Entitlement of retired persons to membership of Congregation - (1) to No 4426



<br /> Oxford University Gazette: Congregation age-limit - debate<br /> (supplement)

Oxford University Gazette

Entitlement of retired persons to membership of Congregation

Verbatim report of proceedings in Congregation

Supplement (1) to Gazette No. 4426

Monday, 10 February 1996



Contents of the supplement:

Introductory note and text of General Resolution

Speeches made in the debate:


Result of voting and arrangements for postal
vote


To Gazette No.
4426 (13
February 1997)

To
Gazette
Home Page



The verbatim report of the debate in Congregation on 21 January 1997
on the general resolution concerning the entitlement of retired
persons to
membership of Congregation (see Gazette,

23 January
) is set
out
below.

Text of General Resolution

The general resolution read as follows:

That this House instruct Council to restore the
entitlement of members
of faculties, together with Emeritus Professors, to membership of
Congregation
until the age of 75.

Return to List of Contents of the supplement



Dr A.J. Ryan, Warden of New College

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I find myself doubly
embarrassed proposing this resolution. I have all my life been an
insurrectionary, and a thorn in the side of my elders and betters. It
is
therefore a novel experience to come and defend their rights.
Moreover, to
make matters worse, I come to read a lesson in constitutional
propriety to
you, Mr Vice-Chancellor, and to my good friend the Principal of St
Anne's,
both of them distinguished lawyers. Either may think this is a bit
rich. I
shall be brief; there is an old poker-player's adage that you cannot
beat
something with nothing. I have barely two considerations in my hand;
Council,
I think, has none.

The two considerations are one constitutional and one substantial.
The
constitutional reason is that a change in the voting rights of
members of
Congregation is a constitutional change of some seriousness. In
places where
constitutions are highly regarded—for example in the United
States or the
colleges of this University—constitutional changes usually need
special
majorities, require special notice, require unusual attempts to make
sure that
everyone affected knows what is going on and can take their chance to
vote.
Retired members of faculties seem on this occasion to have lost their
vote
with something less than full, frank, free discussion. The matter was
not
discussed in faculties, was not given much prominence in the
Gazette, and was, if I may so put it, shuffled (not
smuggled,
which implies duplicity, but shuffled) through in an empty House. I
am certain
this was not from any wish not to have a debate nor from any fear
that
discussion would stir up trouble. This is not a university in which
the `grey
panthers' pose a threat. It was, I think, just the effect of
tidy-mindedness
unconstrained by an adequate sense of what is due to those whose
rights are
taken away. None the less, it seems to me a bad way to make
constitutional
changes. And it is another example of the incapacity of the central
administration of the University to communicate properly with the
ordinary
members of Congregation, less striking than was evident last term in
the
debate on the site of the Business School. I may say in passing that
I regard
the fact that Council resists the reversal as itself a bad thing,
because
obviously once you have disfranchised those who are most likely to
vote
against their own disfranchisement it becomes harder to overturn the
disfranchisement. I think, regardless of the merits of the case, we
ought to
go back to the status quo ante and start again.

So much for propriety. The substance is more debatable, but here,
too, I think
Council was mistaken. The grounds adduced for depriving retired
members of
faculties of their voting rights boil down to one, rather
unpersuasive,
assertion, namely that they are inevitably less in touch
with
university affairs than their younger colleagues. It is clear that
Council did
not believe this because Council has taken pains to make sure that
retired
people can sit on committees where they are useful. If it is
inevitable that
one's grip on affairs just goes on the 30 September
immediately
following one's 65th birthday, save where some vested interest has
preserved
one's faculties to the 30 September following one's 67th birthday,
then surely
clean sweeps should be made. If clean sweeps are not made then the
word
`inevitable' scarcely ought to be used. Of course it is the case that
many
people by the age of retirement will have had quite enough of
university
business. Indeed many persons will have had quite enough of it some
years
before that time. But persons in that position are hardly likely to
turn up
and pose a problem. Those who take an interest are more likely to do
good than
harm by offering the fruits of their experience to their juniors.
Oxford is
unusual among great universities in conducting so much of its
business
democratically. It is what makes some of us happier to work here than
in many
other places where we could otherwise find employment. It is
characteristic of
democracies that many votes go against the wishes of the government,
and it is
characteristic of most governments that they suppose the reason they
lose
votes is their opponents are out of touch. I doubt in fact that it
will make
any difference at all to Congregation to restore the voting rights of
members
of faculties up to the age of 75. It certainly will not make enough
difference
one way or another to warrant insulting them in the first place by
depriving
them of those rights.

