audience sat riveted as he detailed the way modern science is becoming subservient to business interests.

In Whitehall, science is now seen mainly as a driver of industry, and the OST, the Office of Science and Technology, has been moved from the Dept. of Education into the Dept. of Trade and Industry. All modern universities, especially science faculties, now depend upon company finance for as much as 2/3 of research funding and 1/3 of posts. Whole faculties, numerous chairs, research funding of all kinds, now depend upon business backing and business names the tunes these pipers should play. Not only that, he notes, but industrial thinking guides even those bodies one would expect to be independent of business interests. For example, the research councils, have guidance committees stuffed full of company appointees and gives the example of the BBSRC, noting that Zeneca employees sit on every single one of its committees. Woe betide the grant application that goes against business interests now.

Not only have the companies taken over what scientists do but it seems they have also taken over how they think. He cites the controversy over calcium channel blockers, drugs used to treat some heart conditions, where the opinion scientists express seems largely determined by their source of funds. Among other instances he notes how Ribena Toothkind is approved by the British Dental Association but is no kinder to teeth than normal Ribena.

Two out the four members of the relevant committee had research funded by that company.

“Business,” he says, “now stands as a guard dog at the gates of perception,” and some of its main victims are the very scientists who stand with their financial backers against the public. The people, he says, want confidence that doubts are expressed, rather than that tricky issues are swept under the carpet.

Later, it was suggested to him that scientists merely play in the system and are not really responsible for how it operates. He replied that nobody would voluntarily hand this power over to the scientific community, they themselves must stand up, ask for and, if necessary, demand it.

The final, short session of the day was given over to a period of discussion under the Chairmanship of Dr. David Secher of Cambridge University.

Harold Hillman asked whether peer review always worked. Sir David Weatherall replied, “not always, it is open to misuse,” but that he could suggest nothing better. Asked how future paradigm shifts could appear, Darwin and Semmelweiss being cited as examples, if we had only one system, the panel agreed that this is a problem. There then followed a discussion of the law on patenting genes which, although interesting is not directly about CAFAS’ present concerns.

Considerable support was offered to scientists being asked to commit themselves some form of Hippocratic oath or social contract. Dr. Fox, concerned about animals in research, would support that development, while Prof. Connerade, who had raised the question of hypocrisy, asserted that it was necessary to lay out norms and so define the kind of actions that were hypocritical.

Then Gillian Evans suggested creating the scientific equivalent of the Niel/Nolan committee, a body that could create a “case law” of thought through issues. Prof. Olivieri argued that she could see no carrot for the government in creating such a body. Sir David agreed, describing it as an attractive idea but thinking would not be supported and would have no influence. John Ziman felt that, in the past, norms had been maintained by peer review but grants that it does create problems with hypocrisy.

Dr. Secher felt that a national committee would be ineffective. More attention should be paid at a local level and that local codes of practice should be developed. Prof. Monbiot appeared to disagree, arguing that self-regulation never works. National regulation is necessary with the involvement of external, disinterested parties. This author would add that his own experience of Cambridge’s local codes supports Prof. Monbiot’s comments.

The meeting then broke up. It showed us all that we must express our message if we are to have any influence. I can agree with Prof. Monbiot when he said no one will just give us power, we must take it and we can all agree with Gillian Evans’ summing up when she said, “we are not powerless, as long as we are articulate.” Quite so.

So, did I learn a lot? Yes. Was it useful? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I become a meeting person? Mmm. well, three out of four’s not bad.

John A. Hewitt

Denial of Academic Freedom at the London Institute

THE writer of this piece in The Daily Express on 17.5.2000 is Express columnist and Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray, a friend of former Women’s Hour editor and now Dean of the Media School, LCP, Sally Feldman.

Ms Murray is clearly in need of some lessons in academic freedom herself. Universities don’t have bosses – they aren’t private companies. They have administrators and managers, who are bound by law to respect the right of academic staff “to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs”.

Moreover, according to the Nolan Committee, it is not possible to detach the tradition of academic freedom from the management of the institution without damaging academic standards and administrative propriety: “the two are linked, and it is significant that secretive decision-making processes seem to have been a common feature on those occasions when things went awry.”

Yet the ‘reluctant lecturer’, Michael Chanan, a scholar of international standing, has been scapegoated and removed from his teaching as a result of his criticisms of management.

Ms Murray also gets the story wrong. It wasn’t Hitchcock the students objected to, but the fact that they were asked to spend a whole term looking at one director, and the teaching organised by the new course leader was pitched at too low a level. And it wasn’t dissident lecturers who claimed that the changes brought a “decisive lurch towards classical mainstream Hollywood” which showed a “severe lack of cultural diversity”, but the students themselves who said this. Unlike Ms Murray, they know, for example, how many “lesser known” world cinema directors were represented at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, including no less than five Latin Americans as well as directors from Tunisia, Iran, Korea and China.

