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Saturday 28 November 2009
Letters: Management of 'new universities'
Fatal flaws in the managements of 'new universities'
It is extraordinary that HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) should ask for the resignation of the entire governing body of London Metropolitan University (report, 23 November).
But it is not surprising that polytechnics (or central institutions in Scotland) have occasionally blown up, nor that "new universities" still might. The problem is management structure.
The polytechnics had a managerial hierarchy inherited from technical colleges (ultimately, from schools) and passed on to the new universities. The director was hired as such, as were heads of department.
In old universities, these were not posts, but offices, held by people whose primary appointment was as an academic. A relatively useless head of chemistry might be there for a term of office, but return to being a first-class researcher. In a polytechnic, although there were ways round this, removing a head ultimately meant dismissal from employment, from a tenured post for which dismissal could only be with (narrowly defined) cause.
Polytechnics were thus a hybrid: commercial management without much commercial discipline nor much power to dismiss, academic leadership without much academic attainment nor much need for consensus.
The hybrid has been dysfunctional. Top management's prerogative was easily reinforced by keeping resource decisions to itself, restricting heads to staff management and using resources to reward compliance. The downside could be unattractive: secrecy and sycophancy, favouritism or cronyism, bullying, fear and hatred and, at the top, delusional tendencies.
The governing body is supposed to have oversight, but with a director/vice-chancellor used to selling his or her institution while keeping access to the reality to a minimum, oversight can be very difficult.
So, while HEFCE may be formally correct to demand the resignation of London Met's governors, the demand also signals an HEFCE failure. The Council should consider how it will advise the government on replacing the managerial posts of the new universities with the offices of the old.
Catholic clerics should face law
The result of the investigation into the Catholic Church in Ireland (report, 27 November) and the long-term cover-up of clerical sex abuse does not come as any surprise to many of us, but what everyone must remember is that the present Pope was at the centre of the Church's policy on this matter and was, for many years, "the enforcer" of Crimen Solicitationis.
This policy was enforced by Cardinal Ratzinger in all Catholic dioceses around the world. Now that a light has been shone into the Catholic Church in Ireland, pause for a minute and consider the situation in Guatemala, Cambodia, Angola and many other countries where there is still darkness, and the Church reigns supreme.
In all enlightened countries, police should be knocking on the doors of Catholic bishops and archbishops and asking them if they have any knowledge of allegations against any priests still living.
If they fail to make any disclosures, and it is subsequently found that they knew of cases, then charges must be brought against these senior clerics for perverting the course of justice.
A mixed bag of climate change
Michael McCarthy did a heroic job trying to wade through the commitments on greenhouse gas reductions made by various countries before the Copenhagen summit ("A change in the political climate on emissions", 23 November).
But there is a mixed bag among the 15 countries listed: cuts vs 1990 by 2020 (EU, UK, Japan, Russia, Australia, Norway); cuts vs 2005 by 2020 (US, South Korea); cuts vs 2006 by 2020 (Canada); cuts vs 2002 by 2050 (Mexico); "substantial" cuts vs business as usual (BAU) (China); specified cuts in CO2 vs BAU (Indonesia); unspecified cuts in CO2 vs BAU (Brazil); no target (India, South Africa).
Since the US emissions increased by 24 per cent from 1990 to 2005, a commitment of 14 to 20 per cent reduction from 2005 to 2020 is actually a commitment to increase CO2 by 0-7 per cent from 1990 to 2020. In South Korea, emissions increased by 88 per cent from 1990 to 2005.
If we look at 1990, the CO2 equivalent tonne per capita was 6.5 for the world, 25.5 for the USA, 12 for EU, 3.5 for China and 1.9 for India. If 6.5 tonne per capita would be a sustainable level (it isn't; it would need to be about half that), the US would have to reduce by 75 per cent and the EU by 46 per cent. China would be allowed to increase by 86 per cent and India by 240 per cent.
Clearly, talking about absolute cuts for the developing countries would be grossly unfair (and we aren't even talking about the CO2 the developed countries spewed out over the past 200 years).
The debate needs to move on a fair pathway to a position where all countries have a similar level of emissions per capita and countries that manage to stay below the average are compensated financially by those above the average.
John Havard (letters, 24 November) rightly calls for us all to do our bit to combat climate change. Two really simple and effective ways to make a big difference are to give up meat and to stop flying.
The UN calculated in 2006 that meat production is responsible for 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and this year the Worldwatch Institute stated that the figure was now a massive 51 per cent.
As well as emitting carbon dioxide, planes contribute to global warming by emitting nitrogen oxide and water vapour at high altitudes. Total global warming caused by air travel is probably at least twice as bad as burning a similar amount of oil in other ways. The effects of planes flying over the tropics are even worse.
While George Osborne's recognition of the importance of reducing carbon emissions in government departments (Opinion, 24 November) is most welcome, we would like to clarify that, according to our most recent assessment, emissions from central government offices have in fact fallen by 6.3 per cent since the baseline year of 1999-2000.