I beg to move.

Return to List of Contents of the supplement



Professor M.A.E. Dummett, New College

Mr Vice-Chancellor, the notice
prominently displayed by Council in the Gazette just
before the
debate on the location of the Business School stated that `retired
persons can
no longer remain members of Congregation'. I suppose about seventeen
people
informed me that I should not be eligible to attend the debate. They
cannot be
blamed; but two telephone calls to the Registry assured me that, as
an
Emeritus Professor, I was still a member, which is why I am able to
second
this resolution. Who knows how many Emeritus Professors took the
notice at its
word, and absented themselves unnecessarily? The new legislation had
passed
unopposed, as the Warden of New College has mentioned, I suppose
because too
many people fail to scrutinise the Gazette with
sufficient care.
Did Council believe that, by means of it, it had succeeded in
bringing about
the result at which it aimed: the exclusion of all those who had
retired? Or
did it merely desire, by means of a loosely phrased notice, to give
the
impression that it had done so?

The more important question is whether people who are entitled to
attend
Congregation were excluded by the watchdogs or have since been
dropped from
the list of members. In the emended statutes, clause 1 of Title XIV,
Section
III, on the Composition of Committees, defines the word `committee',
rather
oddly, to include Congregation but not the faculties. Clause 2
provides that
no person serving as a member of a committee while not holding a
university or
college post shall continue to serve on that committee, thus
depriving of
membership of this present `committee', Congregation, former holders
of such
posts upon retirement. But Title II, Section II, on the Composition
of
Congregation, still lists, as category (5) of members of
Congregation, `the
members of the faculties'. This appears flatly to contradict the
provision of
Title XIV, Section III, since members of faculties are still to
remain members
of those faculties after retirement: the new statutes are therefore
ambiguous.
Furthermore, Section II lists, as category (11) of members of
Congregation,
`every person who was a member of Congregation under the statutes as
they
stood on the day before this statute was approved by Her Majesty in
Council
for as long as he or she possesses the qualification which entitled
him or her
to membership on that date'. This surely provides unequivocally that
members
of faculties (even if not Emeritus Professors) who had retired before
the new
statute came into effect but were under 75 remained members of
Congregation.
Yet many people in this category were barred from entering the
Sheldonian, and
all have now been struck off the list of members of Congregation.

We are asking you to vote for the present resolution, which would
restore the
status quo ante. We are not doing so merely in order to
clear up
the mess created by a piece of ill-drafted legislation. We are doing
so
because we believe that the intention of the legislation was
thoroughly
misconceived in the first place. Council's reasoning, as published,
was that
`once members of staff have retired, they are inevitably less in
touch with
the central activities of the University than when they were in
post'. (You
will recognise the style.) It is not inevitable at all. A colleague
who
retired at the same time as I, and now finds his name deleted from
the roll of
members of Congregation, told me that, at the request of his faculty
board, he
last year gave a term's course of lectures and also marked a hundred
Finals
scripts; others supervise graduate students and examine D.Phil.
candidates.
Those who have retired do not do such things for the derisory
remuneration
they receive. In any case, the question is not whether they are to
some degree
less in touch with those `central activities', but whether they
become so far
out of touch with them as to lose the right to have opinions about
matters
before Congregation and hence disqualified from voting on them. How
do members
of Council suppose they themselves will think and act when they reach
retiring
age? Do they expect to think, of the University, `I need not concern
myself
about that institution any more'? If so, they will be
highly
exceptional: the overwhelming majority of those who retire continue
to care
deeply about what happens to the institution to which they have given
decades
of their lives, and especially at a time when so much is happening to
it. They
are not annoyed, but glad, that, when it comes to research
assessment, they
are regarded as still contributing by their publications to the
University's
central activities. Those of them who live in Oxford remain in touch
with
younger colleagues in their colleges and departments or
sub-faculties. They
keep themselves informed about what is happening by talking to
members of
their colleges, in which they continue to lunch or dine. Many of them
still
attend, as I do, lectures, seminars, discussion groups, or even
sub-faculty
meetings, and learn what is going on from conversation with
colleagues whom
they meet there. They still read the Oxford Magazine and
even
glance at the Gazette as long as it goes on being
delivered to
them. They do not drop in to Congregation as a cheaper refuge from
the cold
than the cinema, and frivolously cast their votes at random on
matters of
which they know nothing: remaining as conscientious as they were when
they
were `in post', they would not vote on anything about which they felt
themselves to be uninformed.