It is not the dissident lecturers who are behind the times but Ms.Murray and her friends. They are just not living in the same vibrant multicultural film world as the students. Even the hard headed management Ms Murray extols is out of date, especially the Birtian kind, which John Birt’s successor at the BBC, Gregg Dyke, has repudiated. According to Dyke, Birt’s regime was characterised by a “climate of fear” as well as too much management jargon and bureaucracy, yet this is the style of management which the Dean brought to the college when she transferred from the BBC two and a half years ago.

Perhaps the most distasteful aspect of Ms Murray’s piece is her condescension towards students. She writes that the episode “seems an example of the outmoded loony ideology of the Seventies that’s left so many young people knowing everything about obscure Caribbean poets and nothing about Shakespeare and Milton.” It’s one thing to defend Shakespeare and Milton, but the implication that a figure like the Nobel laureate Derek Walcott is to be classed as “an obscure Caribbean poet” is a blatant example of cultural arrogance and an insult to students who come from or have attachments to Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and other places on the map of world cinema, of whom there are quite a number since the course has an international reputation. One of the reasons for this reputation is that until now the aim has been precisely not to privilege Hollywood, or anywhere else, which also attracts home students who come on the course to learn – among many other things – about these other film-makers, whose work can hardly be seen because, like Jenni Murray, the distributors seem bent on keeping the lesser-known aspects of world cinema lesser known.

As for Ms Murray, as she goes to give her lectures, she should ponder her own headline: ‘Let the things we teach reflect the real world’.

Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, 25 May 2000

Promotion, Fairness and Procedure in Universities

Below is the full text of an article which appears in abbreviated form in the Guardian newspaper. It is based in part on personal experience and raises broad questions of procedure and the balance between equity and discretion. More from the author, Dr. Paul Burrows, Economics Department, York University.

Universities rightly defend their independence to prevent outside interference in their research. Unfortunately this independence leaves a large area of bureaucratic discretion which not all university administrators exercise in a principled fashion. The area of promotions is a classic case: it is increasingly becoming clear that some universities employ unfair promotions procedures. But who is responsible for ensuring that fair procedures are adopted and adhered to? I will argue that the existing policing is far too weak. The two conclusions I arrive at are:

there is a need for a strict Code of Practice for universities to follow in promotions procedures, and
grievance committees should be appointed independently, instead of by the university which is a party to the dispute.

Promotions committees are lucky. Very rarely is there any chance of their decisions being scrutinized effectively, let alone challenged, because of the confidentiality obstacle. Also, the candidates who are successful in the promotions game are unlikely to complain that the procedures were unfair; and any complaints from rejects who have a career death-wish can be dismissed as the moaning of embittered whingers. As I am an embittered whinger, the reader should have a large pinch of salt at the ready.

Following the rejections of my two applications for a personal chair at the University of York, in 1992 and 1994, I have explained my procedural objections to two grievance committees. So at least I can speak from experience! The core of my objections was that the promotions procedures were inherently flawed, so that the decisions were unsafe. I identified five requirements of a fair promotions procedure, and claimed that every one of them had been violated in my case.

The five requirements are:

Each candidate’s record should be evaluated only in terms of the criterion for promotion stated to candidates.
The evaluation should be based on the most fully informed opinion obtainable.
Promotion and appointment applications should be treated as similarly as possible.
Unsuccessful candidates should be given clear, specific, written reasons why their records were judged to have failed to satisfy the criterion for promotion.
When unsuccessful candidates reapply there should be consistency in the way their records are evaluated on the different occasions.

As it stands Requirement 2 seems unchallengeable. But what are the appropriate sources of informed opinion? Peer review is fundamental to academic life. Academics accept it when they submit articles to journals, when they apply for research funds, and when their departments are judged in the Research Assessment Exercise. They accept it as long as it is independent and expert. Without these characteristics it may be ill-informed, and therefore arbitrary, or even prejudicial. I believe any promotion candidate has a right to expect independent and expert review, just as a doctoral candidate has. I believe also that such informed and expert opinion must, at least in part, derive from references obtained from external expert referees. There is no guarantee that a candidate’s research contribution can be adequately judged by others within his own university. In my case there was no other practitioner of my research specialism in my university. Yet both of my applications were rejected without external referees having been consulted.

I have failed, over seven years, to find any academics who are prepared in private to defend the practice of rejecting promotion applications without external referees having been consulted. The University of York, in the person of its Vice-Chancellor (Professor R. Cook), claimed before my first grievance committee that the practice could be justified on grounds of “cost”! But he had difficulty with his claim that a historian on promotions committee could, “with experience”, expertly judge an article by a mathematician. The HEFC has made a great point of the expertise of its research evaluation panels. Peer review without such expertise has no credibility. Promotions committees that pretend otherwise risk making unfair decisions and are infringing a fundamental right of academics to be expertly judged.

