subtext has extensively covered the recent abolition of University Court (subtexts passim), but has yet to give much thought to the ‘annual public meeting’ that top table seeks to replace it with. Thankfully, student newspaper SCAN has unearthed some interesting information on management’s plans for the future.
According to a University statement, the new public meeting ‘will provide an opportunity to widen the diversity of groups we have not traditionally reached through court membership.’ As we reported in subtext 169, the membership of the Court was the most diverse of any top-level governance body in the University. The Court could have easily represented new groups by voting to expand its own membership, but heigh ho. The new public meeting will allow ‘attendees to engage more immediately in the development of the University.’ So there you have it – apparently the public meeting will take place more often than the annual meeting of the Court, and stripping it of its decision-making and appointing powers will somehow provide greater opportunities to help ‘develop’ the university.
So, what will the membership be? As helpfully explained to SCAN: ‘The first event will target […] around 200, and […] invite a broader range of stakeholders, including student groups, the general public, regional businesses, voluntary and community organisations, as well as current external members of the Court.’ Erm… Okay. So the first meeting of the Annual Public Meeting will have a smaller membership than the Court, and the first order of business will be to invite stakeholder groups previously already represented by the Court to the following year’s meeting. Okay? Okay.
One of the reasons advanced for the need for another Court Effectiveness Review is the apparent lack of diversity in its membership. In her background paper to Senate (see subtext 169, and letter from Stanley Henig, below), Chief Administrative Officer Nicola Owen refers twice to this shortcoming, though acknowledging that the University does not actually hold any data to back this up. Admittedly, it is difficult to ascertain the ethnicity of members without conducting a full equality audit but at least it should be possible to have a stab at establishing the gender balance of Court.
Ms Owen states that a measure of success for the University’s ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Vision’ is to achieve a ’50-50 ratio female/male’ composition in the membership of University Committees. So, let’s look at Court, the ‘University Committee’ that seems to be causing her so much concern. The Secretariat website handily provides a list of current members, each given their title of Ms, Mrs, Mr, Dr or Professor. A quick perusal of the staff list gives the gender of those with academic titles, so a reasonably accurate picture of Court’s gender balance can be established. This shows that out of the current total of 237 filled places on Court, 101 are held by women. The figure represents 43% of membership, certainly short of the 50% target, but not so far adrift as to cause so much concern as to deprive it of its governance functions (one would have thought).
Still, perhaps 43% compares badly with the ratio for other University Committees? Not so. If we look at Senate, we find that women make up 35% of its membership, so still a bit to go to catch up with the ‘unrepresentative’ Court. What about Council, the body that wants to take over the governance functions of Court? Surely it would want to be seen as the standard-bearer of gender equality, especially as it has more power to determine its own composition than any other committee? Alas, no. Only 31% are female. The only body that could make any serious impact there would be the Nominations Committee, several of whose members are appointed by … errr … the Court, which the VC is set on abolishing. Great.
But surely the VC’s senior management team, the body with the real power in the University to effect change, would be leading by example towards that 50-50 goal? Of course not. Of the 14 individuals who are most in charge of the fortunes of Lancaster University, a mere 4 are women. Just over 28%. Perhaps this might be a good time to commission a long overdue Senior Management Effectiveness Review. What about it, Ms Owen?