Saturday, 10 July 2010

Regent House votes non-placet

The Regent House has voted 1,142 non-placet to 345 placet to retain the lift. The results was, I fear, inevitable once the Council managed to delay the vote until the lift was installed and so presented the Regent House with a fait accompli. Given the financial circumstances many members of the RH, who wanted to censure the Council for their conduct of this matter, felt that they could not force the Council to expend more money on the removal of the lift. So they held their noses and voted against the lift. If the vote has been taken last year when it should have been the boot would have been on the other foot. But even so we must recognise that this was the decision of the Regent House, the governing body of the University, it is legitimate decision and we must respect it. At least we ensured that it was the Regent House that decided and that - given the opposition to that from the Council - is no small thing.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Ballot Papers: Thinking of Abstention?

Members of the Regent House will have received their ballot papers with all the flysheets. The wheels of democracy have ground slowly but at least they have ground...and the Regent House, not the Council, now has the opportunity to decide this issue.

Some comments may be made. First, no flysheet urges non-placet on the ground that the decision to build the lift in the Combination Room was a wise and sensible one. There is only one argument left in favour of the lift: that in current circumstances it will be expensive and wasteful to remove the lift. But, second, it is equally clear that Council through its misconduct of this matter (and again no-flysheet defends the conduct of the Council)has lead to this state of affairs.

In these circumstances many members of the Regent House find themselves torn. They wish to censure the Council both for its failure to consult(or seek a Grace) in the first place and for its shenanigans afterwards trying to prevent the Regent House from considering this issue. But they recognise the financial argument that presses with particular force at the moment given the state of public finances.

This blog would, of course, like everyone to read the flysheets with care and then to vote placet. But if because of the financial argument you cannot bring yourself to do that (and we understand and respect that) perhaps you might consider abstention. And might you also consider then writing to the VC to make clear your view of Council's conduct?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Main placet flysheet

Members of the Regent House,

We, the initiators and supporters of the Grace upon which you are asked to vote, are now able at long last to address you and explain why we consider this Grace important and why we urge you to vote placet.

In early September of last year it became apparent – through the arrival of workmen – that a lift was being constructed in the unspoilt elegant early-fifteenth-century surroundings of the University Combination Room. The Combination Room is the ancient heart of the University, the original Regent House, where the governance and character of our university were forged. Many users of the room and others who know and love the Combination Room were shocked, and naturally asked what could be done to stop the desecration. (If you do not know the room you will find before and after photographs at: http://savethecombinationroom.blogspot.com/2010/02/what-fuss-is-about-before-and-after.html).

From the beginning it was clear that the lift was being constructed in order to provide access to the Combination Room for the disabled. But this vote is not about access to the Combination Room for the disabled. Whatever the outcome of this vote, access to the Combination Room for those unable to use the stairs will be secured. If this vote is carried the Council will be obliged to Report to the Regent House on its plans to secure such access. And there are several alternative ways, equally convenient for those unable to use the stairs, by which access may be secured without despoiling the room. Everyone is sensitive to the need to make good decisions about disabled access, but that is no reason to support bad ones. It should be stressed that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 does not require a lift to be constructed in this position. The Act only requires (s. 21) the making of adjustments that are reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to secure access for the disabled, leaving the University with a wide choice of methods whereby it complies with the Act.


The decision to build the lift, it turned out, had been nodded through the Council with scant consideration. No user of the room had been consulted, and neither had the Regent House itself. It seems to us almost certain that, had there been any serious attempt at consultation within the University, the decision would have been taken to build a lift in one of the other less-intrusive sites. But Regent House opinion, not for the first time, was considered irrelevant. It seems that the decision squeaks within the Statutes (which require a Grace of the Regent House to approve any substantial alteration to a building) on the grounds that the lift is an insubstantial alteration to the Combination Room. (It has certainly led to a substantial row!)

Private representations were made to the Old Schools to no avail. A Discussion on a topic of concern to the University was then called, at which it became clear that there was serious concern in the Regent House over the lift, but to no avail. (For the report of the Discussion see: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/current/weekly/6167/section8.shtml#heading2-21).
At this stage we hoped that the work might be stopped before significant money was expended and that the matter would be reconsidered with care. At least we thought the Council would publish a Report justifying the construction and submit a Grace seeking approval for the works. But nothing happened.

At that stage we had either to give up the struggle to prevent the despoiling of the Combination Room or use the remedy provided under the University’s Constitution: the fifty-member Grace. The Statutes allow a Grace to be initiated by any 50 members of the Regent House; and so it was that, just before Christmas last year, some 79 members of the Regent House initiated the present Grace and submitted it to the Council. This put the issue on the Agenda and at its meeting of the 18th January 2010 the Council considered for the first time what should be done about the lift. (Remember it had been clear in September that the issue was controversial.) The Council, it turned out, was divided on what to do, but it voted by a narrow margin for the work to continue and postponed consideration of when, if ever, the 50-member Grace would be put to the Regent House. As required by the Statutes, the Grace was referred to the Finance Committee to find out how much it would cost to demolish the lift (unsurprisingly the Finance Committee said quite a lot). Fortified by that information the Council, still divided, published a Report recommending (because demolition would be expensive and inconvenient) that the 50-member Grace be not submitted to the Regent House. In so doing the Council purported to act under a section of the Statutes designed for a completely different purpose.

This was a dangerous and unconstitutional decision. If the Council could control in its absolute discretion which Graces come before the Regent House, the Regent House would no longer be the Governing Body of the University. To their credit some members of the Council saw the point and dissented from the Report, but the majority, it seems, saw nothing untoward in acting as they did. But what they had done was to manufacture a constitutional crisis out of a dispute over a folly in the Combination Room!

Fortunately, the university’s constitution is robust and not lightly disregarded. The Report (to be found at: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2009-10/weekly/6184/section7.shtml#heading2-14) recommending that the Grace be not submitted had to be placed before the Regent House for Discussion. And at that Discussion the Council found itself under sustained attack for its unconstitutional action which was described as an “abuse” and the Report as “disgraceful”. No member of the Regent House (or the Council) spoke to defend the Council’s action, but several of the dissenting members of the Council spoke in support of submitting the Grace. (For the report of the Discussion see: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/current/weekly/6187/section8.shtml). Faced with this barrage of criticism (and, one suspects, fearing defeat on the Grace to approve its Report) the Council abandoned its Report and recommendation, and the decision was taken to submit the 50-member Grace. That is how it comes about the Regent House is now at last in a position to vote on whether it wishes the lift in the Combination Room to be demolished and replaced with a less offensive structure elsewhere.

Now, how should the Regent House vote? It is believed that, if the clock could be turned back, not even the Council would now defend the original decision to build the lift where it is. The decision may be technically valid, but clearly there should have been consultation, clearly consideration should have been given to whether a Grace should have been sought and clearly it would have been prudent to seek a Grace even if the lift was “insubstantial”. And no one still argues that, since the lift costs less than £1 million, it was a “minor work” and there was no need to trouble the Regent House with it (especially if they disagree). If this Grace had been submitted late last year as requested there would hardly be any argument that could be plausibly mounted in favour of a non-placet. Even those who are not offended by the aesthetics of the lift would surely recognise the flaws in the original decision.

The vote, however, is being taken six or seven months later than it should have been, and the Regent House is now faced with a fait accompli. The lift is complete. In a time of financial astringency some members of the Regent House may feel that, while the lift is an outrage, the position should be accepted in order to save money. Most members of the Regent House can probably think of several examples from their departments of eminently-worthwhile projects costing but a fraction of the cost of the lift, which did not proceed because of the shortage of funds. They may well feel that, notwithstanding the Council’s failings, the wider interests of the University call for substantial sums not to be spent on setting this error right.

