Edinburgh University’s Princess Anne Own Goal
Earlier this month Edinburgh University chose to shoot itself in the foot. Given the chance to show how the University had changed, how it had moved away from its elitist past, it failed. By contriving to have Princess Anne (seen below wearing some medals) replace her father as Chancellor the University has, again, shown itself to be uninterested in reaching out to those who don’t come from privileged backgrounds.
Graduates of the University – the body who elect the Chancellor – weren’t directly notified of the opportunity to propose a new Chancellor, there was a notice in the Scotsman newspaper, and little else. The University have my email address. They used it to tell me there was a new Chancellor. They didn’t bother to tell me I could nominate a candidate to be Chancellor.
The University authorities clearly had a candidate in mind and were trying to ensure that no others came forward. It’s the sort of behaviour that made some Parliamentary constituencies in the 19th century known as ‘rotten boroughs’ because of the malign influence of landlords over the electorate. It smacks of anti-democratic stitch up. And it will backfire on the University because their preferred candidate is so inappropriate.
For over 50 years Prince Philip was the Chancellor of the University. He was elected at a time when Universities were still bastions of privilege, places where hereditary power was maintained and graduates were almost all paid up members of the reactionary upper class.
While I was a student I supported a campaign to have Prince Philip stand down. His reign was, by quite some distance the longest of any University Chancellor. Normally Chancellors are only chosen on the basis of long, successful careers. Philip was chosen because he was the spouse of the future-Queen. The vast majority of graduates of the University have still not had a chance to choose the Chancellor of their old University. They still haven’t because of this stitch-up.
But the really damaging thing about the imposition of Princess Anne is that she stands only for privilege and inherited wealth. We could have had an internationally renowned academic, a humanitarian champion, a great artist or someone who has made a mark because of their ability. Instead we have someone who owes her place entirely to accident of birth.
The University has another senior elected position – that of Rector. Here the staff and students have persistently chosen serious, hard working individuals who’ve represented the University community. They’ve worked to improve the University – and they’ve all held the position on the basis of their own achievements as politicians, sportspeople or broadcasters. They do, though, have the unfortunate habit of challenging the University orthodoxy, and occasionally pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes on.
I assume the University authorities were afraid of getting someone who couldn’t front up fundraising campaigns, or lend them a palace for high dining. Maybe they thought they’d get someone, like their Rectors, who came from a modest background, and who might challenge them.
It says to intelligent and able people who aren’t of ‘high birth’ that they need not apply to the University of Edinburgh. It says that the University stands for inherited position not earned position. And it sets back the cause of widening participation to those from backgrounds where people don’t tend to go to University even further. Which is a high price to pay for dinner at Holyroodhouse.
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How did you manage to try to nominate Malcolm Rifkind, and fail? Having nominated two rectors whilst I was at Edinburgh, I can assure you, it really isn’t very hard…
Interesting article. You are, frankly, one of the biggest advertisements for the unelected. If you recall, your own election was unopposed. I myself tried to nominate a candidate for Lord Rector, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who had a ‘long and distinguished career’, unlike you. A cursory glance of your paragraph-long wikipedia article shows not one achievement, apart from a victory in an un-opposed election.
Surely the job of a Chancellor is to prove the figurehead of the University, and to represent the University to the wider world. HRH the Princess Royal seems to be in a far better position to do that than most other potential candidates.
In any case, I am proud of my Chancellor and ashamed of my Rector. You, sir, are a fool, and have contributed nothing, to the University, City or wider world.
‘Inverse snobbery is still snobbery. It’s just as bad as someone from a privileged background saying that someone cannot advance because they are from a less privileged background’
This is rubbish. McColl isn’t saying that Princess Anne is incapable of being a good Chancellor because of her background. He’s simply saying that her privileged background by itself doesn’t qualify her to be Chancellor – particularly when she could have been in contention with people who have achieved amazing things by merit alone, if the nomination process had been better publicised and more transparent. And while it’s true that she was an Olympic athlete and should be commended for that, her sport was Eventing, itself a very elitist and privileged activity that requires its participants to have vast reserves of cash and time. This is not to say that she did not do very well – only that a wealthy person with lots of time on their hands doing very well in a sport reserved for wealthy people who have lots of time to pursue their hobbies is hardly headline stuff.
Moreover, ‘inverse snobbery’, while I suppose theoretically wrong, isn’t really a thing (just like racism against white people or misandry aren’t really things either). Whereas real snobbery and prejudice have created a system of oppression that has denied equality and opportunities to millions of people, ‘inverse snobbery’ has done nothing more than, at absolute worst, given privileged people something to feel hot under the collar and righteous about.
Also, on the point repeatedly made about McColl’s hypocrisy, it should be noted that this article was written before he became Rector. He has publicly expressed his disappointment at his own election being uncontested, and I believe that improving student engagement in the democratic process is a priority of his.
