Serial Vice-Chancellors

Who’d be a Vice-Chancellor?  Today Graham Upton starts on his fourth VC’s job.  This is his third interim role, taking over at Birmingham City.  He’s not the first experienced VC to take on the task as acting as an interim leader: Sir William Taylor took on two interim roles having been director of the Institute of Education, Principal of the University of London and Vice-Chancellor at Hull.

We have certainly seen the rise of the serial Vice-Chancellor.  The role is more fraught than in previous times, and it is clear that governing bodies are looking out for people who can demonstrate that they’ve got the skills and experience to do the job.  With an existing VC there’s a track record to check, and so there’s a growing number of people who are onto their second job.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives some indication of some of those who have done this.

5 Sir William Taylor Institute of Education, London, Hull, Huddersfield, TVU
4 Professor Graham Upton Oxford Brookes, Cumbria, Glyndwr, Birmingham City
3 Sir Graham Davies* Liverpool, Glasgow, London
  Sir Hector Hetherington Exeter, Liverpool, Glasgow
  Sir Howard Newby* Southampton, UWE, Liverpool
2 Professor Cara Aitchison St Mark & St John, Cardiff Metropolitan
  Professor Michael Arthur Leeds, UCL
  Dr Robin Baker Chichester, Canterbury Christ Church
  Professor Janet Beer Oxford Brookes, Liverpool
  Sir Drummond Bone Royal Holloway, Liverpool
  Professor Brian Cantor York, Bradford
  Sir Paul Curran Bournemouth, City
  Sir David Eastwood* UEA, Birmingham
  Professor Nick Foskett Keele, Bath Spa
  Professor Malcolm Gilles City, London Metropolitan
  Sir Peter Gregson Queens, Cranfield
  Sir Martin Harris Essex, Manchester
  Sir Alan Langlands* Dundee, Leeds
  Sir David Melville* Middlesex, Kent
  Anton Muscatelli Herriot Watt, Glasgow
  Sir Edward Parkes* City, Leeds
  Professor Louise Richardson St Andrews, Oxford
  Professor Colin Riordan Essex, Cardiff
  Sir Christopher Snowdon Surrey, Southampton
  Professor David Tidmarsh Anglia, Birmingham City
  Sir Rick Trainor Greenwich, Kings
  Professor David VandeLinde Bath, Warwick

I  have not included people who were heads of institutions and vice-chancellors of federal universities (London, Wales or Victoria) under rotational systems where the VC was a part-time role.  Four of these (marked*) intercalated a term at UGC, HEFCE or FEFC into their career; requiring them to leave a VC role, but being snapped up when they left the funding body.  It doesn’t include the international transfer market, where both Oxford and Cambridge have recruited VCs who have led universities elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

This isn’t a foolproof scheme, however.  Robin Baker followed his short stay at Chichester with a short stay at Canterbury.   Bowen & McPherson (2016) point to potential problems when it’s clear that a leader will be looking to move on after a few years; that they won’t make necessary changes, preferring to manage the day-to-day business and then move on.  Part of that process is they might also focus on quick wins, the things that might achieve a league table boost, and again not make long-term difficult decisions.    It must also be a feature in the rise in VC salaries – tempting an established leader to move may involve a pay rise. Keeping an established leader  (who may or may not be getting offers) may also involve a pay rise.

Cursiter, Stanley, 1887-1976; Sir Hector Hetherington (1888-1965)

But, it’s still probably a good bet.  Among the many good leaders who’ve lead more than one university is Sir Hector Hetherington.  A professor at 27, he became Principal of the University College of the South West aged 32.  He subsequently led Liverpool and Glasgow. Twice chair of CVCP, this is the account of his last meeting there:

 He made his last appearance at the Vice-Chancellor’s Committee shortly before he retired… in 1961.  As he was about to leave to keep another engagement, the Chairman gave a short valedictory speech.  Then as Hetherington rose and walked slowly towards the door the whole Committee rose spontaneously and stood in silence until he had gone. No other Vice Chancellor had ever received from his peers such a tribute of affectionate regard. He had been the executive head of a College or University almost continuously for over forty years and attained unprecedented supremacy of respect.   (Illingworth 1971 p105)

I’m sure this will continue, although it’s important to note that every serial Vice-Chancellor has to have a first appointment somewhere.  Maybe governors somewhere will advertise for a training vice-chancellorship, one that’s good for a first role…

[updated after being reminded of more distinguished names – but there may be more…] 

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4 thoughts on “Serial Vice-Chancellors

  1. A few others who spring to mind:

    Anton Muscatelli: Heriot-Watt & Glasgow

    Sir Paul Curran: Bournemouth & City

    Colin Riordan: Essex & Cardiff

    Cara Aitchison: St Mark and St John & Cardiff Metropolitan

    Malcolm GIllies: City & London Metropolitan

  2. Pingback: Chief Executive’s pay: a provocation | moremeansbetter

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