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 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 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
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
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.