Proctors: Beneath the Gowns

What are the main duties of the two Proctors?

Proctors have several roles. They take part in the governance of the University. They are ex officio members of the governing Council and are entitled to attend meetings of any statutory university body, and to request any information from them. They also oversee University Examinations. They ensure that exams are conducted properly and have discretion to approve special arrangements for individual candidates (e.g. to take account of disability or ill-health). They are responsible for dealing with complaints about university matters, acting something like internal ‘ombudsmen’. Complaints can be brought to them by students and staff members, and they have wide powers to investigate and provide redress. They also deal with student discipline and attend many ceremonial functions.

How are the Proctors appointed?

The Council of the University agrees a cycle to allow all the colleges to take it in turns to nominate the Proctors. Each year, two colleges elect a Proctor and one college elects the Assessor. When a college’s turn comes round, it elects from its Governing Body on the Wednesday of 8th Week of Hilary Term, often selecting one of their teaching Fellows. The person elected takes up office on the Wednesday of 9th Week of Hilary Term in the following year, when an admission ceremony is held to swear in the new office-holders.

Has the role changed much throughout the University’s history?

Yes – but the Proctors have been around for over 750 years! The role originated in the early days of the University when there was friction between people from the North of England and people from the South. Each side appointed a Master of Arts to represent their interests and the Proctorial system developed from there. It is interesting to see that the original role was to do with sorting out disputes and imposing discipline. The Proctors’ role has developed over the years to suit the changing needs of a changing University. Change comes about partly because of internal reforms and partly because of external pressures (e.g. new legal requirements).

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Are Proctors responsible for college discipline?

Some misconduct will relate just to college matters (e.g. setting off fire extinguishers in college accommodation), and these are dealt with by the student’s own college. Other misconduct will relate just to university matters (e.g. plagiarism or other cheating in a University Examination), and these are dealt with by the Proctors on the University’s behalf. There is a grey area in the middle (e.g. significant misuse of IT facilities involving both college and university systems), and in these cases the Proctors will agree with the college Deans concerned the fairest way to take disciplinary proceedings forward.

Which disciplinary cases are referred to the Proctors?

Disciplinary cases start with a formal investigation of concerns brought to the Proctors’ attention (e.g. by a Chairman of Examiners). Other, straightforward, cases result from reports made to the Proctors (e.g. by their Proctors’ Officers about student misbehaviour after examinations). They are dealt with either by the Proctors or by the Student Disciplinary Panel. The most serious cases are referred to the Student Disciplinary Panel which holds an independent tribunal, while the Proctors deal with the less serious cases. Students have full rights to answer the charges, bring evidence and call witnesses.

What disciplinary measures are used by the University?

The Proctors can impose a fine and/or damages up to £100 and issue a written warning about the student’s future behaviour. The Student Disciplinary Panel, however, can impose unlimited fines/damages, can rusticate and expel, and in the case of examination-related offences can order penalties such as marks reduction, failure in a paper or failure in the entire examination. The Proctors also have other powers relating to suspension of students who are misusing university premises, and those involved in criminal proceedings.