Standing Down as Dundee Rector 28

My three year term as Rector if the University of Dundee comes to an end shortly. I have decided not to seek re-election. I was touched by the very kind observations on Subrosa’s blog including the comments.

I am not standing for re-election becuase I have come to the conclusion that it is essential that the Rector lives in Scotland to do the job properly.

When I was elected I did hope to move to Scotland. However Nadira has made it very clear she does not want to live in Scotland – or indeed anywhere but London. Personally, if I had the chance to live in any town in the entire world, plus the seventh circle of Hell and an oxygenless planet off Alpha Centauri, London still might be bottom of my list. But that’s family life for you.

I missed the December university court meeting because weather related London Transport problems meant I missed my flight from London City airport. I am flying back from Africa to make it to a university nominations committee on Tuesday (I’ll come to why shortly). Despite being non-resident, I have had a much better attendance record than any recent Rector. I attended over 70% of Court meetings to argue for the students – and that’s 70% more than Lorraine Kelly, my immediate predecessor.

We also have established the Rectors’ Group. All five Scottish University Rectors meet on a regular basis to agree joint positions – for example against student tuition fees – and to lobby for those postitions. We are meeting again on Wednesday, and then as a group meeting the Scottish Parliament Education Committee and the Scottish Education Minister Fiona Hislop on Thursday. A major theme will be that the public spending deficit should not be used to heap the costs of education further upon students.

The Scottish Rectors’ Group has been possible because we have achieved a situation where all five universities have Rectors who are really committed to doing the job. It is perhaps not a coincidence that, for the first time in history, all five were R|ectros of their own Alma Mater.

What I was not able to do was to spend as much time as I would like at the University, meeting individual students and dealing with their problems. I would not recommend anyone to become Rector unless they are able to devote twenty working days a year to the job.

Subrosa is quite right that the University authorities will be delighted to be rid of me. Lorraine Kelly was their ideal Rector. She never went to committee meetings, and allowed the University authorities to nominate her Assessor, who can represent the Rector. I nominated my old student friend Mike Arnott, described to me by a shocked University official as “A communist from the trades unions”. Pretty accurate, exactly. And just what they need.

Universities to New Labour were in one sense just another quango into which they could place supporters. The Chairman of Dundee University Court is John Milligan, close to Gordon Brown and biggest single donor to Scottish New Labour and its tax dodge, the “Charitable” Smith Institute. The Court is packed with businessmen, whose idea of the value of education is measured in pounds and pence. Teaching is viewed as vastly less important than income-bringing research.

What the University does not feel like at all is a self-governing University community exisitng primarily for the benefit of its students. I did my best to apply that view to all issues, and to remind others at least that this view still exists. Looking back, I remain proud of my Rectorial Address. The University refused to follow tradition and print it and put it in the University library, let alone give it to the media.

The University administration had put their press and public affairs office fully behind their candidate, former British Lions captain Andy Nicol, whom I beat in the election. Andy is a nice man, but he was precisely what the University would want – a local celebrity they could use for PR, but with no particular views on higher education and most unlikely to turn up to a string of committees.

On the day of the election itself, the Dundee edition of the New Labour touting Daily Record was being given out free around the University and extraordinarily the full front page was devoted to the Dundee Rectorial election, with a huge photo of Andy Nicol and a banner headline “I was born to lead Dundee students”. (Wrong!!)

It had been organised by the University press office, as had the front page endorsement of Andy Nicol by my two immediate predecessors – Lorraine Kelly and Fred Macaulay. The involvement of the University Press Office was completely out of order. I also believe that it was very bad form indeed, and against all tradition in all the Rectorial universities, for past Rectors to endorse a candidate and thus oppose others.

The University were plainly stunned and very unhappy when I won. They couldn’t understand how I had defeated their much more famous candidate. It is also worth noting that my immediate predecessor Lorraine Kelly made no attempt to contact me or offer advice – perhaps unsurprising as she knew fuck all anyway. The predecessors who did give me some advice were Stephen Fry and Gordon Wilson.

Which brings me back to why I am making a point of attending Nominations Committee on Tuesday. The committe is deciding on the appointment of two more members of University Court, and that learned body has already opined that “Finance and Pensions Experience” should be key qualifications, as a preliminary attempt to exclude from University governance anyone interesting.

