This is the submission that the Standing Committee of Convocation made to the Council of Liverpool University. It was not accepted, and the proposal at a subsequent University Court meeting to reconsider the abolition of the University’s court was defeated by one vote (the vote of a member of the senior management team, who happened to be elected by Convocation to Court). If the Privy Council accepts the changes, then the University will have no representative bodies at all, apart from Senate, which is currently under review. University’s that have gone down this road – Birmingham fo example – are in the position of being ‘limited companies’ but without shareholders. The worst of all possible worlds.
The Role of Convocation in the University of Liverpool The Standing Committee of Convocation welcomes the opportunity to respond to the proposals concerning Convocation briefly outlined in Insight and was grateful to Karen Brady, Director of Philanthropy and Alumni Relations (in the University’s department of Corporate Communications) for her attendance at a special meeting of the Committee to speak about the proposals and answer questions. The Committee hopes that this dialogue might herald a new, enhanced relationship between Convocation and the University, to the mutual benefit of both parties. The founders of Liverpool University, many of them successful city merchants with a wide knowledge of the world, wanted to create in the early twentieth century an institution that was a self-governing academic community, whose function was to promote the ‘advancement of learning and ennoblement of life’ (as the plaque on the Victoria Building’s facade records). To this end, a system of governance and management was set up in which none of the various interests within that community would be allowed to dominate. The University Council was to have the overall responsibility for the University’s finances and its property, and had a large representation in those days of members of the City Corporation, and, indeed, met in the earlier years in the Council’s offices. The University Senate, made up of the officers and professors, was to control academic matters. Over and above both these was placed the University Court – the governing body of the University until th late 1990s, – with a large membership representing all the cultural, educational and political interests in the region – what are now called ‘stakeholders’. Another body, to the side of these as it were, was the University’s Convocation. The University is a Corporation with members, and when someone receives a degree then that person remains a member of the corporate body for the rest of his or her life (unless he or she, with the consent of the University Council, resigns membership). The Convocation involved those graduate members in the governance of the University (including representation on the University Council) and also had the role of providing the electoral list for the Combined English Universities Constituency (Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Reading, and Sheffield) whose graduates elected two MPs to Parliament between 1918 and 1950. Membership of Convocation has since been extended to include holders of various University diplomas, etc. (as noted in the University’s Ordinances). The Convocation of Liverpool University, under the management of its chairman and Standing Committee, has played important roles in both the life of the University and in intellectual life in general. In his History of the Convocation of the University of Liverpool (University of Liverpool, 2012), Adrian Allan documents the particular concerns that Convocation, through its Standing Committee, has exercised in the past, including the role of the University, indeed also of higher education, and about the provisions made for both students and graduates of the University, also its initiatives in support of students (through a Loans Fund) and the University (through a Gift Fund) and its relationship with the local community (for instance through representation on and support for the University Settlement). With the more recent advent of The Friends of the University (1984), the establishment in 2003 of the University’s department of Corporate Communications (with responsibility for Alumni Relations, also undraising, etc.), and the rapid growth in the number of the University’s graduates, spread through many continents, the relationship of Convocation to the University has changed. Nevertheless, while all three bodies – Convocation, The Friends, and the Alumni Team – perform rather different functions, they should endeavour to work closely and in parallel with one another. What has made Convocation’s role particularly valuable is its formal independence from the management of the University in general, accompanied by a positive relationship with that same management. It is not Convocation’s role to try and ‘run’ the University, or to ‘second guess’ its management, but to act as a sounding board, a critical friend, and an ambassador for the University all over the world. Members of Convocation have a stake in the reputation and future prosperity of their alma mater. Enshrined within the University’s Statutes is the power granted to Convocation ‘to discuss and state its opinion upon any matter relating to the University, including any matter which may be referred to it by the Council, and to report its views on such matters to the Council as may be appropriate.’ If Convocation is to continue to fulfil these roles, it should continue to be an independent body, run by its members. This is what gives it its value in the University’s presentation of itself to the outside world. In fulfilling these roles, it should also work closely, and in parallel, with both the Alumni Team and the Friends of the University. To realise these objectives, it is recommended that :- 1. The structure of the Standing Committee of Convocation be reformed in order to enhance the continuing role of the graduate body in University governance. It should be replaced by an executive committee/board of ten members, elected at the AGM, who will have the power to co-opt other members in order to represent the various areas of study in the University (for instance representatives of the various alumni bodies). Some of these co-opted members should be from groups overseas. The executive should have a chairman, secretary and treasurer to serve as its officers. 2. In order to make Convocation more effective in the future, the University needs to reinstate some secretarial help for what is, after all, a University body, and reinstate some of the small funding that Convocation used to have towards running expenses (say £5,000). (By way of background, it is noted that until 1997 the University provided a member of its senior administrative staff to service Standing Committee and, assisted by other staff, Convocation, and that for the past ten or more years no funding has been provided to Convocation.) 3. In order better to inform members of Standing Committee, they should be provided with copies of relevant University publications and granted access to the online staff magazine, Precinct. 4. There should be a close relationship, cemented by regular meetings, between the chairman of Convocation and the University Officers, especially with the Vice-Chancellor. This would enable Convocation to express its views to the University management, and to disseminate the management’s views to the rest of the graduate body, through a newsletter and in other ways. 5. Wherever possible the Vice-Chancellor should be asked to address the Annual General Meeting of Convocation, to report on the University’s past year and its plans for the future. In addition, other officers of the University should be asked to make presentations to the regular meetings of the executive committee on relevant aspects of University matters. Equally important is the relationship of the student body, and the president of the Guild should continue to be a member of the executive committee, as an ex-officio member rather than an invited member as at present, and should be asked to address the AGM on matters relevant to student affairs. 6. A regular ‘slot’ should be available for the chairman/ secretary of Convocation in Insight, and the chairman’s annual report to the AGM should also be circulated to the graduate body. Provision should be made for an enhanced presence of Convocation on the University’s webpages, to introduce Convocation and the executive committee, advertise and report on meetings, and invite comment and opinion from Convocation members. 7. As the University’s graduates are spread all round the world, then the University should be asked to make video-conferencing facilities available for meetings of both the executive and the AGM. This will enable much wider participation by the graduate body, and enhance the usefulness of Convocation to the University as a whole. 8. The AGM of Convocation should be organised in concert with Alumni reunion events, to ensure greater participation. An address by the Vice-Chancellor and the President of Guild should go a long way to encouraging members to attend.
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