We understand this point of view, but must make it quite clear that the responsibility for the current situation lies with the Old Schools and the Council. They delayed for so long before considering the concern over the lift and then, knowing that the matter would be taken to a vote of the Regent House, persisted in its construction. It is the sclerotic response of the Old Schools that has led to this state of affairs. They should not be rewarded in this vote for their failures in government. Instead, these sums should be seen as an investment in the good government of the University. If this Grace is carried it may be confidently anticipated that never again will Regent House opinion be treated with such disdain, or an important decision of this kind taken without consultation (and probably a Grace).

Moreover, we stress that the Grace has no time-limit specified in it, so it does not require the immediate demolition of the lift. Thus, the financial impact of demolition need not be immediate. Various interim solutions could be considered that would spread the cost over years. There would be no need for the lift to be demolished before an alternative had been provided. The cost must also be seen in perspective. An inappropriate structure has been built into a 600-year-old room of historical and architectural importance and great beauty. The room is not just for our generation, but for countless generations to come. We should not bequeath them a permanent reminder of a time when the University had an annual operating and capital budget of over a billion pounds yet was unwilling to rectify a mistake made in the course of its minor works programme. After all, the sum needed to rectify this error is only small fraction of the money spent by the University annually on new buildings and alterations to old ones.

These are the questions the Regent House must now weigh. We urge you to vote placet: to prevent the despoiling of the Combination Room, to resist the disdain implicit in the fait accompli and to improve the government of the University.



SIGNATURE NAME AND INITIALS IN BLOCK CAPITALS


























In order to be circulated with the ballot papers signed copies of this flysheet must reach the Registrary by 1 pm on Thursday the 10th June 2010. Signed flysheets may be sent in the UMS or post, by fax to (3)32332 or by scanning the document (including signature) and sending it by e-mail to Registrary@admin.cam.ac.uk

Flysheets for the Ballot

The deadline for the production of flysheets has now past (more than a week ago). Ballot papers will be circulated to the Regent House with the flysheets on or before the 28th June. Ballot papers will have to be returned by the 8th July almost exactly ten months after work began on the construction of the lift.

The main placet flysheet will be put up on this blog (immediately above this post) as will be any others (placet or non-placet) if requested by their authors for the benefit of Regents unable to wait for the 28th June!

It seems inappropriate to put up flysheets here without the consent of their authors but several flysheets are available elsewhere in the web. Two non placet flysheets will be found at http://tinyurl.com/3xg28of and http://tinyurl.com/2wqayr2 ; and the main placet flysheet will be found at http://tinyurl.com/395a3dp

The first non placet flysheet recogises the procedural and constitutional failures by Council and recognises the aesthetic failings of the lift. The flysheet suggests that in "In due course there may be finance available for the University to rethink the changes to the Combination Room, but this is not the right time to do so." The reason for this is essentially the financially difficult position of the university at present. This is of course a powerful argument that many Regents (including the objectors to the lift) will have sympathy with.

But, of course, the Grace imposes no time limit of when the lift should be removed. So a placet vote would not require immediate demolition and would simply provide the spur to find a solution that would be absent in the case of a non-placet. And it should not be overlooked that the Council, not the objectors, are responsible for the delay and the failings that has meant that the lift has to be demolished at signifcant expense.

The other non-placet flysheet is a bit of an intemperate rant. It makes the mistake of supposing that the lift would need to be demolished before the substitute were constructed but even it says "The central authorities may have misjudged and
mishandled this project..."!

On the whole it is plain that the objectors have won the argument. Unless there are other flysheets as yet unseen there will be no serious suggestion in the flysheets that the decision was rightly taken. There should have been consultation, there should have been a Grace and it is outrageous that the Council should have tried to prevent this vote both by delay and by shenanigans with the statutes.

We will see how the Regent House votes. There will be few who vote non-placet by conviction but many, while disapproving of the Council's action, will think that in view of the cost the fait accompli should be accepted. But whatever the outcome of the vote there will be improvements to the the government of the university. The Board of Scrutiny is seized of this matter and there is talk of amendments to Statute A to ensure that Council cannnot refuse to submitt a fifty member Grace...all this is good but it would be even better if it were coupled with the demolition of the lift. Vote placet.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Decision to submit Grace now in the Reporter

Council's decision to submit the 50 member Grace, previously noted here, is now the Reporter:http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/current/weekly/6189/section1.shtml#heading2-10

This decision of the Council to do the right thing and submit this matter to the vote of the Regent House must be welcomed. Welcome also is the Council statement that it is "grateful to members of the Regent House and others who have commented in the Discussion". The objectors are also grateful ....for the Council's return to constitutional rectitude. But eloquent as the remarks made at the Discussion were and persuasive as the almost unanimous condemnation of the Council's actions were, the decisive rejection of the Statute U Graces gave Council an unwelcome taste of defeat....and that surely concentrated the collective mind.

But has the Council returned to constitutional rectitude? It gives as its reason for submitting the Grace "the level of interest expressed in this matter is such that it would be appropriate for the initiated Grace itself now to be voted upon and the Council is therefore submitting it". 79 members of the Regent House initiated this Grace; and 50 members is all that is required for the Grace to be submitted. That is all the Statutes require. Any level of interest above 50 is irrelevant to the question of whether the Grace is submitted. This reason for submitting the Grace is as rubbish as the reason given earlier by Council for declining to submit it - ie we disagree with the Grace because it would be awfully expensive. Council does not have an unfettered discretion to submit or withold Graces as it sees fit.

Anyway the focus now shifts to the ballot. Who know how the Regent House will vote but at least the objectors have already succeeded in securing a ballot. The deadline for flysheets is the 10th of June.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Council backs down: the Regent House Grace will be put

At its meeting yesterday (17th March 2010) Council backed down and abandoned its Report recommedning that the Regent House Grace was not submitted to the Regent House.


This is a triumph for the Constitution of the University in which the Regent House is the governing body. The majority of Council's shenanigans were an attempt to avoid facing the Regent House on this issue. That attempt should never have been made and was doomed to failure. None the less, we should welcome the Council's return to rectitude and constituionalism. A word of thanks is also due to all who spoke at the Discussion against the Report with such eloquence.

So now the the Grace will be put. It reads:

That all construction works for a lift into the Regent House Combination Room be removed and the building returned to its former state, and that the Council report, as soon as convenient, to the Regent House with proposals to secure reasonable access to the Combination Room and associated rooms for those unable to use the stairs.

Of course, due to its delay the Council now presents us with a fait accompli and money will be wasted in removing the fait accompli. Will the Regent House, none the less, force it to be removed. We shall see. But at least it will be the Regent House that will decide.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

What the fuss is all about

This is the republication of an earlier post for readers who start at the top of the blog



The print to the left shows the room as it should be with its elegant structure and form unbroken. Note the 15th century hammer beam roof and the pargetted ceiling. The photo below has the lift sketched in on the dais; it destroys the symmetry of the far end of the room and will dominate the room. Especially since the entrance is just to the left of the lift, the lift will lurk over everyone who enters the room.