Well I’d have liked to have been the first…
May I be the first to agree with James and say that this rather smacks of some seriously selective blindness on the behalf of our dear incumbent Rector. Pot, meet Kettle, you’re both as black as each other.
To raise an related issue, why does the university hold the responsibility for advertising this all of a sudden? There are quite clearly established rules on how they have to publicise this which we all seem to agree they have abided by.
The sense of entitlement radiating from those people who have suddenly discovered they hadn’t noticed is staggering, the insistence that their opinion be actively sought at every turn is nauseating. If they possess such insight and strength of opinion on this matter perhaps they should make the minimal effort to pay attention and vote when they are able, rather than rely on other people to waft every such opportunity under their noses on the silver platters they seem so vehemently opposed to.
^What James said.
How can you stand and accuse institutions of elitism and snobbery while you stand on the side-lines and snipe at Princess Anne, not because of her actions or opinions, but because of her birth.
Inverse snobbery is still snobbery. It’s just as bad as someone from a privileged background saying that someone cannot advance because they are from a less privileged background. They are both great injustices I hope to see as little as possible within our society.
Also to say her appointment as Chancellor was a farce of democracy given the circumstances by which you became rector is somewhat ironic.
With all respect to Peter McColl…his issues with the election of Chancellor as a closed shop apply equally to his election as Rector.
The first I heard of the Rectorial election as a student, was when I was emailed to tell me McColl had won (as an unopposed candidate).
I did not feel that I, or anyone else, was given opportunity to nominate or discuss in a public forum what a rector does or how and why we elect one in exactly the same way as Mr. McColl expresses dissatisfaction with the Chancellor’s election.
His opinion is that it’s due to ‘privilege’. I’d disagree totally with that. The issue is a total lack of engagement with the current democratic elections within the university, at all levels.
I’m glad Princess Anne is our Rector. She doesn’t have political affiliations that colour her judgement. She has a fantastic record of charity work and public service throughout her life which Mr. McColl conveniently doesn’t mention. She has dedicated herself to her country, not her political career. Yes, she was born into privilege but does that mean it’s impossible for her to have achieved anything on merit? The article attempts to discount her totally as an individual because of who her parents were, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t through any fault of her own.
This whole article strikes of the worst kind of snobbery from Mr. McColl.
If nothing else Princess Anne was an Olympic athlete (which, I’m afraid to say Mr. McColl, she achieved on merit, not on privilege) and even by that alone I’d say she stands as a fantastic representative for our university.
This article has been written as a inversely snobbish rant against anyone the author deems to be ‘privileged’. That’s not what the issue is, and I find it offensive that it’s been portrayed as such.
The Rectorial election wasn’t any better than the Chancellor’s. Worse, it came across to me as a closed shop arrangement by a group of politically aligned, in-the-know friends in in the Student’s Union.
People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
I’m absolutely shocked and disgusted by this. I knew Princess Anne was appointed Chancellor. Today I found out:
a. she had been ‘elected’
b. theoretically I had a vote as a member of the general council.
c. there was no vote because the University did its level best to make sure there was only one candidate.
Someone should ask for a judicial review of the University’s blatant manipulation of the process. You either have an elected position or you don’t. If you have an elected position then you have to make sure those entitled to vote and nominate candidates have the opportunity to do so.
she stands only for privilege and inherited wealth ≠ someone who owes her place entirely to accident of birth.
I think there is some confusion here between a lack of transparency from the university and the merits the newly elected chancellor.
Peter & Adam,
I remember reading in the Student some months ago that somewhere in the region of 75%-80% of current Edinburgh students have at least one parent who has a university-or-above level of education.
I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t because they are more intelligent than the sons and daughters of parents without this level of education, but rather because the advantages which those circumstances present in early development are continue as an advantage throughout the university system.
Frankly, I can see no reason why the University of Edinburgh should pretend to be anything other than elitest, personally.
Rather than focus on the system which brought Prince Philip and Princess Anne to their Chancellorships, I would rather more attention were paid to how early socio-economic advantages are maintained and possibly even exacerbated by our current university system.
Adam, regardless of the process (and I can see your grounds for complaint even if I know that your complaint will be rejected because of the reasons outlined by Jordan D) the outcome didnt need the original post.
As for the background of the new Chancellor, surely you of all people, can respect the need to differentiate someones background from their current beliefs or differentiate someones ‘privilege’ from the actions that they take. What makes you think that Princess Anne will not be able to do the job of Chancellor effectively?
So who would you have chosen? I mean to tick all the boxes we need a mythical black, immigrant, bisexual, transexual being from a poverty stricken background. Preferably abused in a war-torn third world country.
Not going to happen.
