Closing Installation address

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Dr Richardson after the ceremony with Baroness Williams of Crosby (photo: Alan Richardson, Pix-AR)

The following Installation Address was delivered by Baroness Williams of Crosby (pictured above right with Dr Richardson).

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Rector, Your Eminence, Distinguished members of the Faculty, Ladies and Gentlemen. May I begin by saying rather informally that the quality of both the singing and the instrumental playing here is such that I believe already that the Vice-Chancellor’s aspiration to excellence has gone a very long way to already being achieved.

Walter Bagehot, that great student of the unwritten British constitution, once said that `the path of great principles is marked through history by trouble, anxiety and conflict.’  Few countries know the truth of that problem better than Scotland because time and again, in this particular country, great principles have been defended, fought over and often left behind them trouble, anxiety and conflict. We live, once again, in tumultuous times as the Vice-Chancellor has said. They are tumultuous times which may well actually lead to a friendlier society than the one we enjoy today, though nobody can yet predict which way we will go. What is certainly true when you go through tumultuous times, like a Captain of a ship in a storm, what one needs is an outstanding leader.

You have chosen, I believe, an outstanding leader in your new Vice-Chancellor, Dr Louise Richardson. She’s never shied away from a challenge, indeed she has almost embraced them as they come towards her. It’s only striking that she should leave the somewhat cosseted situation of Harvard to take on the responsibility for making sure that one of Scotland’s great Universities remains as great as its past, perhaps even greater, and that is certainly a challenge.

It is also, of course, a challenge that she should be the first woman Vice-Chancellor and I want to say a word of comfort to her because I fear, so far, she doesn’t seem to have been made a member of the Royal & Ancient. The reason I want to say a word of comfort to her is that when I was first appointed a Junior Minister, I was also appointed chair of a committee on genetic manipulation, very appropriate. It decided to hold its first meeting at the Reform Club, well known, in London. However, when the first meeting was called, I was told in a whisper, that as a woman I could not cross the sacred ground floor of the club. I would therefore have to go through the central heating ducts into one of the goods lifts in which I might be permitted to ascend quite separately from the ascent of the gentlemen members of the Club. The only problem was, that since I was the Chairman of the committee, proceedings could not start until I got to the meeting and I had already spent a great deal of time in the central heating ducts, which meant that we lost fifteen minutes of our precious time.

You will be pleased to know, Louise, that today the Reform Club happily accepts ladies as well as gentlemen as its members. This just goes to show that it only took a few centuries for the Reform Club to change its mind and I am happy to give the Royal and Ancient a few more centuries to do the same.

The second point about Dr Richardson’s enthusiasm for a challenge, is I think best exemplified by the choice of subjects in which she has become nowadays a global expert. Not many people choose international security and terrorism as their specialist subjects of academic research. It takes a good deal of courage because for one thing anything one says is bound to be highly controversial.

Louise Richardson was brought up in Ireland at a time when the troubles reached their height in the 1970s and the 1980s. I remember at the time I was a Junior Minister in Northern Ireland and I once visited Dublin and a gentleman that I didn’t know came up to me in a market and said, “You better get the hell out of here or you won’t be alive for very much longer”. I didn’t take any notice and I’m still alive. But one of the distinguished contributions Dr Richardson has made, in the world of scholarship, has been to look very carefully and closely at what are the roots of terrorism. Her famous book, What Terrorists Want, was, acclaimed by the New York Times, as `the book that everybody had been waiting for’. Since its publication, it has become a global textbook on a difficult subject. Again, I have to say, that is not the choice of subject that a more timorous soul would choose.

The third thing I would say about Dr Richardson is that she is a brilliant teacher and I won’t go into the long list of awards and prizes she has received including the top award from the students of Harvard for the excellence in what she had done. I hope she will find some time from her busy life as Vice-Chancellor to give the benefit of that outstanding teaching to some of the fortunate students at St Andrews.

She is also a great organiser. When she was at her most recent post, as the Executive Dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies, she was remarkable in the way that she reorganised her institute over a period of seven years to make things quite different from the way they had been – remarkable indeed – and widely renowned throughout the American academic world. I should perhaps issue another warning at this point. Again, from Bagehot, don’t take offence. He said; “It is an inevitable defect that bureaucrats will care more for routine than for results”. Well, I’m sure that’s not true of St Andrews but also quite sure that Louise Richardson will make sure the results are what she measures by and not routine.

She is also an outstanding parent and all of us remember what it is to try to lead the two lives of both having an outstanding career and also raising children, will be, I think, delighted that her three children Ciara, Fiona and Rory, are such excellent citizens and realising also truly greatly their mother and their father’s esteem.

Let me finally say that this is a bold leader. She was brought up in a convent school in Ireland and then decided when she reached her University stage, to apply to what had been for a very long time, the outstanding traditional home for a Protestant scholar, Trinity College, Dublin. When asked why it was that she applied for this `inappropriate’ University, she replied: “It was regarded as being the best and I was very ambitious”. Look out St Andrews – you’re going to be regarded as being the best and your Vice-Chancellor will be very ambitious for you.

Let me conclude by saying that the next ten years will be tough times for universities. Two major pressures coincide. One, to which Dr Richardson herself referred, is of course the financial gales we are all trying to get through. That makes it harder to raise money, more difficult for students to be able to pay back the cost of their education, even if that simply be the cost of living through three or four years of University. But it coincides also with the recognition throughout the world that education is absolutely essential and crucial to one’s survival and one’s success in a modern world in which knowledge is absolutely central to everything and indeed, as Louise Richardson herself has said, to the rapid advances in technology, that we have to ensure becomes deeply human and doesn’t make the human into a machine.

For all these reasons I think you’ve chosen very well. I think St Andrews will find its way between these contending forces. And it will come out at the other end even better than it is today. I would like to conclude by saying she will have many, many, friends. Many in this hall are a Faculty dedicated to making this an outstanding University. A Chancellor who will be behind her, every inch of the way – and I have the greatest respect for your Chancellor who I have known well for several years now in Parliament.  But I’d also like to say that from all of us in St Andrews and beyond, we wish Louise Richardson the finest possible time as Vice-Chancellor of this University and I would like to also wish the University itself an even brighter future than its already splendid academic past.


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