Elections for Council: November 2006


The results have now been announced. In outline form (assuming that I have copied down the results from the Senate House Notice Board correctly):

Class (b)

Candidate 1st Preferences After Transfers
Anderson 518 394
Owens 342 392.16
Young 320 394.91

Class (c)

Candidate 1st Preferences After Transfers
Bampos 220 261.40
Barnes 153 186.56
Cowley 325 240
Lowther 195 231.27
Maclaren 116 0
Whitehead 188 241.33

Background to Election Statement

I am standing for election (for a term of four years) to the University Council, which is the "principal executive and policy-making body of the University". Below is my personal statement. Since that statement was written one of the subjects that has come even more into focus is the governance of the University.

Events at Oxford on 14 November 2006 (BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Oxford reports) make it almost certain that the governance of the University will be live issue over the next four years. In particular, the Oxford debate was sharpened by a HEFCE Assurance Visit, and Cambridge is due a similar visit in the near future. Possibly the most worrying matter arising Oxford's debate is a letter from HEFCE stating "In our view it is difficult to see how the standards for good governance can be met by any HEI without that body having an external majority on its executive governing body" (a question that the Colleges might also have to address). Fortunately just because something is difficult to see does not mean it is not true. My belief is that there is a natural majority in Cambridge for us remaining a self-governing community of scholars, and that is the view I will support if elected.

If you have any questions not covered in my personal statement, e.g. what my views are on the University's finances, pay & grading and personnel, student fees, etc., please contact me.

You might like to note that Ross Anderson is standing for election in class (b), and that Nick Maclaren is also standing in class (c).

Personal Statement for Election to Council

Academic Posts and Service

I am a Senior Lecturer in the Mathematics Faculty, having previously been a Lecturer (1992-2000) and Assistant Lecturer (1990-92). In addition I have been a Fellow of Selwyn (1981, 1990-98) and Fitzwilliam (1982-83), a Lecturer at Imperial College (1985-1990) and UCL (1983-85), and have held visiting research positions at Caltech, Cornell, NASA and Northwestern.

I have served on my fair share of college, departmental, faculty and national committees, e.g. the Faculty Board of Mathematics (1997-2000) and EPSRC grant and evaluation committees. I have also fulfilled a number of administrative roles. I was a member of the Board of Scrutiny (2001-05, secretary 2002-03).

Reasons for Standing and Particular Interests

Background. My reasons for standing for Council can be traced back to my period at Imperial where, for much of that time, there were financial and administrative difficulties. Returning to Cambridge in 1990 was refreshing: talk at high-table and in the common room was academically orientated rather than focussing on finances or the latest administrative `improvement'. In 2001 a sense of deja vu lead me to stand for the Board of Scrutiny.

My four years on that Board, during which I developed an understanding of how the University functions, have reinforced my view that one of the great strengths of this University is that we are a self-governing community of scholars. The day-to-day administration and management of the University is rightly the remit of the Vice-Chancellor and the Old Schools. However, it is also appropriate for the Council, as the principal executive and policy-making body of the University, to have a significant majority of academics, and for the Regent House, as a crucial element of the University's system of checks and balances, to be the final arbiter. It may be untidy at times, but as the Vice-Chancellor has said `Universities aren't terribly good at getting their act together internally -- not just Cambridge -- there's a happy anarchy that is characteristic of the great universities in the world' (Education Guardian, 31 October 2006).

Interests. I believe that the role of the Council is to ensure that the underlying financial, administrative and estate infrastructure of the University is of high quality. Bottom-up initiatives then have an environment in which the essential `happy anarchy' can flourish.

Sound finances are a pre-requisite. Over the past few years the University has successfully eliminated a serious financial deficit. One of my concerns whilst on Scrutiny was the University's finances. I would continue this interest if elected to Council.

However, the University is more than a collection of cost-centres, and the direction and planning of the University should not be determined solely by the financial bottom-line of a unit. The University is fortunate in having a discretionary income from endowments and subsidiaries, and I believe that a case can be made for using this income less formulaically. That is not to say that sometimes hard decisions will have to be made.

I have a continuing interest in the remuneration of staff, e.g. the pay and grading exercise which has lead to discontentment, especially amongst academic-related specialists. I believe that this was predictable, and that warnings should have been heeded. Moreover, if some of the gradings are not corrected then future recruitment may be adversely affected. On a more general front it is important that the University's administration and services are efficient and effective, and subject to the same financial stringencies as the Schools and other academic institutions of the University. The current review of the University Administrative Service should not lead to a more top-down model of management, but one where there is a shared ethos between academics and the administration, and a mutual recognition of expertise.

`Telling people what to do isn't a terribly effective strategy' (the Vice-Chancellor, ibid). If elected to Council I would hope to support the Vice-Chancellor in her aim of making us `think about problems and debate them'.

Stephen J. Cowley, DAMTP, University of Cambridge.