Council decisively defeated in ballot

Readers may be intersted to know that Council has been decisively defeated in the ballot on Redundancy, Discipline and Grievance procedures. The precise result was Grace One placet 491, non-placet 1119; Grace Two placet 625, non-placet 988. The Regent House has spoken. The result was unsurprising. Apart from the widespread view that these reforms were a "Trojan Horse" that would remove important safeguards, the whole reform process was mishandled with lack of clarity over where the proposals came from when they "emerged" and the usual disdain for Regent House opinion in their formation. Perhaps this dose of humble pie will prove educational.

It may be that this defeat will contribute to a collapse in Council's determination to submit a Grace seeking approval for its decision not to submit the 50 member Grace. And it will instead do what it should have done months ago: Submit the 50 member Grace. We shall see...

Discussion in the Reporter

Readers of this blog may be interested to know that the Report of the Discussion on the Council's Report recommending that the 50 member Grace be not put to the Regent House (what a mounthful) is now in the Reporter (see http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/current/weekly/6187/section8.shtml). The "lift" Discussion is the third Report discussed so it starts a little way down the page. There are several valuable speeches not previously posted here (because the authors did not consent). Note particularily the speeches by Drs Wimbush, Bampos and Cowley (the last two being members of Council).

Monday, 3 May 2010

Dr P A Linehan's Remarks

We are regularly warned these days of difficult times in store. In years to come administrators who make a mess of things will be only too anxious to continue stumbling on into the Valley of Death on the grounds that the expense of doing otherwise would be even more damaging. And they will be able to point to the present case as precedent.

The determination with which the Council has welded itself to this confounded lift is scandalous: no less so indeed than its high-handed readiness to ride roughshod over our – and their – rules and regulations.

The Council’s appetite for government by decree is now well whetted. Members of the Regent House will need to keep a close eye on the development of the present issue. Either that, or to resign themselves to waking up one fine day to find the University being ruled by emergency legislation of the Council’s own devising.

All that is needed is for enough good men to remain silent.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Dr DR de Lacey's Remarks

Deputy Vice-Chancellor,

The Report before us is a fine example of sweet reasonableness. The Council has considered the Stature A, VIII, 7 Grace submitted by 79 Regents. It regrets the controversy which has been raised by its commendable attempts to provide universal access to the Combination Room and other parts of the Old Schools. It consulted the Finance Committee as required, and finally it `has agreed [an interesting word!] to take the {\it exceptional} step of withholding the authorization of submission of
the initiated Grace' (emphasis mine). After all, the costs involved in implementing the Grace would be prohibitively large. It almost comes as a surprise to discover that a significant number of elected members of the Council find this unreasonable.

Almost. Until you look at the issues. A building project bound to cause concern among all users of the Combination Room (and that is now pretty well anyone with any links to the University) was initiated without consultation. It was continued despite objection from Regents. I do not know precisely what advice the Finance Committee gave but it would surely be {\it ultra vires} to advise the Council to flout Statute A, VIII, 7; and the Council in any event is not bound slavishly to follow Finance Committee advice. The Report fails to note that a 50-member Grace is
itself utterly exceptional. And finally it ignores the fact that at least for now the University is governed by its Regents. If it was convinced that the Grace is inappropriate it should have produced a flysheet to that effect and left the issue to the wisdom of the Regent House. It now risks the worst of all possible worlds: that Regents reject the Council's recommendation in Paragraph 12 of this Report, and give approval to the 50-member Grace merely out of irritation. But if Regents accept the financial argument, no doubt that would be seen as supporting the initial decision not to consult. Either way the Council has created out of administrative incompetence a constitutional crisis of significant proportion. Members of the University can be grateful that there are fivemembers of the Council who understand the issues. It has been suggested that questions of confidence in the Vice-Chancellor influenced the Council's decision. This is dangerously close to becoming a vote of confidence (or lack of it) in the Council as a whole.

Dr Galletly's Remarks

Mandam Deputy Vice-Chancellor,

Whatever one may feel about the merits or demerits of the construction of a
modern-style lift in a historic building in order to comply with the requirements of the Disabilities Discrimination Act, the issue at hand today is not to argue such points. Nor is it, even, to complain that the consent of Regent House was not sought before such potentially-controversial buildingworks were begun.

What *is* the issue at hand is that Council deemed it appropriate to use its somewhat dubiously gained powers to reject the opportunity of a ballot on a Grace signed by more than the requisite 50 members of Regent House -- that is, to deny the members of the Regent House their constitutional democratic rights.

Furthermore it appears that this whole matter appears to have become so emotionally entangled as to have been regarded as a motion of confidence (if the Regent House's Statutory rights were denied) or no-confidence (if they were asserted) in the current Vice-Chancellor.

This is simply not acceptable. It exemplifies exactly *why* having such a democratic system of governance is not only preferable, but absolutely necessary. Without the necessity of having even to listen to other dissenting points of view, much less take them into account when forming policy, the University becomes much more susceptible to being swayed by every passing fad and fashion. Emotive arguments (such as motions of no-confidence) play no part in the smooth running of a University expected to carry on at the forefront of knowledge for the foreseeable future. And running rough-shod over the Statutes will not go unnoticed. Even in Oxbridge.

Professor C F Forsyth's Remarks: Let the Regent House Speak!

There is a preliminary but important point. This dispute is not about access to the Combination Room by the disabled. Whatever the outcome of this dispute access to the Combination Room for those unable to use the stairs will be secured. It is true, of course, that it is the University's obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 that led the Old Schools to decide to build the lift. But the Disability Discrimination Act does not require the University to build this lift in this place. The Act only requires (s. 21) the making of adjustments that are reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to secure access for the disabled. This leaves the University with a wide choice of methods whereby it complies with the Act. There are several alternative sites for the lift none of which are as intrusive as the one chosen. If we succeed in stopping the current plans a lift will be constructed in one of the alternative sites. The objectors to the lift take second place to no one in their desire to see proper arrangements made for access to the Combination Room by those unable to use the stairs.

Now to the dispute itself. It starts with an aesthetic judgment. When it became apparent last September that a lift was being constructed in the University Combination Room regular users of the room were shocked. The lift, it seemed, would dominate and despoil the Combination Room, the ancient heart of the university. This many felt should be resisted because, apart from this Senate House which is magnificent and in a category of its own, the University Combination Room is the most beautiful and elegant room in the University (not including the colleges). Views will of course inevitably differ on aesthetic issues but this sense of shock and outrage was pretty universal amongst users of the room with whom I had contact.

That shock deepened as it emerged that no user of the room had been consulted, no member of the Regent House had been consulted, and no Grace had been sought approving the construction. The Council, it seems, nodded through the approval of the lift without any substantive consideration of its merits or whether a Grace was required. It was barely aware of what it was doing. No one was alert to the aesthetic questions. No one was alert to Regent House opinion. It may be that the decision squeaks within the letter of the statutes –as an “insubstantial” alternation – but it is not within their spirit. Whatever else might be the case this decision was an example of bad government.

So what was to be done? The disquiet within the Regent House was first raised with the Old Schools in September, the Discussion on a Topic of Concern, following petition by members of the Regent House, took place took place on the 10th November. At that Discussion strongly critical views were expressed by many members of the Regent House.

By November then it was as plain as a pikestaff, that unless the Council was prepared to compromise, there was only one way in which this matter could be legitimately resolved. And that was by the vote of the Regent House...which is after all the Governing Body of the University.

It would have been so sensible and so easy for the Council in November (or even October) to submit a Grace to the Regent House seeking approval for the construction. If the Regent House did not approve the construction of the lift, alternative and inoffensive plans could have been made and the wasted expenditure would have been modest. If the Regent House did approve the construction of the lift then the objectors would have had to accept the patently legitimate decision with good grace and learn to live with the lift. Was there no wise counsel urging this course? Or if there was, why was such good advice not followed?