Think of it differently – What is best for the University? Surely that is the key requirement? So where do the the Univeristy thinks it needs differ from the needs of the University you think it should have? Do you really think that have a titular head in the shape of Princess Anne will stop the University meeting the needs you think it has? Where is your proof.
on your two points,
First, I am not accusing (and I don’t think Peter is) the general council of breaking any rules – they did the minimum they needed to to notify people of the election (they are required to have a notice on The Scotsman and, I believe, in Edit). However, everyone I’ve spoken to was aware of the ballot for court members, but not of the opening of nominations. Clearly more could have been done to publicise it.
on the second, yes, I’m sure Princess Anne does work hard. Peter hasn’t said anything else. I can also believe she is very nice (I’ve never met her, but I always found Prince Philip personally perfectly charming). But this isn’t the point. The point is, what qualifications does she have for the role? In what way does her position help the university’s public image? etc. It isn’t her fault, but she isn’t qualified, and she doesn’t help.
Gents (Peter & Adam specifically), I know me diagreeing with you isn’t surprising, but on this one I’m genuinely failing to see your point.
The University was obliged to make a public, legal notice for a call for nominations and as you note above, it did so. It said in December’s Edit magazine – the same magazine Adam where they included a ballot paper for General Assessors to the University Court – that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was stepping down, and that nominations would be sought. The information was also available on the General Council’s website. I don’t have the regular Alumni e-mails that I get, but I believe it was in there too.
Personally, I actually wrote to the Secretary of the General Council and asked about the nomination process and requested nominee papers; work matters however precluded me getting my act together to actually nominate the (quite centrist) individual in question. HRH The Princess Royal would not have been my first preference, but I can hardly complain about the lack of candidates.
And it is widely noted that Princess Anne does a good deal of work for a lot of charities (alongside other commitments), with active involvement rather than being a titular Patron. At least give credit where credit is due.
I have written and complained. The point is not that they did less than they are required to do. As you say, they did have a formal call for candidates. My point is that they only did the absolute minimum. While the General Council does send things to its members regularly, they did not write to us telling us that nominations were open. In fact, there was a mailing a couple of months ago for the court elections. They could have dove tailed these together. Instead, they were clearly hoping there wouldn’t be a contest, and did nothing to promote the fact that there was.
And yes, this is a problem. I remember sitting with black students as they told me how their parents had told them not to go to Edinbugh ‘an elitist white university’. The university in other ways spends money and time trying to bust this myth – Tim O’Shea will tell you that he consciously spends lots of time publicly supporting the uni football team because he understands that this is a good way to bust the myth – that footballers are some of the best advocates you can get in working class communities. There are lots of people whose job it is to dispel the idea that Edinburgh is an elitist institution. Having Pricess Anne as Chancellor really doesn’t help. And the fact that she is patron of lots of places really isn’t relevant.
I may have misunderstood. Certainly at Napier there is no election to the University Court directly. The Student Association President gets their through being in office.
Now if the ancients are allowed to elect their Chancellors through their General Councils and that process was not followed for the new Chancellor then surely that should have been the complaint, not the result. Indeed the University of Edinburgh General Council called for candidates in January.
As for her suitability for the role, try to look past the accident of her birth. In Scotland alone she is active in over 40 civic organisations as parton, president or other office holder. Although no fan of the royal family I can see no difference in her suitability for that post than the other Chancellors Peter mentioned.
I dont think that the University has shot itself in the foot. It has chosen candidate to meet the needs of the University rather than the desires of some of its graduates.
I think you’re missing a point here. Peter isn’t talking about what his ideal university structure would be. He is looking at what the structure for Edinburgh University is: Graduates elect the Chancellor of the univeristy. I get regular letters from the graduates’ association giving me the right to, for example, elect the 3 members of university court that come from this body. But they never wrote to me to tell me that nominations were open for Chancellor – for the first time in half a century. I had no chance to participate in a process that already exists. Yes, Edinburgh is more democratic – in some slightly odd ways – than most universities. But that’s not a reason not to complain when they don’t organise their democratic processes properly. If, for example, they didn’t publicise the rector elections, people would be pretty cross. You wouldn’t go around saying ‘yeah, but most universities in the country don’t get to elect the chair of their board of directors’. Edinburgh is democratic. It isn’t OK for them to not properly organise their democratic processes.
I’m not sure I understand your point?
Not that I necessarily agree with their politics, but Chris Patten (Oxford), Kenneth Calman (Glasgow), Neil Kinnock (Cardiff), Menzies Campbell (St Andrews), Robert Winston (Sheffield Hallam) suggest that there are more appropriate individuals out there and willing to be Chancellor than any-old-Royal.
I was simply pointing out that an open and shut process has robbed Edinburgh of the chance to have someone who merits the position of Chancellor. Surely that’s what everyone who knew about the process would think?
Having read the job description of the Chancellor of Edinburgh University I dont think that many of the people who you might deem worthy would want the job.
Seriously, what was the point of this polemic other than yet another rant against ‘privilege’.
If you dont like the idea of not being able to elect a Chancellor then you really should argue against every ancient university structure in Scotland. No other graduate gets what you want from Edinburgh. Why should you get that privilege that others wont?