Throughout human history, there has been a belief, no doubt
erroneous, that
age confers wisdom. We do not hear of a tribe governed by a council
of
youngsters, or even a council of the middle-aged, but by a council of
elders.
Our Council is thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the
times,
and rejects such traditional superstition; but it is wrong if it
believes that
the opinions of people above the age of 65 are of less
value than
those of people below it. Possibly the former may have lost some of
the
boldness and flexibility of thought of those younger than themselves,
though I
see little evidence of that; but there is no absurdity in thinking
that longer
experience has taught them some lessons that others may not yet have
learned.
Barring them from participating in the decisions of Congregation will
not
improve the quality of those decisions in the least degree.

There is also a consideration that some will dismiss as sentimental
and
therefore irrelevant; but I do not think that the effect on people's
feelings
is of no account. In Italian and American universities, retirement is
tapered:
duties are gradually reduced. In Oxford, it has always been abrupt.
The
psychological effect of retirement varies greatly from individual to
individual. Though I am not one of them myself, I have known many to
whom
retirement has been a deep shock. They cannot dispel the thought,
`They have
no use for me any more'; however irrational they may recognise this
as being,
they cannot shake it off. Hitherto, there have been a few things to
mitigate
this feeling: they have become Emeritus Fellows of their colleges,
where they
still have the right to attend the common table; they remain members
of their
faculties; and, up to now, they have remained members of the
University's
parliament. I remember Herbert Hart complaining to me, with great
distress,
that, on his approaching 75th birthday, he would no longer be allowed
to
attend Congregation. We are not proposing to extend membership beyond
that
age. But we are asking you to reverse what can only have seemed to
many a
brutal declaration that the University has no use for them any
more.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I beg to second the resolution.

Return to List of Contents of the supplement



Mrs R.L. Deech, Principal of St Anne's
College

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I beg to
oppose the resolution.

I first became interested in the question of the status of university
committee members some ten years ago, when the issue of the
desirability of a
university nursery was on the agenda of one or two committees. The
nursery
site was withheld and the project held up for a number of years by
the
opposition of two older gentlemen, long since retired, who held
firmly to the
belief that women who had babies should stay at home. After listening
to them
for a while, I began to wonder what posts they held within the
University and
how old they were. I waited patiently for a number of years until
they had to
leave their committee posts and only then did the issue move forward.
An
extreme and personal example if you like, but one that actually cost
the
University a great deal of money. Therein lies the origin of my wish
to oppose
the resolution.

Congregation has been the legislative body of the University since
the very
beginning. Certainly by 1508 it had become the supreme legislative
authority
and even early in this century it was an outstanding example of how a
university could indeed be governed academically by those who taught
and
administered within that university. To all intents and purposes it
now
constitutes the parliament of this University. Even the much
criticised
Coopers & Lybrand Report honours this concept. I quote: `The only
part of
the present structure which we take as given is Congregation and in
particular
its electoral rôle. It seems to us that Congregation is the
epitome of
the self-governing community of scholars and that this concept is
close to
sacrosanct within some quarters in Oxford.' Any suggestion of a
diminution of
the standing and the powers of Congregation has been rigorously
resisted. It
is all the more so when we face threats to our autonomy from outside,
that is,
the imposition of lay members on our government and the undermining
of our
independence and autonomy. What is the root of the respect in which
Congregation is held and the desire to be a part of it? It is the
same spirit
that moves us in sustaining Parliament, namely, that those who make
our laws
should be affected by them; that those who are subject to those laws
in their
teaching, research, and administration should have a say in the
making of
them, they and nobody else.