Instead we have the sorry saga that has followed with the majority of the divided Council seeking every opportunity to delay the moment of truth when it must allow the Regent House to vote on the lift. Astoundingly “the lift” was first formally considered by the Council only on the 18th January 2010 more than four months after it had become clear that there was serious concern in the Regent House about it. Surely it is reasonable to ask that concerns of this kind should be dealt with in a less sclerotic manner....

What became clear on the 18th January was that the Council was divided on what should be done and the small majority insisted on pressing ahead with the construction. The Governing Body of the University is the right place to resolve divisions in the Council. And this division in the Council shows again with clarity that it is right to bring the matter before the Regent House for decision. It is the only legitimate way in which it can be resolved. Again submission of the Grace at this stage (now insisted upon by seventy nine members of the Regent House) would have minimised wasted expenditure and brought the matter to a legitimate conclusion. But the majority pressed ahead with construction and delayed the day of reckoning.
And now the majority of the Council has opted to make this Report to the Regent House seeking the Regent House’s approval for their decision not to submit the 50 member Grace to the Regent House instead of simply submitting the 50 member Grace. Of course, the only way – and fortunately the statutes make this crystal clear - in which the Regent House can approve anything is by Grace...so there is no escape from a Grace. The majority of the Council will have to let us vote! True we will be voting on whether the 50 member Grace should be submitted not on the Grace itself but I venture to suggest that no member of the Regent House will be found who would have voted for the removal of the lift, but will be voting to approve this Report! So little other than delay in facing the Regent House has been, or ever could have been, achieved by this Report.

Now what is to be said about this wretched Report? It barely defends the decision to build the lift. There is really only one argument in it, viz, that a significant sum of money will be wasted if the lift, by now effectively complete, is demolished and replaced with an inoffensive construction. Of course, this argument could readily be made in a flysheet opposing the approval of the 50 member Grace....and that is where it should have been made. There seems to be absolutely nothing in the Report that could stand as a proper reason for not submitting the Grace...disagreeing with it is not enough!

But who is responsible for all that wasted expenditure? The Old Schools and the majority of Council delayed for so long before considering the concern over the lift and then, knowing that the matter would be taken to a vote of the Regent House, persisted in the construction. It is that wholly inadequate response to the concerns of a significant part of this House that has maximised the cost of setting this folly right. The responsibility for the waste of money then lies squarely with the Old Schools and the majority of Council.

But the true cost to the University of this sorry saga is much greater than the money that may be wasted in removing this lift. It lies in the loss of goodwill and loss of trust in the university’s institutions of government and in the damage done to the university’s reputation. The instinctive understanding by all concerned of the university’s constitution seems to have vanished. The craft of self government is almost forgotten. This matter is in some ways a storm in a tea cup – the university will survive a folly in the Combination Room - but the response of the Old Schools and the Council to this matter raises grave questions about the quality of our governance.


So what happens now? It may be that the majority of Council having successfully delayed until it is in a position to present the Regent House with a fait accompli will now rediscover its common sense and submit the Grace initiated by the 79 members and let us vote. Or it may be that the majority of Council will submit a Grace asking the Regent House to approve the recommendation in this Report in which case we will be able to vote on that. Given their record we must expect that latter course will be the one chosen; and we will get to vote on a Grace approving the Council’s decision not to submit the Grace. Given the controversy the Council ought of its own volition to order a ballot on that Grace but if it does not, I can report that sufficient members of the Regent House stand ready to force a ballot. There will have to be a ballot.

Nobody knows how the Regent House will vote. It is my hope that large numbers of Regents will be implacably opposed to despoiling the Combination Room with this lift. It is my hope too that large numbers of Regents will, for the reasons given above, see this Report as the unconstitutional distraction that it is. If this Report not approved, the 79 member Grace will have to be submitted to the Regent House. The Council will doubtless then start seeking a serious solution.

But it may be that the argument about wasted expense will carry weight. Regents may feel that, even though it is the majority of Council which is responsible for the waste, it is in the wider interests of the university in a time of financial astringency not to waste this money. They will recognise the fait accompli. With heavy hearts they may hold their noses while they mark their ballots approving this Report. If this happens that decision will be legitimate; and it will be accepted as such with good grace by the objectors.

But whether the lift is approved or demolished will have been decided by the Regent House. It is right and in accordance with the constitution of the university that this should be the case and whatever the outcome of the vote we will at least have secured, against opposition, the right of the University’s Governing Body to speak on matters concerning it members.

But now we must concentrate on the coming ballot. Those who know and love the Combination Room unspoilt will not hesitate in casting their ballots and will know how to cast them. But many Regents will not know the Combination Room. May I urge them to visit http://savethecombinationroom.blogspot.com/ and browse the before and after photos to see what the fuss is about. Who knows when Council will submit a Grace. There may be more delays but every day that passes brings closer the day on which the Regent House will be able to vote. For the objectors the message has always been simple: Let the Regent House speak!

Remarks of Nik Myers, an undergraduate of Clare College

Nik Myers, an undergraduate of Clare College, speaking on behalf of the Disabled Students Liberation Campaign.

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor,

We regret the anger and political turmoil that the installation of this lift has caused. We have heard several times this afternoon that, “this debate is not about a lift”, and yet there is a lift at the heart of it. I am here to speak on behalf of the lift (as it were).

The installation of a lift in the University Combination Room is not only legally required but is the right thing to be doing, and it is therefore important that the Regent House is shown to be taking the lead on this issue. Colleges across the university look to Regent House to leadership, students look to their supervisors and other academics for leadership, and universities across the country (and to some extent still across the world) look to Cambridge for leadership. It is not just an issue of current requirements, as the installation of such a lift only when the need arises would be much more difficult and costly.

There may well be other solutions to the problem of a lack of access to the University Combination Room, there may well not be the funding to implement them at the moment, and the process may have been gone about in the wrong way, but please let us not let political wrangling and stubbornness lead to the removal of this lift as a display of power or strength. We all know that ancient buildings are very difficult to alter to make them accessible, and it would be a terrible thing if today we were to repeat yesterday's short-sightedness.

Dr Elisabeth Leedham-Green's Remarks

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor,
Statute A.VIII.5 requires that ‘Any proposal to be placed before the Regent House or the Senate for approval shall be in the form of a Grace’. It is my hope that we shall be offered one on this Report. Or is the Council of the opinion that a proposal not to do something is somehow not a proposal? Better still, let the original ‘fifty-member’ grace be put to the Regent House.
The response of the Council (with no fewer than five dissenters) to this ‘fifty-member’ grace was that as £240,000 had been spent in installing the odious life and that an additional £100,000 or so further would need to be spent in uninstalling it, the Grace would not be put. The argument had been that anything costing as little as £240,000 was a ‘minor work’ and therefore did not require the assent of the Regent House.
I know a man who knows a man who knows a man who has a mate with a ball and chain who for less than that would probably be prepared to demolish this Senate House (though not perhaps to clear up afterwards), and he, no doubt, has a mate who could supply a range of Nissen huts in the style of the neighbouring Waterhouse fa├žade of Caius, with full video conferencing facilities (allowing the Old Schools to actually employ wheelchair-users in the offices on all three floors (which at present, and with the intruded lift, they still cannot)), a centrally located Disability Centre and a tea room (which might actually be open for tea).
I join with others present in undertaking to request a ballot if the Grace on this Report, as it should be, be put.

