The Cambridge vote
No I don't mean the vote that has just closed. I'm writing this in front of the television before the first result from that one has come in....and already I am fed up with the Labour crew mouthing the phrase "strong and stable government" (which is their euphemism for trying to do a deal with Clegg and waltz back into Downing St), and with the Tories crowing about "a decisive rejection of the Labour party" (when the exit polls suggest that it hasn't been half as decisive as they hoped).
But we shall see in a couple of hours.
The vote I'm talking about is the University vote (closing tomorrow) on "disciplinary, dismissal, and grievance procedures" -- or on what we call "Statute U".
One of the several advantages of working in Cambridge is that it still retains a semblance of democratic self-governance; big decisions still get voted on by all of us. In this case the issue is about emending the University Statute (U) that was brought in, as I recall, when Mrs Thatcher demanded that we should have a procedure for making academic redundant. Before that, redundancy was thought of as a potential threat to academic freedom -- and no university officer could be made redundant. (Contrary to popular report, they could be SACKED, simply not told they had become surplus to requirements -- that was what "tenure" meant.)
Everyone, even the people who wrote it, recognises that Statute U in its current form is unsatisfactory. That's different from knowing what to do about it.
The powers that be have spent a long time working on the new version, and I don't actually suspect them of really bad intentions. But I've voted against their proposals. Why?
Well, there are a number of little things. For a start, the number of days that you can launch as appeal against redundancy is reduced from 28 to 10 working days. This is all in the name of speed and efficiency and not letting these things drag on. 'Cruel to be kind' stuff. But 10 days when you've just been made redundant? And you might be on holiday? Or be ill? And when (despite what they say about prior consultation) you might actually be in shock?
Second, if you did appeal against redundancy, it wouldn't any longer be to the old fashioned Septemviri (the "Seven Men") but to a panel of Three... less cumbersome, or easier for the administration to control?
Of course, the current administration is not trying to control the process, and is I am sure sincere in its desire to make the process of redundancy more humane. But when you legislate, you have to legislate for worst case scenarios in the future -- and not for the nice cuddly types that govern us now. And the truth is that redundancy is always liable to be bound up with academic freedom...and whose face or whose books don't fit.
As for disciplinary and dismissal procedures, rather than redundancy, there is no longer a requirement to prove the case against "beyond reasonable doubt". And there is now a clause that just one unreasonable refusal to obey a reasonable instruction could be ground for dismissal on its own. The administration say that it would have to amount to "serious misconduct in the circumstances", which is fine ....NOW. But who is to say if my view of "serious" is the same as some hatchet administration in the future? More obvious alarm bells for academic freedom here.
And finally there is a proposal (though we're being given a "free vote" on this) that academic-related staff (a category including librarians, computer officers and senior administrators) will no longer be treated on a par with academic staff in terms of discipline and redundancy -- and be less protected than we are. The arguments are a bit different here, though there are more issues of academic freedom than you might realise for academic related staff. It's more about "management". Another good thing about Cambridge is that academics are not (yet) split from the cadre of administrators, there not a huge amount of "is and them" culture -- though it's growing apace, I fear. One of the reasons that we can all pull together is that we are all employed on the same terms.
So it's non-placet for me.