How is the democratic principle affected by the inclusion in
Congregation and
in committees of those who have retired from the University? The
argument put
by Council is that retired members may be out of touch with the
activities of
the University today. Perfectly true; and, moreover, they may have
old scores
and unfinished business of five or ten years ago. If a retired member
can stay
in Congregation up to the age of 75, cumulatively there may be many
who quit
the University five to ten years ago. Think back, if you can, to
1987, ten
years ago. The issues then were the death of the Chancellor and the
election
of Mr Roy Jenkins; the review of the UGC; freedom of speech laws;
the newly
established Development Office; and the allocation of entitled
non-fellows to
colleges. Moreover, we are not simply talking of those who may have
retired
ten years ago. Early retirement is a feature of our times. It is by
no means
unusual for someone to retire from the University at 55, take a
part-time post
at, for example, Oxford Brookes University, and if the movers of the
resolution have their way, he or she could remain a member of
Congregation for
another twenty years. Hence my argument is not based on age
discrimination but
on the fact of retirement at any age. I say he or she, but in fact
the retired
group will contain many more men than women, because they are likely
to have
been appointed when colleges were single-sex. There are some 2,800
members of
Congregation. There are about fifty retirements every year. If the
retired
remain with Congregation cumulatively for the next ten years, there
could be
some 500 retired persons plus Emeritus Professors exercising their
rights.
This is not entirely fanciful. Tuesday afternoon is a difficult
afternoon for
those actively engaged in teaching within the University (witness
this
afternoon) and failure to attend, except on an extraordinary
occasion, has
often been attributed to this. This consideration will not apply so
readily to
the retired. If my calculations are correct they could amount to 20
per cent
of the potential voting body, whether by post or in person, and
certainly more
than enough to swing a vote needing 75 votes. This was the situation
in the
debate on the Business School which has precipitated today's vote.

It has been a source of criticism at each stage of the reform of
university
governance that decisions might be made by persons not engaged in the
work of
the University. I instance, in this case, the early twentieth-century
discussions prior to the Asquith Commission. Our systems of
governance are
more under scrutiny today and the presence of those not engaged by
the
University (albeit that they may be teaching part-time for their
faculty) is a
point of vulnerability, especially when contrasted with the exclusion
from
Congregation of non-academic members of staff and members of the
local
community. If the one category, some might say, then why not the
other? The
analogy with Parliament cannot, of course, be pushed too far. It is
worth
noting that the national response to the proper use of the wisdom of
the
retired is to be found in the House of Lords. We have no such
equivalent,
except possibly Convocation, but one begins to see the usefulness of
the House
of Lords, even if it is not an argument for the retention of the
hereditary
vote as distinct from the life peers.

Power without responsibility is not desirable in itself, I would
argue, and
procedures and technicalities fade as objections before the vitality
of the
democratic principle involved. Yet it behoves us to look and see in
what way
the removal of the privilege of retired members was effected. The
history is
as follows. In Trinity Term 1992 the Chairman of the General Board
reported to
Council that the Board's Appointments Committee had taken the view
that no
person should serve on a university committee after having reached
retirement
age. The changes were approved by Congregation and announced in the
Gazette on 26 October 1995 and for technical reasons
referred to
again in the Gazette on 7 December 1995. The retired
category did
not exercise the constitutional right they then possessed to oppose
that
change in Congregation. The legislation provided that retired persons
should
not be appointed to committees. It remains open to appoint them to
membership
of faculties and sub-faculties, year by year at the discretion of the
faculty
board concerned, up to the age of 75, but this membership does not
carry with
it membership of Congregation. The restrictions do not apply to the
Chancellor, the High Steward, the Deputy Steward, the Counsel to the
University, or the Clerks of the Market. Now is not the time and
place to
argue about that but their exclusion should not be taken as a gesture
of
approval. The faculty situation is distinct. Faculties remain in
control of
their membership and may determine this year by year. The rationale
is that
membership is needed for teaching and there may well be a substantial
call on
the retired to teach on a part-time basis, with consequent temporary
membership. The link with membership of Congregation was broken in
1995 for
the reasons I have already stated. Teaching on a part-time basis or
being an
Emeritus Professor is not a sufficient involvement with the business
of the
University to satisfy the democratic principles, whether we like it
or not.
University business now consists of far more than the giving of
tutorials or
the partaking of lunch.