Professor G R Evans's Remarks

Professor G. R. Evans:
Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, can anything
persuade the Council to bend down and pick up this
gauntlet that it has thrown down and tip-toe away
hiding its blushes before the Regent House accepts its
challenge and there has to be a fight?
This is a matter where the Vice-Chancellor could
certainly take a lead, so that the most visible legacy of
her period in office does not become an ugly intrusion
in the corner of a beautiful fifteenth-century room.
Let me quote what the Vice-Chancellor said in her
Gomes Lecture in February:
An important university is – and must be –
simultaneously a community of scholars and a very
big organization, with operating and capital budgets
well in excess of a billion pounds annually in the case
of Cambridge, and substantial assets and liabilities.
Scholars make discoveries through independent
enquiry, informed by debate and argument within the
scholarly community. That modality does not work
well for the conduct of many of the affairs of a big
organization. The resulting tension is recognized in
Cambridge: the community of scholars delegates
operational authority to individuals, and it also
makes decisions by ‘democratic means’ – voting.1
The Vice-Chancellor is not here to preside at this
Discussion and respond in person on the record, but as
Chairman of the Council she will be in a position to
influence the content of the Notice in reply. It is
understood that she gave a strong lead in encouraging
the Council to publish the Report we are now discussing,
so she could certainly lead a rethink now. The Report
before us today should not have been seen by the
Council as a vote of confidence in the Vice-Chancellor.
That way lies the subtle consolidation of a Chief
Executive Vice-Chancellorship which was rejected by
the Regent House in Cambridge’s governance battles of
a few years ago. And even if they snap their fingers at
that, Council’s members would be wise to consider the
HEFCE-approved CUC guidelines about their
responsibility to act as a check on the executive power
of a Vice-Chancellor.
I see that five of the ‘elected’ members of Council
contributed a Dissenting Note. They remembered their
duty to uphold the Statutes. They said:
Statute A, VIII, 9(a)(ii) authorizes the Council to
block a ‘50-member’ Grace where there are good
reasons, such as if the Grace could not legally be
implemented or is out of time. The Report that
recommended such Graces said ‘the Syndicate
envisage that the Council’s authorization would be
withheld only on very rare occasions’. We do not
think the reasons given in this Report for withholding
authorization in this case are admissible reasons.
The Vice-Chancellor sought in her lecture to make a
‘modal’ distinction between the running of ‘a very big
organization, with operating and capital budgets well in
excess of a billion pounds annually in the case of
Cambridge, and substantial assets and liabilities’, and
the part played by its academics. She seemed to be
saying that ‘debate and argument within the scholarly
community’ is a ‘modality’ that ‘does not work well for
the conduct of many of the affairs of a big organization’.
So (I do wish she was here to put me right), she appeared
to be suggesting in her Gomes Lecture that
administration of the organization with its huge
financial responsibilities not only ought to be left, but
could safely be left to the Unified Administrative
Service.
But surely that is a safe position only if the
administrative arm does not make expensive mistakes?
The only time I recall a Vice-Chancellor actually
presiding at a Discussion in recent generations ‘because
of the significance of the issues raised … and the
implications that they carry for the future governance
of the University’ was the CAPSA Inquiry Discussion,
held on 27 November 2001, before the assembled press
who had been invited to the Discussion and lunched
beforehand in the Combination Room by the Press
Office. The Vice-Chancellor not only presided but made
an opening speech. Are memories so short that we have
all forgotten about that particular administrative
‘mistake’ with its huge financial consequences?
One of the recommendations of the Shattock part of
the CAPSA Inquiry was the enlargement of the UAS,
and it has been remarked more than once in this place
that that has been going on apace recently. But it is
admitted in the Report we are discussing that that
expansion of the administrative workforce has not
prevented mistakes, that ‘arrangements could indeed be
improved’.
In the Report I can hear echoes of the fallacious
arguments of the Microcosmographia Academica. First
there is the ploy of taking an immensely long time and
then answering a different question from the one asked.
‘The Council regrets that the process by which the
decision to proceed with the lift was taken led to
controversy’. But we will not rectify what we did wrong.
We will just promise to be more careful next time.
Next we have the Good Businessman argument that
because we have mis-spent a vast amount of money,
questions of financial prudence now arise. If the
50-member Grace were to be put and approved, it is
claimed, it would involve ‘expenditure from University
funds additional to those already authorized’. This line
of argument would surely allow almost any 50-member
Grace to be stopped in its tracks, except that it is not for
the Finance Committee or the Council ultimately to
approve the additional expenditure but the Regent
House, and the Regent House must therefore be given
its chance, with the Council putting its ‘financial’ case in
a flysheet if it chooses, not in a blocking Report.
Then there is the argument that the expenditure so far
would be ‘abortive’ (who wrote this inexact piece of
prose?) if the lift were removed and the damage made
good. ‘The total abortive cost of the lift installation and
reinstatement to original condition would be £352,000’.
Wasted, they mean. But this expenditure, it will be
remembered, was deliberately increased when it became
obvious that it might be wasted, after a Discussion on a
Topic of Concern to the University had been called;
indeed work on the lift was restarted immediately before
the Discussion was held. It was further deliberately
increased when work was carried on in defiance of
concerns raised at that Discussion. It was increased
again by carrying on regardless when a 79-member
Grace was placed in the Registrary’s hands. If the work
had been stopped when it became apparent that that the
‘arrangements’ had gone wrong and that the Regent
House was getting angry, the sum of money aborted
would be considerably less.
When the Regent House delegates powers it is not
relieved of the responsibilities it has delegated. By
making this extraordinary blockading move in the
present Report, the Council, led by a Vice-Chancellor
who began her period of office on the heels of the
Regent House decision not to turn the office into a
Chief Executive post, has done what is famously the
most foolish thing, the thing experienced administrators
in the Old Schools in the old days would tell you they
avoided at all costs. What is this folly? It is to wake up
the Regent House from its gentle slumber. It is to set the
ancient democracy of the University of Cambridge at
nought, sniggering in its face. It is to say ‘we will do
what we like and if what we do turns out to be
unconstitutional or silly or aesthetically unacceptable
we will still do what we like, and if you try to exercise
the powers the constitution gives you and act like the
governing body you are, we shall not take a blind bit of
notice. We are the Management and you should confine
yourselves to your nice little scholarly activities. Don’t
argue with us. We have a big organization to manage
with “operating and capital budgets well in excess of a
billion pounds annually”’. The Regent House is quite a
big beast when it gets its dander up and I shall be
disappointed in its dander if it is not up now.
I won’t say this is no longer about the lift. The lift is
still of great importance. But it is now about much more
than the lift. If there is never any accountability for
serious mistakes made by senior figures they will never
learn. I do not mean initial errors made in good faith of
course. I mean ignoring constitutional challenge and
trying to beat it down rather than admit fault and take
the consequences. After CAPSA one or two heads did
eventually roll. But of course if the Management gets
away with this it will become unchallengeable by the
Regent House and no more heads will roll, whatever
culpable cock-ups occur. We might as well get the Vice-
Chancellor’s words in her Gomes Lecture engraved in
tasteful capitals over the entrance to the lift straight
away. Shouldn’t cost much.
1 Alison Richard, Vice-Chancellor, The 12th Gomes
Lecture, 12 February 2010

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Professor A W F Edwards's Remarks at the Discussion