There is clearly some way to go if Government is to meet its target of a 12.5 per cent reduction by 2010-11, but progress has been made by many departments.
Chair, The Sustainable Development Commission London SW1
Richard Ingrams wonders why so many climate-change deniers are to the political right (21 November). I don't suppose it could have anything to do with the fact that a large proportion of the Chelsea tractor-owning, jet-hopping, patio-heating and otherwise extravagantly life-styled members of the public are also Conservative voters, could it?
We need debate on America's 'wars'
It seems that for years now I have been reading well-reasoned articles and letters in The Independent on "The War on Drugs" and "The War on Terror". Both wars have originated in the USA, the irony being that, with drugs, they had a chastening experience with alcohol prohibition in the 1930s and, with terror, their embroilment in Afghanistan provides a similar learning experience.
What is even more worrying is that in spite of The Independent highlighting the futility of both wars we can get no public debate on these issues. On drugs, the politicians keep repeating that they are protecting us from the horrors of addiction, without explaining how legalisation of supply and use of drugs will hinder this laudable aim.
On terror. they keep repeating the mantra that their pursuit of the Taliban will somehow make us safer from terror at home, when a little more curiosity by Americans as to why a small band of foreigners wished to learn how to fly a plane without landing it might have prevented 9/11, and better intelligence in this country would have prevented our home-grown traumas. A cynic might think we are loath to adopt any policy, however rational, that diverges from that of our big brother across the Atlantic.
So the people pursue one agenda while our politicians pursue another; and since they will not even debate our concerns, what recourse do we have to democracy except a mass spoiling of ballot papers at the next election?
Blair's dubious path to invasion
Shorn of rhetoric, all that Steve Richards (Comment, 27 November) is saying is, in Blair's approach to Iraq, he was focused above all on re-election, and to hell with political principles. Support for the UN, internationalism, anti-imperialism, all those sturdy Labour principles were junked in favour of a kind of plastic politics performed by wind-up political zombies with a smiley faces.
Deference to Bush and Murdoch were the over-riding principles. What had this to do with the Labour Party? There are Tories, such as Ken Clarke, with a broader and more humane political vision than that. The achievement? The contempt one finds Labour held in today.
I agree with Michael Rosenthal (letters, 25 November) about Blair's conduct over Iraq, save for one significant point. Mr Rosenthal says, "Blair stated that he 'believed' Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, not that he 'knew'". Yet on 20 March 2003, Blair announced that he had authorised military action to "disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction", thereby referring to WMD as a reality rather than a probability.
And at no point before the war do I recall Blair or any of his cronies speaking the truth: they were, in fact, taking a hopeful gamble on finding such weapons, which they then tried to bolster with falsities such as the "45 minutes" claim. Blair was far more mendacious than he didn't let on, as it were.
The answer to Chris Payne's question of whether we can put Tony Blair "on trial for war crimes" (letters, 23 November) can be traced to the Bavarian Alps 70 years ago.
At a military conference in 1939, Adolf Hitler, when referring to the planned invasion of Poland, stated, "The victor will not be asked afterward whether he told the truth or not. In starting and waging a war it is not right that matters, but victory".
Tooth fairy tales
Your teeth are protected against dietary acids, in soft drinks or in any other food or drink, by your saliva ("Still causing a sensation", 19 November). The illustration of putting a coin in phosphoric acid bears no relation to what goes on in your mouth.
British Soft Drinks Association, London WC2
So the director general of the National Trust earns more than £160,000 a year (report, 10 November). Recently, the Trust charged me an additional £1 for processing a £10 payment on a debit card. This 10 per cent levy on a normally free transaction is considerably more than even the no-frills airlines apply to their online billing. Perhaps those running the Trust might remember that a significant number of its members, often pensioners, are likely to be on low incomes.
Barrow upon Humber, North Lincolnshire
Aids still killing
Sadly, your front page headline "Aids: the pandemic is officially in decline" was misleading (25 November). It is only the rate of increase that has declined. Last year, an estimated 2.7 million new HIV infections were reported and two million people died due to Aids-related illnesses. The number of people living with HIV increased to 33.4 million. Aids-related illnesses will continue to be one of the leading causes of premature deaths globally for decades. Investment in prevention should be increased, not reduced.
Sir Nick Partridge
Chief Executive, Terrence Higgins Trust, London WC1
Well done Peter Draper (letters, 25 November); go ahead and charitably recycle your heating allowance to a suffering, vulnerable, hypothermic pensioner. But what puzzles me is just where you are going to find one not already eligible for the multitude of available pension, housing, health and care benefits and supplements which can often add up to more than the very modest income which keeps an old socialist such as myself warm, well-fed and entertained in my dotage.
St Ola, Orkney
It is unfortunate the BBC chose to describe the Government's new domestic violence lessons as, "very hard-hitting". Surely this broadcaster should be giving battered women a fairer crack of the whip?
Godfrey H Holmes
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