Functions and powers
3.1. Congregation is the sovereign body of the University. Council is bound by all resolutions passed by Congregation and all other acts and decisions taken by Congregation and “shall do all things necessary to carry them into effect“. Any resolution passed by Congregation or other act done or decision taken by it in accordance with the Statutes and Regulations binds the whole University.
3.2. Congregation has responsibility for considering major policy issues submitted to it by Council or members of Congregation (by way of legislative proposal or by resolution); elects members to Council and other University bodies, including the Audit and Scrutiny Committee; approves the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor; and approves changes or additions to the University's Statutes and Regulations, which define the governance structure.
3.3. Legislative proposals require the approval of Congregation. Congregation has the power to intervene to oppose or amend resolutions put forward by Council.
Membership and meetings
3.4. Congregation consists of over 5,000 members, comprising academic staff, heads and other members of governing bodies of colleges and societies and senior research, computing, library and administrative staff. Meetings are generally chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, except for certain meetings such as the conferment of Degrees by Diploma or Honorary Degrees, which are chaired by the Chancellor.
3.5. Meetings of Congregation are scheduled to take place on the Tuesday in each of the first, second, fourth, sixth and eighth weeks in each Full Term and on the second Tuesday after each Full Term, and otherwise as the Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor may determine. If there is no opposed business or any other reason to hold a meeting, any items on the agenda are declared by the Vice-Chancellor to have been approved without the meeting being held. If there is notice of opposition or a topic for discussion, a meeting of Congregation will be held in Full Term.
3.6. Notice of every meeting of Congregation and of the business to be conducted at it is published by the Registrar in the University Gazette.
3.7. There are two main motions that can be made at Congregation: legislative proposals and resolutions.
3.8. A legislative proposal is a proposal published by Council for amending, repealing or adding to the Statutes or Regulations. Notice of such a proposal is published in the University Gazette not less than 19 days before the date of the meeting at which it is to be considered. Unless there is notice of opposition or amendment to the proposal by at least two members of Congregation by the eighth day before the meeting, the proposal is passed without question put (unless Council decides otherwise). Otherwise, at the first meeting of Congregation, the proposal is passed or rejected or the proposed amendments approved or rejected. The voting procedure set down in Regulation sets out that the proposal or amendment shall be deemed to have been passed unless at least 125 members vote against it and constitute a majority against it. An amended legislative proposal may be approved at the first meeting or proceedings postponed to a second meeting.
3.9. Resolutions can either be proposed by Council or by any 20 or more members of Congregation. Resolutions either instruct Council to make legislative proposals, or may be on any other topic concerning the policy or administration of the University. A resolution will be published in the University Gazette not less than 19 days before the due meeting and if there is no opposition or amendment to it by at least 2 members of Congregation by the eighth day before the meeting, then it will be declared carried without question put (unless Council decides otherwise). Where there is opposition or amendments that are themselves opposed or unacceptable to Council, a Congregation debate on the resolution or the amendment to the resolution will take place. Unless the Vice-Chancellor in his or her role as Chairman of Congregation announces that in his or her opinion the proposal is accepted or rejected (and he or she is not challenged by at least six members of Congregation), a vote will be taken on the resolution. The resolution may, in circumstances set out in the Regulations, also be submitted to a postal vote. A simple majority carries or rejects the resolution.
3.10. In almost all cases, legislative proposals and resolutions are passed by Congregation because no opposition or amendment is made within the prescribed time.
3.11. Since 1 October 2000, only one legislative proposal has been the subject of a vote at a meeting of Congregation. This was the legislative proposal arising out of the White Paper on University Governance in Michaelmas Term 2006, which was then submitted to a postal vote. Since 1 October 2000, only two resolutions have been the subject of a vote at a meeting of Congregation, one of which was then submitted to a postal vote. These were resolutions relating to student admissions (postal vote, May 2003) and to the rejection of any mandatory system of regular joint University-College review of individual contributions (May 2005). Over the same period, 6 resolutions, including those described above, were proposed by 20 members of Congregation. The other 20 member resolutions were proposed in May 2005 (2, both accepted by Council), May 2006 (accepted by Council) and November 2007 (accepted by Council).
3.12. Attendance at Congregation meetings varies widely. For votes on recent major issues, attendance has ranged from 800 to 1,200. A postal vote of the whole of Congregation can also be called by Council or by at least 50 members of Congregation, and this allows for a more complete poll of Congregation when a matter is considered to be sufficiently important for this to be necessary.
3.13. The Coopers and Lybrand report before the North reforms states that “Congregation…seems to operate as a long-stop on decision making in Oxford. It would appear that the threat of taking an issue to Congregation is often as powerful as actually doing so”. The North reforms did not reduce the powers of Congregation and indeed the North Report stated that Congregation has “a valuable role… in acting as the ultimate arbiter of contentious issues, and in being a forum through which the central executive bodies can be called to account”.
3.14. Either Council, or any 20 or more members of Congregation, may also put forward for discussion in Congregation any topic of concern to the University. Council has a duty to give consideration to the remarks made in the discussion, but Council is not, as it is with resolutions, bound to take any further action in regard to the topic. This procedure has only been used twice since its introduction as part of the 2000 governance changes (in relation to the second Green Paper from the Governance Working Party in November 2005, and on the Task Force on Academic Employment's consultation on proposals for career progression for academics in November 2008).
3.15. Any member of Congregation may ask a question at a meeting of Congregation in Full Term about any matter concerning the policy or the administration of the University. The answer to such a question is published in the Gazette before the meeting at which it is to be asked; at that meeting supplementary questions may be asked to elucidate the answer. This procedure has only been used once in recent years (on the University's recognition of the UCU trade union in January 2010).
3.16. Decisions of Congregation are reported in the Gazette. If a postal vote is to be held, a transcript (or exceptionally a summary) of the debate is published in the Gazette.