Turning to Requirement 4, in a recent judgement Mr. Justice Sedley (The Queen and the University of Cambridge ex parte Gillian Rosemary Evans, High Court, 1997) emphasised the importance of giving unsuccessful candidates reasons for their rejections. Other judgements have established that the reasons should give the candidate good guidance as to how his/her record could be improved to enhance their chances. From cases I have heard of through CAFAS, and from my own experience, I should say universities often are negligent in this respect. I have never been told why the quantity and quality of my accumulated research output did not meet the stated criterion of “outstanding intellectual distinction and recognised excellence in the relevant field”.

The issue here is not whether I personally had managed to satisfy the criterion. Obviously, that is not for me to judge. The point is one of principle: that all unsuccessful candidates, including me, should know on what grounds their application has failed. Curiously, the University of York does not claim to have given me reasons. Instead it claims to have tried (in an unwitnessed conversation I had with the Vice-Chancellor) to give me reasons! I must have been having a deaf day. No reasons penetrated my consciousness. And over several years (despite ample opportunity) the University has never seen fit to repeat, either verbally or in print, the reasons it claims it tried to give. To be credible a promotions procedure needs to confirm its fairness by justifying the decisions made, through the giving of coherent, written reasons which the candidate can act upon.

These are examples of inadequate promotions procedures. Why do such procedures exist? One possible explanation is that universities like to have leeway in deciding who to promote. It might, for example, be convenient to promote a productive young researcher whose accumulated research output may not be exceptional yet, but who must be prevented from leaving because the next RAE is looming. Another candidate with a better past record could be less essential to keep on such grounds. The problem is that such manoeuvring may clash with the fair, equal treatment of candidates with equivalent research records. For this reason a Code of Practice is needed to compel all universities to adopt a consistently fair set of promotions procedures which meet the five requirements above. They cannot be trusted to do so on their own.

Grievance Procedures. In an ideal world policing would not be needed. The accumulating cases dealt with by CAFAS suggest otherwise. What of the universities’ own grievance procedures, and appeals to the Visitor? Are appropriate means of policing not already in place? The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, confirmed in a judgement in my case that promotions procedures lie outside the Visitorial jurisdiction. So we are left with grievance committees to provide redress. But do they? Well, for one thing very few aggrieved candidates actually use grievance procedures (fear of reprisals?). And for another they may not anyway be effective in tackling inherently unfair promotions procedures. My first grievance committee decided I had grounds for grievance on three of the fairness-requirements. But it ignored the arguments in favour of requiring external referees to be used, and it made no recommendations at all for redress in my case. The University’s Council then referred the committee’s report to the promotions committee for a decision! And, lo and behold, that committee found in favour of itself.

An appeal to the Visitor (the Queen, but represented by the Lord Chancellor) brought a new grievance committee. The reason given was that the University had refused the first grievance committee access to the files on my case. The University had in fact failed to keep its promise to “cooperate fully” with the grievance procedure. Unfortunately for me this new committee, chaired by Judge Nigel Fricker, took the following position on my claims relating to Requirements 2 and 4, and rejected my appeal:
2. External referees. The committee made no attempt to address my case for obliging promotions committees to consult external experts. It allowed the University to claim a right of silence and to refuse to defend its position on this issue. Even so, the committee still managed to conclude, with no supporting argument whatsoever provided, that a failure to obtain external expert opinion does not infringe any academic right!
4. Giving reasons. The new committee simply said it accepted the Vice-Chancellor’s assertion that he had “tried to explain the reasons”. The Vice-Chancellor was not required to substantiate his claim by actually stating the reasons he had allegedly tried to give.

Thus: I had presented these two procedural objections, amongst others. A professor of law described my arguments as unanswerable. Yet two grievance committees failed to grapple with, let alone resolve, these procedural arguments. Police and university complaints procedures evidently have one thing in common: they favour the establishment. Don’t rock the boat.

In the process of undergoing the second ordeal by grievance hearing (and a negative report) another reason why external referees are essential came to light. Candidates may need protection from internal referees. The only report sought by promotions committee in my case came from my Head of Department (Professor A. Culyer, also then Deputy Vice-Chancellor), who had advised me to apply. He later described by rejections as “a gross miscarriage of justice”, and stated that he had “categorically supported going to external referees”. But the second grievance committee said the promotions committee’s rejections were not unreasonable in the light of the Head of Department’s report (which I have not been allowed to see. Confidential, naturally.). Of course, requiring external reports would not guarantee fair play, but it would seriously increase the chances.

The university grievance system seems to me to be a charade. What is needed are independently established grievance committees. The two committees set up in my case both contained two ‘lay’ members. Every one of the four had previous connections with the university, having served on one or other of its high level committees. All good men and true, no doubt. But, as with police force committees standing in judgement on complaints against the police, university grievance committees lack credibility when their members are chosen by one of the adversaries.

Dr. Paul Burrows
Reader in Economics
University of York