My last act as Rector will be to attend the Scottish parliament to argue for continued investment in higher education and against tutition fees. But my penultimate action will be to create as big an unpleasant row as I can about the packing of Court with yet more balance sheet dullards. All entirely appropriate.

The election for my successor is now on. I am going to return to what I consider proper behaviour and not tell students for whom to vote. But I do recommend criteria to them.

Judge the candidates’ on their views on the funding of higher education and on tuition fees in particular. But also judge candidates on their views on the position of students within the university, how the university should be governed, and further on the purpose and value of higher education in society.

Then – and without this the rest is pretty worthless – judge whether they are both willing and able to actually turn up on a regular basis to argue for these views and values.

To my successor, please continue to fight cuts in the University and especially the pruning of arts and environmental subjects in order to concentrate on “Core” (ie money-making) activity. Be sceptical of all governments, and conscious that the value of education is much more than merely economic. Remember that the University has become essential to the remaining economy of a fine but shrinking old city, and that brings its responsibilities too.

I wish all the best to all the candidates.

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28 thoughts on “Standing Down as Dundee Rector

  • Craig


    Thanks. No. new to me and very interesting.

    The security services still are way too intrusive in Dundee University, with the appalling complcity of the University authorities. I am having a meeting with some student groups about that on Monday evening, but I can’t give detail before it’s sorted out.

  • nextus

    Craig was the first rector in years to take the post seriously.

    The last decent rector was Stephen Fry (92-98), who made an effort to attend meetings, mix with students, and champion student causes in the media (including the successful fight against the university on rent rises). Tony Slattery (98-01) used the rectorship as an excuse to get drunk. Fred McAulay (01-04) just buddied up with the students but didn’t speak up for them. Lorraine Kelly (04-07) was a rent-a-smile agent for the university management. None of them voiced opinions about education issues or took up student causes.

    While the university press office trumpeted the visits of previous rectors in the media and the website, they seemed to quash details of Craig’s visits, even internally, so that many students didn’t know when he was there. And the student exec initially didn’t show much enthusiasm for politics either. But the new crop has started to seize the initiative.

    This year, DUSA (the students’ association) launched a “Year of Democracy” theme, which recently featured guest speakers such as Arun Gandhi & George Galloway.

    (Why are you not on the list, Craig? Were you invited? Or even informed?)

    On 18th Feb, they’re hosting Moazzam Begg. I note that a recent edition of the University magazine ran a long feature on evidence of complicity in torture, which focused on Begg and the institution’s forensic activities, but said nothing about the contribution of their own rector. Interesting. I hope the next rector gets rather more active support.

  • Control


    I read your opening address from when you were made Rector of the University of Dundee and must say I enjoyed it thoroughly. I hope I can someday speak with such eloquence. Did you develop your speech writing skills by going to toastmasters or any such thing or is it just something you have developed over time?


  • Strathturret

    I think your reasons for standing down are correct.

    The Rector is more effective if he is Scotland based. Otherwise he is seen as a ‘celebrity rector’.

  • Craig


    Thanks. Neither really. Be it good or bad, it’s purely natural. If you look at any of the videos of me on youtube, you will see normally I do it entirely without notes and its not much different.

    The irony was I had the chore of writing this one down, so it could be printed and placed in the library, and then the University refused to do it.

  • Bert


    If I recall correctly, you gave a link to your opening address speech (I remember the line about Kylie Minouge…!).

    As Control has said, it was an enjoyable read.

    Can you provide the link again?

  • Ingo

    nextus. I also know Robin harper from various actions, notably in faslane and Doonray, as well as various green party conferences and policy discussions of the past.

    This was before his political career took off, and during the development of the Hollyrod parliament.

    He has a good heart and brain for that matter and I would trust him to do his best, even as a busy politician.

    I do not know the other candidates and hence shan’t comment further, but I know that Craig Murray somehow will feature in the history of Dundee university. Best of luck with it.

  • Orwell

    A funny and pointed speech that surely set the cat amongst the pigeons in the senior common room!

    Not as fuuny though as Lorraine Kelly being appointed as Rector! At least it wasn’t Carol Smiley !