It cannot be argued that no publicity was given to the change.
Faculty board
secretaries were informed; and the usual publicity was given in the
Gazette, no more and no less than is given to all the
other
affairs of the University. It may well be that the layout of the
Gazette is not conducive to clear understanding by
casual
readers. Nevertheless, it is the organ of information to which we are
accustomed and it is clearer in its format today than it was in the
heyday of
many of the current retired. It is no excuse at law or in general
that people
do not read or understand the Gazette any more than it
is to say
that one does not know the law. We would give short shrift to a
student who
claimed not to know changes in the syllabus because he or she had not
understood the examination decrees. Not only were the changes printed
in the
Gazette but in the issue of 7 December there was an
invitation to
contact the Senior Assistant Registrar if anyone had questions about
Congregation.

There is no substance to the argument that the publicity given to the
change
was obscure. The explanatory note said that Council and the General
Board were
of the view that members of the academic staff should normally cease,
with
effect from the date of their retirement, to be eligible to serve on
committees and other university bodies, expressly including
Congregation. It
cannot be argued that everyone affected by the Statutes should be
individually
notified of the effects of changes or that no changes can be made
during the
course of a working lifetime.

The other argument made is that retired fellows have been deprived of
a
`vested interest'. The answer to this is that there is, in this case,
no
vested interest and no solid argument of law in relation to it.
Membership of
Congregation is a right pertaining to involvement in employment.
Indeed, it is
arguable, strictly speaking, that it is not a right, even for those
fully
employed by the University, but rather a privilege correlative to
involvement
in the University. Put more simply, there are no rights but merely
possibilities or eligibility for committees, and the University is
free to
change criteria for membership. Once one has passed beyond the
situation of a
contract of employment with the University, there can be no right to
retain
any particular privilege. There has been legal advice that the 1995
legislation is effective, both from an outside firm of lawyers and
also from a
most respected legal authority within the University. Even ongoing
faculty
membership does not create a vested interest in the formerly allied
privilege
of membership of Congregation, faculty membership being both a
temporary and a
separate matter.

The dilemma is this. We have to balance the achievement of a highly
desirable
objective with the wish not to hurt, and frustrate the expectations
of, a
distinguished group who have rendered valuable service and thought
they could
continue to do so.

Am I being too legalistic and am I risking the loss to Congregation
of the
wisdom of our older members? I can well understand that those
recently
returned from the States will have come across the concept of ageism
such that
there is no longer a retirement age at all in universities. Not a
concept that
would, I think, attract much following here, given the desirability
of
employment for younger academics and the difficulty of persuading the
very old
ones to relinquish the perhaps rather easier and less demanding posts
held in
American universities. The stories abound there of the bribery that
has to be
used to persuade older professors to relinquish their posts.

I have argued that there is no benefit to the University at large in
the
retention of the voting rights of older members and I do not see it
as a
strong argument that their supporters have been provoked into this
resolution
as a by-product of the bitter dispute over the Business School in a
situation
where every single vote counted. Congregation is renowned for
upholding
tradition. That may be the wisdom of the assembled dons and very
often rightly
so; but let it not be said that the desire to stop changes arises
from the
presence in large numbers of retired voters. As tutors and servants
of the
University, the retired have devoted their careers to the
proresolution of the
younger generation and the inculcation in them of the proper values.
Their
final gift to the University should be trust in the success of those
efforts
and the willing grant of space to their successors.

