Vice-chancellor 'trying to run Oxford like a corporation'

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The Independent Online

Academics at Oxford University are in revolt over plans by the new vice-chancellor to change the way the 800-year-old institution is run.

Academics at Oxford University are in revolt over plans by the new vice-chancellor to change the way the 800-year-old institution is run.

John Hood, a former business leader from New Zealand who took over in September, has angered dons with his radical plans to overhaul Oxford's governance and the working conditions of its academics.

They are so concerned at the proposals that they have referred the issue to the university's 3,552-strong governing body, Congregation, of which all academics are members. It is thought to be the first time it has been so used since members debated the creation of the controversial Said Business School in 1997.

Dons have submitted three motions to the body that, if agreed, could see the vice-chancellor forced to abandon key parts of his proposals.

The opposition is hugely embarrassing for Dr Hood. The changes are a central part of his leadership strategy.

Academics believe the proposals will destroy academic freedom at the university. Gavin Williams, a politics tutor and fellow of St Peter's College, who proposed one of the motions, said: "Line management replaces collegiality and vocation. Performance is measured and costed. Staff find their jobs at risk. These changes undermine academic values and threaten academic freedom."

Gillian Evans, a professor of medieval history at Cambridge who opposed similar governance reforms there, said Dr Hood was mistaken if he thought he could run Oxford like a multinational corporation. "He has failed to understand the culture of direct democracy at Oxford and the passion that people feel for academic freedom," said Professor Evans, who does much of her work in Oxford. "He has misunderstood what makes Oxford great."

In a letter to Oxford Magazine, David Palfreyman, the bursar of New College, said: "Do we really believe governance is the problem rather than poor management and certainly lack of money? Will we dispose of 800 years of genuine academic self-governance to curry favour with folk ill- informed about just what is a world-class university?" Dr Hood's plans would see Oxford's 39 colleges lose much of their autonomy. He would instead create a single 150-strong academic council. He has also proposed the creation of a board of trustees, 13 outsiders who would oversee Oxford's finances and investments.

The vice-chancellor also plans a new "mandatory system" of performance review of academics by their line managers. This would give managers the power to "rebalance academic duties". Academics regard this as an unacceptable attack on their academic freedom.

The plans also include a shake-up of the university's libraries that could see the eight million books of the 400-year-old Bodleian distributed across the city.

A spokeswoman for the university said it welcomed all discussion of the issues.

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