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Principal welcomes new Rector

The following address was delivered at the Rectorial Installation today (Tuesday 3rd March, 2009) by Principal and Vice Chancellor Dr Louise Richardson.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Dr Louise Richardson. (Credit: Peter Adamson)

On behalf of the academic community of the University of St. Andrews I am delighted to welcome Kevin Harry Dunion as Rector of the University. Mr Dunion is following in a long and noble tradition. He has some tough acts to follow and some large shoes to fill. A statute of 1642 laid down that a Rector at St Andrews had to be a man: “not only of known piety and gravity but also of eminent virtue.” I wasn’t here for the Rectorial election last Autumn but I don’t remember hearing that that was Kevin’s campaign slogan. What’s more, I could not help noticing yesterday during the Rectorial drag when Mr Dunion travelled the town on a tricycle that, whatever about virtue, piety and gravity were singularly absent.

Indeed, when I first met the Rector, far from presenting himself as a man of piety, gravity and virtue,  the first thing he did was hand me a copy of his book, the title of which, ominously enough, is Troublemakers.

The very first Rector was Lawrence of Lindores in the early 15th century. He was a monk and served,  among several other posts, as Papal Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity for Scotland. In this post he too caused a lot of trouble, though mainly for others, especially Hussites and Lollards whom he had burned at the stake in St Andrews for such crimes as spreading translations of the bible into English by John Wycliffe.

The modern position of Rector dates from 1859 and Kevin Dunion will be the 50th Rector to serve in this period. Winning a Rectorial election is no mean feat.

·      Benjamin Disraeli, the great 19th century politician, stood for election while serving as Conservative Prime Minister in 1868, and lost.

·      In 1925 Fridtjof Nansen, winner of the Nobel peace prize, won election over John Galsworthy, winner of the Nobel prize for literature.

·      Not to put pressure on the Rector but I would point out that his predecessor Sir James Barrie postponed his installation for two years so that he would have adequate time to work on his Installation Address.

·      But the example I would really like to hold up to the Rector today is another of his predecessors, Andrew Carnegie,  who gave the University a gym, a sports field, a gun room and an extension to the library. As you may have heard, Rector, we hope to embark on a fundraising campaign as part of the celebration of our 600th anniversary. I do hope you keep the example of your predecessor, Andrew Carnegie, in mind. We too would like a new gym, a new sports field and an extension to the library. We are not so keen on a new gun room but we could certainly use a new student union.

Relations between Principals and Rectors have on occasion been fraught, as one can imagine they might be given the structure of the two positions. In 1883 James Russell Lowell, a great American poet, diplomat and  Professor at my former institution, Harvard University,  was elected Rector. He ran against  the Conservative MP for Trinity College Dublin (my other alma mater) in a campaign the intrigue and corruption of which were described in the press as: “worthy of an American presidential election”. Lowell won. The Principal, John Tulloch, however, was unhappy with the result and ruled Lowell ineligible as an American (though the rules said nothing about nationality and in fact there have been a number of non British Rectors.) Nevertheless Lowell felt compelled to resign.

Relations were perhaps worst between one of my favorite rectors, John Stuart Mill, and the Principal of his day, John Shairp. Principal Shairp said that he would not attend Mill’s Rectorial Address because Mill was an atheist, and worse, a democrat. Mill opened his 23,000 word  speech by thanking the students for naming him honorary president of the University (not a description likely to endear him to the Chancellor). When Mill said that a university should be a place of free speculation and the Church should be tolerant of those within the fold who did not agree, the Principal walked out.

Extraordinary man as Mill was, he was not an exemplary Rector. He gave his speech, more than two hours of it, and wasn’t seen at the University again for the remainder of his term. He was what became known as an “ornamental” Rector.

Kevin Dunion has made clear that he has no intention of being an ornamental Rector, rather he intends to be a working Rector. The fact that he is a graduate of St Andrews and lives nearby will facilitate the realisation of this ambition and we will all benefit.

I think it is perhaps fair to point out that, coming from another world as I do, I have a few reservations about the position of Rector. I think it is based on two assumptions that I believe are not firmly grounded. The first is that St Andrews students need an advocate. In my short two months here I have seen no evidence to suggest that St Andrews students need any help whatsoever in advocating for themselves. The second assumption I find questionable is that students need an advocate against the University, implying that there is a student interest and a University interest.

I hope during my time as Principal to transform that notion. I believe that rather than being an “us” and “them”, we are all on the same side. A university without students could not exist, just as students without teachers could not acquire an education. I hope that over time we will all come to see ourselves as a community of scholars united in our affection for this University, respect for one another, a desire to learn, and to advance the frontiers of knowledge.

There will of course be overlapping and competing interests but these do not necessarily breakdown along student vs. university lines. I am delighted to have Kevin Dunion at St Andrews to advance the interests of students here but in so doing he will be advancing the interests of the University

Rector, I am honoured to welcome you. I look forward to working with you and to forging a positive relationship, and to having some fun along the way.

ENDS

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