Finally let me apologise for raising unpleasant eresolutions. We all
fear
facing our ageing and the decline of power. We have respect for our
older
members and no doubt you will be thinking to yourself, she will
regret this
one day. Nevertheless these matters have to be faced and Congregation
as an
entity must preserve the widespread respect and affection which it
enjoys by
virtue of its membership.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I beg to oppose the resolution.

Return to List of Contents of the supplement



Dr J.V. Peach, Brasenose College

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I am very happy to
second the Principal in her opposition to the general resolution. As
she has
explained, the change in statute we are debating had its origin in
discussions
in the General Board some five years ago which led the Board to
propose that
no one should serve on a university committee beyond the retiring
age. Council
and the Board then went on to widen the discussion to the membership
of
faculties and Congregation after retirement. Finally the ending of
membership
of Congregation on retirement was proposed and agreed by the Board,
by
Council, and (of course) by Congregation itself, following the
entirely normal
and open procedures by which such changes are always made.

The reasons for the changes to the rules have been sketched by the
Principal.
If the University had not inherited the old position as it was before
last
year, an attempt to introduce it now would, I think, be seen as
reactionary
and eccentric. The explanatory note to the legislation has been
quoted before.
I will quote it again. It stated that `once members of staff are
retired, they
are inevitably less in touch with the central activities of the
University
than when they were in post'. This view is obviously accepted
mutatis
mutandis
by the colleges. The Warden's college and Professor
Dummett's
college and mine do not routinely offer governing body membership to
their
more active or distinguished retired fellows year by year to the age
of 75.
But this, of course, would be the effect on the University of the
passage of
the general resolution. Life Fellowships went long ago, and one
reason for
their abolition was the view I have just quoted, that with time such
people
get out of touch. I do not think that the business of the University
and of
the colleges is so very different. The responsibilities of
self-government and
the demands on the self-governing in the two communities are very
similar.
Similar rules should therefore apply to governing body membership. It
has
obviously been accepted by colleges for a long time, and by the new
rules on
membership of Congregation it is now accepted by the University, that
the
legislators should be those who will have to implement and live with
the
decisions they take. That provides the clear link between membership
of
Congregation and the holding of an office in the University or of
some offices
in the colleges.

Professor Dummett circulated a note last week asking for support for
his views
in today's division. No copy was sent to me, but my wife received one
under
the mistaken impression that she was a Fellow of Queen's and
therefore
presumably very much open to persuasion. It is obviously not only the
University Registry that has trouble with the accuracy of its lists.
In his
note he says, and he has essentially repeated this argument today,
that those
with forty years' service or more do not at once, on retirement,
become out of
touch. Not all Emeritus Professors have Professor Dummett's length of
service
or experience. I know of several who if they survive to 75 will have
spent
more time as Emeritus than they will have spent in Oxford before
retirement.
With the new retiring age anyone elected from outside to a
professorship after
the age of 55 and surviving to 75 will be in that position. The
Principal of
St Anne's has pointed out in her speech even stranger, indefensible
anomalies
in the old rules if they are applied to those who retire earlier. But
this is
largely to miss the point. Some may remain `in touch' beyond the
retiring age
of 65, and some up to the old limit of 75 to Congregation membership,
though I
doubt it. But after a point there will be justifiable resentment from
those
still bearing the heat and burden of the day at the influence of
their elders
on university policies which affect them directly and their elders
little, if
at all. Council (and Congregation) decided last year that linking
retirement
from office with retirement from Congregation avoids this problem, is
consistent with the practice of colleges, with that of the
professions and
business, and with almost every activity outside this University. The
continuation of faculty membership, as in the past, is a more
suitable way for
the influence of the retired to be felt. Professor Dummett also
argued in his
note, very much more controversially, that the retired would
`hesitate to vote
on matters on which they felt themselves uninformed'. I am sure that
would be
true in his case but how are we to hold all the others to it? Indeed,
how much
better off we would be if we could hold those not yet retired to
it.