Madam Deputy Vice-Chancellor, This Report has a misleading title. It is not about the construction of a lift in the Old Schools. It were better headed ‘Report of the Council on withholding a Grace initiated by 79 members of the Regent House in accordance with Statute A, VIII, 7’. In paragraph 8 the Council is claiming to be advising the Regent House that it would not be a prudent use of resources to remove the lift, yet in paragraph 12 it is proposing to prevent the Regent House taking a decision in the light of that advice. The advice is in any case premature. Its proper place is in a Council flysheet at the time of the vote on the Regent-House Grace.
It is a plain abuse of power for the Council to propose withholding submission of a Regent-House Grace using Statute A, VIII, 9(a)(ii) just because it advises against it. If it could do that there would be no point in Statute A, VIII, 7. The give-away is the word ‘therefore’ in paragraph 12: ‘The Council therefore recommends’, showing brazenly that its reason for withholding submission is indeed none other than the argument it has presented against removing the lift. As the signatories of the Note of Dissent correctly pointed out, this is not an admissible reason. Many others have said the same, publicly and privately.
Statute A, VIII was contained in the Third Report of the Statutes and Ordinances Revision Syndicate in 1993, where its purpose was clearly set out. The membership of the Syndicate at that time was Mr David Yale, Reader in Legal History and later honorary QC (chairman), Professor John Baker, a former Proctor and now Sir John Baker, QC, Downing Professor of the Laws of England, Dr Gordon Johnson, a former Proctor and now President of Wolfson College, Professor Patrick Collinson, Regius Professor of History, Dr Trevor Lamb, later Professor of Neuroscience and FRS, Miss Diane Dawson, a member of the General Board, and me, a former Proctor and later Professor of Biometry. Nearly all had been members of the Council. The Draftsman, Mr H.J.Easterling, was secretary, and the Registrary, Dr S.G.Fleet, usually attended.
The Syndicate was required to draft an Oxford-style procedure for allowing 50 or more members of the Regent House to initiate a Grace, which would, of course, only happen if the Regent House, as governing body, wished for a vote on a Grace that the Council was not prepared to submit itself. The Report argued that in order to avoid having to give the Regent House its own administrative procedure for submitting such a Grace it would be preferable to use the existing Council procedure, with the understanding that this was for convenience only and not an invitation for the Council to withhold the Grace. I think this was the Draftman’s suggestion.
But of course the Syndicate then had to guard against the possibility of a Council abusing the procedure and withholding submission without just cause (such as the Grace no longer being necessary for some reason), and it therefore left the ultimate decision firmly in the hands of the Regent House. That is, if the Council wants to withhold submission it has to get the approval of the Regent House by way of a Report giving an acceptable reason. Today’s Report gives no such reason.
The Council now has a simple choice. Its recommendation is unwise, and if put as a Grace would constitute an abuse of power. It can put its Grace and be remembered as the Council that knowingly chose to abuse the Statutes (perhaps for the first time in the century and a half of the Council’s existence), or it can put the Regent-House Grace and be remembered as the Council whose majority were intelligent enough to see, as a result of this Discussion, that its minority members were correct.
If the Council cannot bring itself to do the latter, then the Regent House must emphatically reject the Council Grace. Not to do so would create a precedent that to all intents and purposes would give Cambridge a Council answerable to no-one, as in universities that have charters. This University would no longer be (in the words of the preamble to the Statutes) ‘a corporation by prescription consisting of a Chancellor, Masters and Scholars who from time out of mind have had the government of their members and enjoyed the privileges of such a corporation’. Such a Council without a corresponding academic Senate is the worst possible form of university government. And how could the Regent House insist on creating an academic Senate against the wishes of an omnipotent Council if it had once allowed a Council to veto a 50-member Grace?
For this Council to submit its Grace would be an abuse; for the Regent House to approve it would be suicide.

Bob Dowling's Remarks at the Discussion

Some of the speeches made at the Discussion on Tuesday the 27th will be posted here. Here is the first, that of Bob Dowling of the University Computing Service and a Member of Council.


"Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Regents,this is a disgraceful Report. Originally there was a fuss about a lift. A Grace was proposed by 79 Regents of the University regarding it. Following that, the Council of the University of Cambridge could have proceeded in one of two ways. It could have debated the issue. If could have made the argument that, regardless of what possible errors of process or ill-advised actions there had been, the financial costs of reversal were too great. We could have had a rational debate about principles versus costs. We could have talked about it.

Alternatively the Council could have attempted to suppress the issue. At an institution that claims to uphold the right of argument no matter how unpopular the opinion, they could have tried to stop that rational debate. To its eternal shame Council took the latter option and elected to suppress the original Grace signed by the University’s Regents.

This Discussion is not about a lift any more. The title of the Report, while inevitable, is misleading. The original Grace, signed by more than fifty Regents — literally the rulers — of the University, was about the lift. This Report is about suppressing the Regent House’s right to force that Discussion.

In its response to this Discussion Council may choose to permit the original Grace to proceed. I’m not optimistic. Having allowed criticism to start with the building of the lift, Council seems unable to face up to that criticism and instead has chosen to compound its problems by sticking its fingers in its ears and singing la-la-la very loudly hoping this troublesome incident will just go away. Regrettably, I expect the Regent House will have to force the issue with another round of signatures.

The University’s Regent House is established in Chapter III of
Statute A. Its first paragraph reads simply, and in totality, “The
Regent House shall be the governing body of the University.” Council
seems to need reminding of this fact."

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Discussion Yesterday: Council should apologise

The full report of the Discussion yesterday afternoon will, of course, appear in the Reporter next week. As was entirely predicable ordure was poured over the majority of Council for their conduct of this matter in many powerful speeches. In particular Council's decision to produce the Report under discussion was savaged. The Council failed to send a member to defend the Report although several of the dissenting members of Council spoke powerfully with some apologising to the Regent House for the failure to seek a Grace and the many other procedural deficiencies. The unrelenting criticism of Council was broken only by the student representatives who, failing to appreciate that this dispute is not about access for the disabled, asked for the lift to be allowed to stand so that the disabled would have access. (There will in any event be access for the disabled; see earlier posts.)

What will happen now? Council will have to consider what to do. It must either put the 50 member Grace or it must put a Grace seeking an approve its wretched Report. On yesterday's showing when not a single member of the Regent House defended its Report, it would be a brave or foolhardy Council that sought approval of its wretched Report. So it may be that Council will do what it should have done months ago: put the 50 member Grace but this will involve Council recognising that it has been wrong all along and eating a lot of humble pie. It is now in a corner with no easy way out. But its troubles are of its own making and it deserves little sympathy.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Council's Report disappoints...but we have the date of the Discussion

At last Council has published its Report explaining why it has not yet submitted the Grace to the Regent House. It will be found in the Reporter of the 24th March 2010 at:
http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2009-10/weekly/6184/section7.shtml#heading2-14

It is interesting to note that the Council was sharply divided and there was a Note of Dissent making the telling but obvious point that the reasons given in the Report do not justify the Council in withholding the Grace. It is also seems that Members of Council that face contested election before the Regent House were more likely to sign the note of dissent or abstain from supporting the Report!

This Report will, of course, have to be discussed. And we now have the date of the Discussion. It will be on the 27th April 2010 (see http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2009-10/weekly/6184/section1.shtml#heading2-2). It is important that we have a good turn out on that occasion, so please keep your diaries free for that afternoon...and if you can't make it please write a speech and have it read! Let us see how many senior officers and members of Council who signed the Report turn up to face the Regent House.

