A New Threat to the Warburg Institute
It had looked in light of a recent High Court judgement as if the future of the Warburg Institute’s survival as an uniquely valuable and internationally cherished autonomous body had been secured. Big Institutions, however, can prove bad losers and capable of behaving thuggishly and, sadly, the University of London would seem to be one such.
We have received the following disturbing note from Professor Margaret McGowan, the Chair of the Warburg’s Advisory Council.
“I am writing again to keep you abreast of matters relating to the recent court judgment. The Advisory Council of the Institute met last week and agreed that an open letter should be sent to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of London, Sir Richard Dearlove, inviting the University not to submit an appeal but to join the Institute in seeking mediation to agree ways to implement the terms of the judgment.
That letter was sent to Sir Richard today and a copy is attached for your information. We will also be posting a copy on the Institute website and hope that our many supporters will feel able to help us in raising the profile of our position and to encourage the Board of Trustees of the University to resolve the dispute through negotiation.
With our very warm thanks for all your support and for your continued interest in the Warburg Institute and our efforts to secure its long term future.”
The (19 November) Letter to Sir Richard Dearlove KCMG OBE, the Chair of Trustees at the University of London, reads as follows:
“Dear Sir Richard
We are writing this open letter to you in the sincere hope that we can work together to resolve the long-standing dispute with the University concerning the Warburg Institute and its trust deed.
We are sure that you and your colleagues have been as greatly touched as we have been, by the outpouring of support and affection for the Institute over the last few months. Now that judgment has been handed down in the recent litigation, the parties have an opportunity finally to end the dispute and agree a way to deal with matters in the future.
In the context of respecting the terms of the trust deed and judgment, we see no reason why we cannot settle matters once and for all, and to that end we would like to extend an invitation to you to join us in a mediation in the near future to agree ways to implement the terms of the judgment. It may not be an easy process, and there are undoubtedly strong feelings on both sides (and amongst our supporters), but if we all commit to participate in sensible, good faith discussions, we dare to believe that it can be accomplished.
In making this public approach, we are motivated by our desire to secure the long-term future of the Institute as a fully cooperative and viable unit (as defined by the trust deed) within the University of London. We are mindful of our many thousands of supporters who have openly demonstrated the esteem in which the Institute is held, not only in the UK but worldwide; we feel that the eyes of the world are on us, and on the University, at this time.
When the judgment was handed down we declared, through our press release, that we were very satisfied with its essential findings. The University’s press release made a similar declaration. That the judgment should be welcomed by both sides seemed to augur well, so far as the amicable and constructive settlement of any remaining disagreements was concerned.
And yet, at the same time, the University’s lawyers sought leave to appeal against the judgment. This development contrasts with the statement by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, quoted in the press release, which regretted that the matter had gone to court at all, and observed that ‘the financial and opportunity cost’ to the University had been ‘serious’. Similarly, in a blog article posted on the Times Higher Education website on 25 October 2014, the Chief Operating Officer of the University, Chris Cobb, noted that “Legal fees have been eye-watering, diverting valuable resources that could otherwise have been used to fund research and teaching.” We understand, from Mr Cobb’s statement, that the University uses funds for its legal costs that could otherwise be used to further the University’s primary charitable purposes in the field of education and research, and we very much regret this.
We also consider that prolonging the legal action could only exacerbate whatever damage may have been done, during the course of this dispute, to the University’s reputation. And we believe that both the Warburg Institute and the University would be harmed by subjecting both to another long period of uncertainty in these matters.
For all these reasons we very much hope that you and the Board of Trustees will decide not to exercise the right of appeal. Instead, we hope that you will agree to our proposal of mediation, and we look forward to discussing suitable mediators with you. The use of a mediator should make possible the resolution of any remaining disagreements in a constructive spirit, and certainly in a way that was less costly, less time-consuming and altogether less damaging to both sides than a return to the courts.
In the University’s press release the Vice-Chancellor was quoted as saying: “Now, we must look forward, and get back to the task of supporting this unique institute and the academic community who value it so highly.” We very much hope that the University will now act in the spirit of that very positive and encouraging statement. For our part, it is our view that the “battle” Mr Cobb referred to in his blog ought to stop, and that includes accepting the judgment and beginning to work constructively with us.
So, for the good of the Warburg Institute, the University of London, and all those worldwide who care so deeply about the Institute’s future, we hope that you will on reflection decide not to submit an appeal, but instead to accept our proposal, the underlying aim of which is to secure the Institute’s future so that it can prosper and grow under the University’s continued trusteeship.
We look forward to receiving your response at the earliest opportunity.
Professor Margaret M. McGowan
Chair, Warburg Institute Advisory Council”
20th November 2014. Michael Daley