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Oxford University Archives


A history of Congregation and Convocation


5. The mid 20th century

In the years following the Asquith Commission, until the changes made following the Report of the Franks Commission (published in 1966), University government resided in Congregation. This was, roughly speaking, the body of resident teachers, although some members were not resident, eg examiners and members of delegacies, and some were not teachers, eg college bursars or heads of houses. This assembly comprised those members of Convocation actively engaged in teaching or administration and had wide powers: it voted on all statutes and decrees, and had the power to amend statutes although not the legislative initiation; it elected its members to other University bodies (eg the Curators of the Chest) and it approved the University's annual financial statement; its approval was also required for the appointment of a number of University officials such as the Registrar, Secretary of Faculties and Secretary of the Chest.

In spite of this, Congregation was mostly concerned with routine work: its commonest activity was to consider minor or non-contentious decrees (eg for the revision of fund regulations, or for exemptions from Responsions). Congregation was burdened with routine business in which its members had little interest and in which its role was simply as a rubber stamp. For that reason, and because it was held so frequently (once a week in term time), attendance was poor.

The powers of Convocation were to elect the Chancellor and Professor of Poetry; to give approval to the granting of degrees by diploma and honorary degrees and to make a decision where Congregation had voted in favour of a statute or decree but where they had failed to reach a majority of two-thirds or greater. Even in the latter area, however, Convocation's powers were small: it had the power of veto but this was only suspensory and it had no powers of amendment or initiation. By this time, Convocation was seen as a harmless survival of the past by some and an unfortunate anomaly by others.

Some changes were made to the composition of Convocation in the early 1960s. In the Statutes for 1961, specific provision was first made for the holders of University degrees other than the MA, DCL, DM and DD to be members of Convocation . From this date holders of other degrees such as the DPhil would be entitled to membership of Convocation 21 terms after matriculation, provided they kept their names on the books of their college or hall (by means of payment of University dues). The requirement to remain on the college books was removed in 1963.

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