Once the Report has been discussed the Council will have to promote a Grace seeking approval of it (and the recommendation not to submit the 50 member Grace). That will be the Regent House's first opportunity to vote on this issue.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

More delay....and a short tour of Statute A

This post is just to update on the further delay...a delay that is wholly uneccessary. It will also explain the statutory technicalities.

Members of the Regent House will recall that just before Christmas some 79 members of the Regent House petition the Council under Statute A. Since then Council has been trying to decide what to do. It is divided but with a majority in favour of pressing on with the lift and delaying as long as possible the neccessity of facing the Regent House on this issue. This strategy has meant that the lift will be complete before the Regent House has a chance to vote. It is still unclear when we will have a chance to vote...but that day must come. It cannot be avoided.

Now for the technicalities.

Statute A,VIII,7 provides:
"Any fifty members of the Regent House may initiate a Grace for submission to the Regent House...." and in accordance with that provision 79 members of the Regent House initiated the following Grace.

That all construction works for a lift into the Regent House Combination Room be removed and the building returned to its former state, and that the Council report, as soon as convenient, to the Regent House with proposals to secure reasonable access to the Combination Room and associated rooms for those unable to use the stairs.


Now what happens next? Statute A, VIII, 9 (omitting irrelevant words reads as follows):

"(a).... the Council shall consider any Grace or amendment initiated under section 7, and either (i) shall authorize the submission of the Grace or amendment to the Regent House or (ii) shall publish a Report giving reasons for its decision to withhold authorization and recommending the Regent House to approve that decision. If such approval is not given, the Council shall, not later than the end of the term next following, submit the Grace or amendment to the Regent House.
(b) If a Grace or amendment initiated under section 7 involves expenditure from University funds additional to that already authorized, the Council shall refer the Grace or amendment to the Finance Committee, and to the General Board or another body as appropriate, for their advice; in submitting such Grace or amendment to the Regent House, the Council shall at the same time publish a statement indicating how it is intended to make financial provision for the proposed expenditure."

As far as we know (and we can't be certain because nothing has been said officially) Council has declined simply to submit the Grace for ballot (with a flysheet explaining what a bad idea demolishing the lift is and how expensive it will be). Instead the Council is going to publish a Report explaining what a bad idea demolishing the lift is and how expensive it will be! Council will have to recommend that the Regent House approve the Report; and, of course, the only way in which the Regent House will be able to do that is by Grace! (Statute A, VIII, 5 provides:"Any proposal to be placed before the Regent House or the Senate for approval shall be in the form of a Grace...").

So by choosing to Report to the Regent House the Council has chosen the slowest route to a Grace. But a Grace there will be: the Regent House will be voting about whether it should be allowed to vote on the original Grace. But this will be after a torrid Discussion...what larks...except that to the aesthetic abomination of the lift has been added this unedifying pitcure of a Council seeking to avoid facing the Governing Body of the University....Fortunately, the Regent House cannot be avoided...much later than it should have the Regent House will be able to speak!

Saturday, 13 March 2010


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Saturday, 6 March 2010

Council vacillates and delays

Council is still divided on what to do about the lift. But there is no way in which it can avoid allowing the Regent House a vote on this issue. It can delay further but Nemesis is afoot and each day that passes bring the vote closer.
What it should do is simple. It should submit the Grace to the Regent House and let the Regent House speak.... after reading the fly-sheets for and against the lift. Instead it seems to be considering a Report to the Regent House to explain why it is not putting the Grace. But it is obviously not a good reason to go down the Report route just because the Council finds the Grace an inconvenience....but what other reason can it have? The Report will have to approved by the Regent House. So the Regent House will get to vote then; but only after what will doubtless be a torrid Discussion and further delay! The Regent House is going to decide whether this lift stays or goes. It is actually the Governing Body of the University....so this is wholly appropriate. Let the Regent House speak! Council meets again on the 15th March 2010. Let us hope that common sense breaks out.

The Emerging Monster: Photo of the Lift Under Construction


The plans for the lift have still not been published. So the construction proceeds hugger mugger (as far as that is possible while the Combination Room remains open). But we have a photo of the monster emerging....see above. It looks worse than was thought requiring the destruction of even more of the dias. The glass panelled balustrade is really sensitive to the 15th century context.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

This controversy is not about access for the disabled

The forthcoming vote on whether to demolish those parts of the lift thusfar constructed is not about access to the Combination Room by the disabled. Whatever the outcome of the vote access to the Combination Room for those unable to use the stairs will be secured.

It is true, of course, that it is the University's obligations under the Disability Discrmination Act 1995 that led the Old Schools to decide to build the lift. But the Disability Discrmination Act does not require the University to build this lift in this place. The Act only requires (s. 21) the making of adjustments that are reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to secure access for the disabled. This leaves the University with a wide choice of methods whereby it complies with the Act. There are several alternative sites for the lift none of which are as intrusive as the one chosen. The wording of the Grace on which the Regent House will vote is as follows:

That all construction works for a lift into the Regent House Combination Room be removed and the building returned to its former state, and that the Council report, as soon as convenient, to the Regent House with proposals to secure reasonable access to the Combination Room and associated rooms for those unable to use the stairs.


So if the vote is carried the Council will be obliged to report on the alternative ways, equally convenient for those unable to use the stairs, in which access may be secured without despoiling the room. And one will be selected. Everyone is sensitive to the need to make good decisions about disabled access, but that is no reason to support bad ones.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Notes from Cambridge in the Oxford Magazine

Professor Anthony Edwards has written in the Oxford Magazine of the history of the Regent House University Combination Room, its architectural status and the current threat from the lift. It is reproduced here for a wider audience particularly in Cambridge. Readers new to the controversy might find it useful to read the "What the Fuss is All About" post first.


Notes from Cambridge
Oxford Magazine Eighth Week, Michaelmas Term, 2009

Showing visitors round the Old Courts of Caius requires a certain humility. Across a narrow lane to our north lies Trinity Great Court, into which one could probably fit our entire Old Courts, whilst to our south sit the 1730 Senate-House and Cockerell’s magnificent University Library built in 1837, now the Caius Library. Behind the Library, and actually joined to it, is the University’s ancient Regent House from 1400. After their tour of our Old Courts I take visitors to Trinity, but never through the Great Gate. I guide them through the gate opposite the Caius kitchens and through a little passage in the south-west corner of Great Court. Even after sixty years the explosion of space as one enters the court still takes me by surprise. It is a stunning entrance.

