skip to content

Board of Scrutiny

Stephen John Cowley
Stephen John Cowley

of Scrutiny

Minutes of the Extra
Meeting Held at Noon on

Thursday 6 March 2003
at Selwyn College


The Governance Discussion. This was a
special meeting called to prepare for the Discussion on Governance that had
been called for by the Board.


It was agreed that the Chairman
would seek to speak first on behalf of the Board. He would then speak on his
own behalf.


In his opening statement it was
agreed that the Chairman would indicate why the Discussion has been called, and
note that the Board was not proposing how the University should be reformed,
but suggesting mechanisms by which any reform might be taken forward. A repeat
of the recent procedures was thought not to be in the best interests of the


There was a discussion of Malcolm
Grant’s lecture on the GM commission (that he chair). It was noted that over GM
there was a lack of trust between the public and HMG. It was thought that some
in the University might learn from the transparent procedures and consultation
processes being followed by the commission


It was agreed that we would refer
in favourable terms to the seminar roadshows and some of the other aspects of
consultation over governance. However there was a feeling on the Board that the
central bodies had simply noted that there was a range of opinion expressed in
the consultations, and then proceeded to do what they would have done anyway.


It was noted that the attempt to
steamroller the reforms through had lead to a series of ballots that were
unduly complicated. It was thought that the options could have been presented
in a far clearer manner. Moreover, the drafting of the Graces had been
inadequate (possibly as a result of the undue haste), with the result that
there was a need for a number of them to be resubmitted.


There was a view that the
governance proposals had not really addressed many of the key problems facing
the University, e.g. such as the need for a clear hierarchy of accountability
as identified by Shattock and Finkelstein. It was recalled that at one of the CAPSA
road-shows Malcolm Grant had admitted that the governance reforms would not in
themselves have prevented another CAPSA.


It was agreed that the Board
should emphasise that it believes in accountability (cf. some of Anne
Campbell’s remarks), but that it thought that the proposals for an executive
Vice-Chancellor did not address this issue adequately; one person cannot run
the whole university.


There was a
discussion of what the Board believed to be wrong, or not working, within the
University. It was thought that the need to pass Graces does not significantly
delay procedures. The real delay is in the plethora of subcommittees; there is
an urgent need to clarify (and simplify) the committee structure. Further, as
remarked by Debbie Lowther in the CAPSA Discussion, the papers for committees
are not conducive to effective governance and/or administration. There is a
need for the UAS to act as an effective Civil Service. The Officers should
think about problems and then present options in a coherent manner so that
academics can make a decision (as happens at the Library Syndicate). A view was
expressed that were not enough good senior civil servants able to prepare
position papers so that business could be processed more efficiently; this
contributed to the lack of strategy.


It was also noted
that the same people are on very many committees, that some senior officers
seem to spend almost their whole time attending committees, and that many of
the committees are too large.


It was agreed that we should indicate
that the Statutes and Ordinances have their merits. For instance, there is a
requirement that, to all intents and purposes, a business plan is prepared for
a new building. Hence if Statutes and Ordinances had been followed the
University might not be running such a large deficit. 


It was observed that the
Governance Committee had been somewhat secretive, and that its membership had
not initially been published. In this context there was a discussion of the
type of person that the Board might like to see on any Syndicate that might be
established. Those appointed would need to have both the necessary time
available and the experience to do a serious job, Moreover they should command
the confidence of the Regent House. It was thought that there was a need to
re-establish trust between the central bodies and the Regent House in general,
but especially over governance. There was a general view that the Chairman
should be external. As to timing, the Board felt that no major initiatives
should be undertaken before the new Vice-Chancellor was installed.


It was observed that the RAM and
governance were intertwined. It had been suggested that a strategic process
would come out the RAM; however, the view of the Board was that governance and
strategic issues should have been settled before the RAM. Unfortunately,
because of time constraints, that might not now be possible.


It was agreed that the positions
of Secretary-General and Treasurer ought to be resolved before the new
Vice-Chancellor arrives. It was thought that the next Treasurer (if there is to
be one) needs to be a financial strategist.


The view was [again] expressed
that the Press Office ought to be more like the BBC than Millbank (or wherever
the Labour Party’s spin unit has now decamped to).


There was a brief discussion of the interventions
of politicians (e.g. Gordon Brown and Margaret Hodge), explicit or otherwise,
in the debate over governance.