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.

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