Unlike the Sheldonian, the Senate-House is permanently shut to visitors, so after the Caius Library (no need for humility there) I take mine straight to the Regent House, the first-floor room built as the meeting-house and chapel of the combined Regent and non-Regent masters. The Victorians had planned to pull it down as part of the rebuilding of the Old Schools of which Cockerell’s vast Library was the first phase, and the two buildings are like siamese twins. Entrance to the Regent House is through a modest doorway on a landing of Cockerell’s grand staircase which leads on up to the Caius Upper Library. Once again there is an explosion of space as one enters
the famous room. The doorway is near the end of one of its long sides, ensuring an unforgetable impression as one sees the room for the first time. It is not the medieval entrance, but one created by Cockerell out of a window embrasure. The medieval entrance is still visible diagonally across the room, a small doorway, long bricked up, originally reached by an outside staircase. Ironically though, Caius does have the best view in Cambridge. Dr Caius insisted that his pretty court should be open to the south to let in the air and light, and from a particular point in it known to every photographer one sees his renaissance Gate of Honour, and beyond it, framed by the Senate-House on the left and the Cockerell Building on the right, the great horse-chestnut tree, then King’s Chapel, and then the east front of the Old Schools with the original wall of the Regent House just visible behind it. I do not know why, but the tree is known as the Registrary’s tree; Dorothy Needham (b.1896), wife of Joseph, the Master of Caius, once told me she remembered it being planted. During the last long vacation (except we are not allowed to call it that any more) the University refurbished the Regent House, used since the 1950s as a Combination Room for members of the modern Regent House (= Congregation). Caians going up and down to the Library noticed that to the left of the entrance, part of the dais had been removed, and we supposed that some problem had been found, dry rot or leaking plumbing perhaps. One Monday morning in September I met two friends coming from taking coffee in the renovated room who told me that the work was actually preparatory to the installation of a lift planned to erupt through the floor into a box the size of four telephone kiosks tightpacked in a square in the north-east corner of the room. I could hardly believe them, and was as appalled as they were.
The Regent House is the most beautiful, the oldest, and, in the words of Willis and Clark in their Architectural
History, ‘the most important’ room belonging tothe University. Purpose-built as meeting-house and chapel, it was licensed by Pope Boniface IX, who also licensed the Caius chapel, and I have seen no evidence of it ever having been deconsecrated. It came into use in the year 1400, and was described in 1438 as being of ‘surpassing beauty’. Though it does not quite match your Divinity School in splendour, it is older, and is historically
the most important room in the universities in the English-speaking world. It is the cradle of our democracy, our Westminster Hall, built at exactly the same time that Richard II was rebuilding Westminster Hall with its fabulous hammer-beam roof, and miraculously surviving the construction of the Cockerell Building just as the Hall had survived the Westminster fire of 1834 three years earlier. Its first recorded event was in September 1401 when the Archbishop of Canterbury and his entourage made a visitation to the University during which the Chancellor, Doctors, and Masters assembled and rendered obeisance. The Archbishop then questioned the Chancellor as to whether the Statutes were being observed. (Our Board of Scrutiny should arrange a repeat.)
For its first three centuries all the business of the University was conducted in the Regent House, all the Congregations of the Regents and their discussions, votes, and disputations, as well as their Commencement ceremonies, until these grew too large and had to be moved to Great St Mary’s. But that was hardly a permanent solution for the growing University, and in 1730 the longplanned Commencement House or New Regent House was inaugurated, later to be called the Senate-House. Pressure to build anew had also come from the need for the Library to expand into the Regent House, and for the next two centuries it held part of the growing collection of books, finally ending its library duty in 1934 as the Catalogue Room when the new University Library was opened and the Regent House could once again be seen in all its uncluttered beauty. Once again it became the House of the Regents. Under the 1923 Oxford and Cambridge Act, most of the powers of the Senate were to be transferred to a House of Residents, and happily the framers of the 1926 Statutes adopted the term ‘Regent House’ instead, which is the usage that comes most readily to mind today. It is unthinkable that the symmetrical open space of the Regent House should be despoiled by a lift structure, but the unthinkable was actually happening. Nobody had told the members of the Regent House that their designated
Combination Room was to be altered; no plans had been laid on their table; no notice had appeared in the University Reporter; and no-one had remembered the statute that requires the Regents to approve by Grace any ‘substantial alteration’ to a University building. When challenged, the University maintained that the work was too insubstantial to require a Grace and declined to call a halt to it. Ten members of the Regent House then called for the matter to be put down for a Discussion as ‘a topic of concern to the University’ (in the words of the relevant Ordinance). This was unaccountably delayed until 10 November. The Registrary declined a request to display the plans for the Discussion. The speeches made were published in the Reporter of 18 November (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/ current/weekly/6167/section8.shtml), and contain more of the story as well as some trenchant opinions and a helpful comparison with the saga of your Divinity School statue by Professor Evans.
It is depressing to trace the bureaucratic trail. It starts, quite properly, with the Joint Committee on Disability,from where it is taken up by the Minor Works Review Group. Once it had been designated a ‘Minor Work’ nobody took much notice of it, and the Resource Management Committee approved the lift without seeing any plans (a committee unknown to Ordinances which seems to have usurped the function of the Buildings Committee of the Council and General Board which is in Ordinances and is supposed to keep an eye on these things), and without any minute to the effect that a room of huge historic significance was at risk, or that a Grace might be required. Whether that Committee works under delegated authority or via the Council I know not, and the Council minutes do not mention it, but it is said that the lift was on a list the Council saw, again without any plans. From there the proposal went directly to the City Planning Authority without approval by the Regent House. The Conservation Officer is reported as having suggested that the project should only be approved if a staircase was constructed at the same time. English Heritage said no to a staircase, but nevertheless the project was approved as a ‘Delegated decision’, so the Planning Committee did not see it either. So ends Act I of The Disgraceful Lift. Once a Minor
Work, always a Minor Work. Act II starts with the hole in the floor followed by the rumoured news that it is for
a lift, and continues with the Registrary’s defence that it is a Minor Work. It culminates in a statement by Professor A.D.Cliff at the Discussion that ‘The decision not to promote a Grace is consistent with all similar decisions taken over the last decade as regards minor works projects’. But that is economical with the truth: there never has been a decision not to promote a Grace. Noone ever looked at Statute F, I, 2. They are only minor works after all. Act III is in progress as I write. Its ending should not be in doubt, but it will be a skilful playwright who extricates the University from its predicament without embarrassment. And if he scripts the unthinkable instead, what a monument to the octocentenary celebrations it will be, a plastered sarcophagus containing the remains of both Regent Houses.
a.w.f. edwards

Thursday, 11 February 2010

What the fuss is about: before and after pictures



The print to the left shows the room as it should be with its elegant structure and form unbroken. Note the 15th century hammer beam roof and the pargetted ceiling. The photo below has the lift sketched in on the dais; it destroys the symmetry of the far end of the room and will dominate the room. Especially since the entrance is just to the left of the lift, the lift will lurk over everyone who enters the room.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Explanatory post

The Old Schools (the administration of the University of Cambridge) is in the process of constructing in the University Combination Room a lift that will look like a giant Tardis.


The University Combination Room is one of the most beautiful and elegant rooms in the University. It has been in use since early in the fifteenth century. It is of immense historical importance for it was the meeting-room and chapel of the Regent Masters from 1400. It was where the current self-governing and democratic University of Cambridge developed. It should not be despoiled in this way. Many members of the Regent House (the governing body of the University) are most concerned by this construction and have forced the issue to a vote of the full Regent House (which roughly consists of the Fellows of the Colleges and members of the academic staff).


This blog will track the debate leading up to the vote primarily for the assistance of members of the Regent House deciding how to vote. Here will be posted all kinds of relevant material including the fly-sheets, points of view as well as photo and graphics of the proposed changes.

In the meantime here is a photo of the Combination Room unsullied: flickr.com/photos/camdiary/2630798948/

The Tardis will be built on the dais at the far end of the room.

And this is the view from a window in the room looking out on the Gate of Honour (part of Caius College) . This view will be destroyed by having the Tardis built in front of it: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_I1Gdz1Vd9uU/SOttF0YIn8I/AAAAAAAAAQE/Lf474FrGUH4/s400/Hon.jpg

The Grace on which the Regent House will vote is:

That all construction works for a lift into the Regent House Combination Room be removed and the building returned to its former state, and that the Council report, as soon as convenient, to the Regent House with proposals to secure reasonable access to the Combination Room and associated rooms for those unable to use the stairs.


More details will follow as they become available.