The comments come amid an ongoing vote on a pro-vice-chancellor for sustainabilityLucas Maddalena for Varsity

Academics have accused Cambridge of “making it up as [they] go along” regarding their climate policy, as staff are currently voting on proposals for a new pro-vice-chancellor (PVC) for sustainability.

With polls open on the motion for a sixth PVC, students and staff have published various statements, known as flysheets, both supporting and attacking the University’s green agenda.

The motion for a sustainability PVC was first put forward in October and, having initially been approved by the vice-chancellor, was pushed to a vote in Regent House, the democratic body made up of Cambridge academics, following criticism of the plans.

The original proposal called for “consolidated leadership” of a “reset in approach” following the Topping report, which found that the University’s research links to the fossil fuel industry posed “high reputational risk” to the institution.

One flysheet slammed the proposals, drawing attention to the supposed expense of the new role, before criticising the “startling U-turn” which led to the ballot.

The statement, signed by 25 members of Regent House, accuses the University Council of being “unwilling to respond to well-founded criticism of the proposal,” referring to the fifty signatures collected to force the vice-chancellor to put the motion to a ballot.

The petition concludes: “The lack of substantive detail about the proposal, the unwillingness to respond to criticism of it, and the drip-feed announcements from the Council about the Topping Study, all suggest ‘making it up as you go along’ rather than a considered plan.”

Other flysheets have been published in strong support of the new role, however. One statement urges the University to “be a leader in the debate and actions around climate and environmental sustainability”.

Cambridge must “recognise its leadership responsibilities” by “delivering change within the Energy Transition,” rather than “being led” on climate action, say these 29 academics.

Another flysheet, signed by SU sabbatical officers, JCR presidents, and students, writes that the University must demonstrate its “commitment to driving forward its work of climate action”.

“This is a positive step, but alone is not enough. It must take place in the context of a broad array of swift actions by the University to address its role in the climate crisis, and respond to the need for climate action now,” the signatories say.

Students have not always been united behind the proposals. One flysheet cites an official University Discussion in which some students “questioned whether the lack of a dedicated pro-vice-chancellor is an impediment to University policy on climate”.


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An address given at this discussion by a member of student group Cambridge Climate Justice, seen by Varsity, alleged: “Continued delay in implementing the report’s recommendations would be nothing more than a distraction to avoid facing the reality of fossil fuel influence in our educational institution.”

The 41 student signatories of the flysheet, however, concluded: “The approval of this Grace would demonstrate the University’s commitment to climate action, and allow for more accountable, consolidated leadership on this urgent issue.”

The ballot opened on Monday (15/01) and will close on the 24th, with the result being published on the 31st.

A University spokesperson said: “The University Council is committed to environmental sustainability and wishes to progress as quickly as possible with implementing the recommendations from the Topping Study.”

“We look forward to discussing this revised proposal further with members of the Regent House and to the outcome of the ballot,” they said.