I think that the argument against the change that has been made
today, that it
is throwing away the experience of age, is wrong because it shows an
ignorance
of the real structure of influence in the University. Only the naive
will
think that that removal of a vote in Congregation from the retired
will
deprive them of all influence on the University's business. I recall,
when I
was Chairman of the General Board, a retired head of department who
with the
willing acquiescence of his colleagues wielded as much informal
authority with
the University as other members of his department. So much is done by
casual
conversation in colleges and departments in proposing and debating
possibilities for reform; eccentric ideas are abandoned and sounder
ideas
pursued as a result of discussions, to which the retired contribute
along with
everybody else. And the most important part of the University's life
still
happily takes part at faculty and departmental level. Faculty
membership
continues after the changes which have been introduced, year by year
to the
age of 75 for those who are active in teaching or research, and their
rights
in discussion and decision on these matters are entirely unchanged.
The
faculty membership link with the wider responsibility for the central
affairs
of the University is another matter. It was in fact an
acknowledgement of the
unique importance in Oxford of membership of Congregation as the
ultimate
authority in our affairs, that led Council to restrict its membership
to those
active in every way in the business of the University. Can I say
something
now, not about the principle of the change, but about the way it was
introduced? As the Principal of St Anne's has said, the legislative
procedures
were straightforward, in no way abnormal; there was nothing sinister,
hole-in-the-corner, or defensive about them. There was a regrettable
error in
the drafting of the original proposal which was later corrected,
again in the
normal, straightforward, public way. When I first took an interest in
university affairs I was surprised at this reaction of suspicion to
so many
initiatives of the central bodies; I now realise that it is nothing
new, and I
am sure healthy when kept clearly on this side of the paranoid. If
there is
any argument against the presentation of the legislation we are
debating, it
should be directed not just against this item but against nearly all
proposals
for new legislation and their presentation to Congregation through
the
Gazette. As we know, few working academics regularly
read the
Gazette beyond the pages with photographs, and many find
the
later pages require more expertise with statutory matters than is
reasonable
to expect in the normal academic. Hence the repeated cry of `Why were
we not
told?' Steps are being taken to make these later pages more
`user-friendly'
but they are never going to be easy reading. But frankly, rereading
the
explanatory note to the controversial statute, I must confess, and I
am no
lawyer, that I find the central intention expressed there very
clearly put
indeed.

Some have said in other fora than this that they were surprised by
the content
of the Proctors' notice on the front page of the Gazette
about
membership of Congregation just before the Business School debate.
Some have
said they were offended by its tone. I am sorry they should feel
that. The
content should not have come as a surprise, and I think (and I hope
the
Proctors will forgive me) that only those determined to be offended
will not
charitably excuse the tone of the notice as due to the
over-zealousness of
youth. Some have been further offended by errors in the list of
members of
Congregation used by the Proctors on that occasion. There have always
been
errors in these lists. But they should be taken as the mistakes of
the
University's conscientious but occasionally fallible staff, not as
the
evidence of blundering or bad faith on Council's part. But I hope
that one
very useful outcome of this debate will be to clear the air on those
and other
matters, and reaffirm the legitimacy of Congregation's decision of
last
year.

There is, of course, a tendency for the affairs of Congregation and
particularly its rare meetings to attract the elderly rather than the
young,
and this meeting is no exception. The recent doubling in size of the
professoriate would in time double the number of Emeritus Professors
you might
see here if you go back on the changes of last year, and we shall be
greyer
still. I think we should be content to hand over the responsibility
of
membership of Congregation on our retirement to those still involved
in every
part of the University's work, to those who will have to live with
the results
of their decisions, and to those who are bound to have a more
immediate
knowledge than we will have of the University's needs.

I second the opposition to the general resolution.

Return to List of Contents of the supplement



Mr T.F.R.G. Braun, Merton College

Mr Vice-Chancellor, Congregation is indeed our University
parliament. It is indeed a specially privileged parliament, because,
as in the
Athenian Assembly, everyone concerned may participate. We have just
heard the
prediction that, if the worst imaginable gerontocratic nightmare
comes true,
there will still be 80 per cent in the full, thrusting vigour of
middle age
and only 20 per cent from the supposedly dangerous and prejudiced
age-group
between 67 and 75. At present there are far fewer of the latter; and
nobody at
any time has been deprived of space, nobody has lost power and
influence,
because this age-group has been in membership. The Athenians had a
retiring
age for warriors. There is a retiring age, for excellent reasons, for
serving
officers and civil servants, for professors and tutors. But there has
never
been one for councillors or parliamentarians. Eccentric and
reactionary though
it may seem, this has always been true for every parliament in the
entire
world.

