Prentice questioned the management of issues by her predecessors in her address University of Cambridge

Deborah Prentice, Cambridge’s new Vice-Chancellor, spoke about her plans for the University earlier this week at Senate House (02/10). Here’s what we learned.

Freedom of speech: new forums for ‘controversial views’

Prentice, who has written in the Daily Telegraph about her approach to freedom of speech on campus, said she would be focusing on her new ‘Vice-Chancellors dialogues’ in the year ahead.

The new ‘public forums’ will be designed to “create a free speech environment” for the exchange of “conflicting and possibly controversial views,” Prentice said.

Cambridge has been at the centre of debates on freedom of expression in higher education for some time.

In June, Rishi Sunak appointed Arif Ahmed, a controversial Caius professor, as the government’s new ‘free speech tsar’. The role will see Ahmed advising the Office for Students over whether to fine universities that cancel a talk due to student pressure.

The Vice-Chancellor said she was still discussing initial topics and speakers with colleagues, but that more would be announced soon.

Strike disruption: University plans to pay staff ‘probably won’t’ meet inflation

Cambridge education was severely disrupted last year by strikes and marking boycotts. Staff, both at the university and across the country, have been demanding pay increases to meet rising costs of living.

Prentice, who is Cambridge’s first ever American Vice-Chancellor, said she saw “how difficult” the last few years had been for people.

The new VC said she wanted the university to be a “good employer,” “competitive in the labour-market,” and an institution that is able to “recruit and retain” staff.

Outlining a “multi-year plan,” Prentice said she was looking to improve staff’s pay and conditions, but maintained that any changes would have to be “financially sustainable.”

Discussing the state of the University’s finances, the American said “margins are small,”and that staff pay offers can mean spending less elsewhere - potentially “constraining progress and compromising the university’s ability to carry out its mission.”

As a final disclaimer, Prentice said pay would “probably not” meet staff’s expectations or mitigate the effects of inflation.

Fossil fuel companies and research funding: ‘desire to make a difference’

Cambridge’s role in the green energy transition has been debated by student activists, academics, and university management for several years.


Mountain View

University should stop accepting research funding from fossil fuel industry, report finds

The university and its colleges are in the process of divesting its multi-billion pound investment portfolio.

In July, an independent inquiry into Cambridge’s ties to fossil fuel companies found that the University also faces “high reputational risk” if it continues to accept research funding contributions from major polluters.

Since 2016, Cambridge has received £19.7m in research funding and philanthropic donations from Shell and BP.

Prentice, who was Provost of Princeton University when it became the first major higher education institution to bar oil and gas industry contributions for research, noted that the University Council is now considering how to respond to these findings.

According to the American, Cambridge is “aligned around a desire to make a difference.”