Physics, Politics and Ethics Collide as Hawking Professorship Passes
Regent House narrowly pass a controversial £3.63 million professorship set up in Stephen Hawking’s name.
Cambridge’s governing body have voted 746 to 606 to accept a hefty donation from the Avery-Tsui Foundation, to fund the Stephen W Hawking Professorship of Cosmology.
The professorship, founded by the late Dennis S. Avery, alum of Tit Hall and personal friend to Hawking, provides a salary bonus of up to £67,000 to the holder of the post. This means the recipient, at Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, will potentially receive up to £140,000 per annum, more than double the average Cambridge professor’s salary.
The proposal has courted controversy from the upper echelons of the university, with many fellows claiming that the difference in pay would threaten meritocracy at Cambridge. In a report published in the University Reporter last month, Dr Brigitte Steger, a fellow at Downing College, claimed “Accepting this problematic agreement may in the end cause great damage not only to the University’s reputation, but potentially also to the reputation of Professor Stephen Hawking after whom the Chair is named.”
Similar concerns were echoed by academics within the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics itself, who questioned the fairness of the offer. Professor R. E. Goldstein of Churchill College outlined NINE points of contention, and Dr A. I. Pesci, fellow of Downing College, lambasted the professorship, stating “It defies logic to think that somebody at the top of the profession would agree to such indignities.”
Supporters of the professorship welcomed the donation, suggesting it would alleviate the university’s recent difficulty in attracting talented academics away from well paid and tenured professorships in the USA.