In 1940, it was just as well that a retiring age had not been
enforced to
prevent Mr Churchill from being a parliamentarian. He was 66. On the
other
side was a brisk, reforming `Leader' glorying in his 51 years, with
much of
his country's youth behind him—soon to be joined by Mussolini,
in his
prime at 57 but not, perhaps, possessed of a monopoly of human
wisdom. One
reason why this nation's war effort succeeded was that our
66-year-old did
not think women should all stay at home to mind the
children, but
encouraged them to make munitions and join the forces. His younger
opponents
held different views. It is not always the older people who advocate
wrong and
impossible opinions.

There are stirring examples in history of parliamentary assemblies
benefiting
from the advice of their most experienced members. Are you surprised?
The aged
Appius Claudius the Blind, carried on a litter into the Roman Senate
in 280
BC, successfully urged the Romans to resist the invader Pyrrhus. In
1777--8,
the Elder Pitt at 69, crippled with gout, struggled repeatedly to the
House of
Lords to denounce the government's policy of continuing the war with
America.
`You cannot conquer America. Your attempts will be forever vain and
impotent.'
He needed help to stand for his last speech, when he had only a few
more days
to live. He was not prevented from having his say by the prime
minister of the
day, whose policy has been much criticised ever since, but who was
universally
held to be a charming and agreeable man. (His name was
North.)

We are a parliament of academics. The arguments for our members
retaining a
vote and a voice, for some years after retirement, are stronger than
for any
other vocation. When an employee of Coopers & Lybrand—that
firm which
has just been extolled for being so much in favour of this
Congregation, so
convinced of its value—retires from its staff and is no longer
`in post',
he stops giving welcome advice to businesses on management, and
rather less
welcome advice to universities on `governance'. For him, from now on,
the
greenhouse and the potting shed, the bridge tables and the golf
links. But our
work, in all its fascination and variety, continues. No longer
bustling from
lecture hall to committee room, those who have retired from
professorships and
tutorships continue with their academic pursuits, remain members of
our
academic community, and can still serve it in many ways.

Their advice will sometimes be especially valuable for two reasons.
One is
that they will not be worrying about proresolution exercises. Like
all of us
when Oxford was still a true Republic of Letters, they will be
empowered to
give an independent opinion without fear or favour. Another is that,
granted
respite from the heat of the day, some of them will have leisure even
to read
the small print of the Gazette. I am sorry I recently
failed to
do so myself; but I plead with my betters, if not my elders, that
this was
because I was already doing, to the limits of my puny strength, all
the
university work I could. That is why many of us miss things. It is a
shame;
but no one can be fully advised, fully informed, fully occupied with
every
aspect of the life of this University. Those, however, who at last
have a
little more leisure to think and write in their chosen subjects, will
also
have a better opportunity to study the implications of the proposals
before
Congregation and to alert us. The hard-pressed, busy young
sexagenarians on
Council and you, Mr Vice-Chancellor, will yourselves, in a few years'
time, be
in a better position for far-sighted reflection on what concerns us
most. In
supporting this resolution, I look forward to your retaining a vote
and a
voice, and to your exercising that voice, occasionally and with
discretion,
from the floor of this House.


The general resolution was carried on a division [For, 75;
against,
12]. As previously announced (Gazette,
30 January), Council
decided
that the general resolution should be put to a postal vote. The
approval of
the general resolution was accordingly not confirmed.

Ballot papers for the postal vote are being sent to members of
Congregation
and must be returned to the Registrar not later than 4 p.m.
on
Thursday, 20 February
, the date fixed by Mr Vice-Chancellor
for
holding the vote.

Return to List of Contents of the supplement