  • Suhayl Saadi

    I can understand why many people from outside the UK prefer London; there is a unique quality about that city which relates to energetic critical mass (like that of a star) and to it being the ‘heterogeneous polyglot’ extraordinaire. In London, you don’t feel ‘separate’, different. Some of my colleagues/ friends from outside the UK who have lived in London for decades feel very uncomfortable once they breach the perimeter of the M25. They feel very much at home in London, but not elsewhere. Though I don’t share it myself (but still love London), it’s an understandable phenomenon. I wish you all much happiness, wherever you are!

  • tungsten

    Sorry Craig

    I may be way out of line here but isn’t the Rectors Group some kind of anal conspiracy theory?

    You’re well out of it,mate!

    Lorraine Kelly always looked tired but cheerful and elated on Breakfast TV.

    You don’t want to end up looking like that.

    Stand down now! It’s in your best interests.

  • Angela

    Can’t believe it was really three years since the campaign!

    Regardless of anything that’s happened since, it was still a great victory that will take the Uni authorities years to get over. I still remember there faces when we were at the count and it was clear their candidate hadn’t won.

    I know you and Mike have probably been battering your head against a brick wall behind the scenes for the last three years. I’m sure you’ve both done good, no matter how hard they try to disguise it.

    It’ll be interesting to see just how much effort the three candidates put into the campaign, nobody can accuse you of not trying there. It was probably the karaoke that won it for you in the end!

  • Frazer

    Do something completely outrageous before you go, what about an assisted parachute drop onto the lawn on your last day, surely that would make the BBC ?

    Good on you mate !

  • Clydebuilt


    I’m gutted that your standing down. Scotland needs strong voices to speak out against the Labour party and it’s cronies. A part time Craig Murray is many times better than a Lorraine Kelly stand in full time stooge.

    So with the wife not wanting to leave London I suppose becoming an MSP is out of the question.


  • Mike

    Robin Harper once addressed a GM crop protest I was on in Fife in 2002, concluding by advising us not to take direct action. About 90 of us ignored his advice and I was one of four arrested, but eventually the case was thrown out. Getting too old for that kind of thing now. The Assessor

  • Craig Kelly

    Hi Guys,

    Craig Murray has been invited to take part in the Year of Democracy and will be here at DUSA on 12th March.

    Just a wee plug, the Moazzam Begg event is only days away, Thursday 17:15 in the Dalhousie Building.

    I hope to see you all there.


  • Emmanuel

    Craig, I sent you a email about 5 weeks ago about an article you published on about Ghanaians not showing much interest in the oil find, but have not heard from you.

    I am an LLM Energy Law & Policy (2009/10) student of University of Dundee.

    I have a private issue to discuss with you and will be very much happy if you could send me your phone number/email address.

    Thank you.

  • Nicholas Kientsch

    I have just finished listening to todays play on radio four. I started to listen out of curiosity to hear David Tennant in a different role, but within a short period I had forgotten I was listening to David Tennant and instead became enthralled in the content of the play. Thank you for allowing such an honest and open account of your time as ambassador to be published and broadcast. Whilst there are things in the play it might have been tempting to hide, the fact you are able to show yourself in such an unedited manner gives me greater confidence in what you say.

    It is a shameful story, and gives the lie to our government’s claim to represent any values other than those of narrow self interest and self survival. In supporting the United States in its war on terror we were like the weak boy in the school playground chosing to stand by the school bully in the hope it would give us security. Instead it has reduced our standing in the world.

    We have a history in the West of supporting regimes as long as they are useful to us and of then suddenly realising what a brutal dictatorship they are when we no longer need them. The shah of Iran was our man, to be looked after and protected, but once deposed we would not even consider letting him live in Britain as the foreign office had an eye on selling arms to the new regime. Apparently before becoming Prime minister Margret Thatcher had assured him that she would be ashamed not to offer him residence. Shortly after becoming Prime minister and being briefed by the foreign office her view changed. How sad that there seem to be so few men and women of principle in high office and how refreshing to here a man of spirit and honour speak out.

    Thank you. I wish you well and hope that you are able to shine a light on the corruption and deceit that our leaders would rather have hidden in the darkness arrising from fear and self serving that must keep many people in your situation silent.

  • Nigel

    A very thought provoking and questioning play, thank you. Our politicians have much to answer for, condoning torture and murder throughout these countries to gain information under the guise of solid information. I greatly admire what you tried to do and thank the producers of the play for reminding me of your own personal ordeal. I wish you well and your future work.

  • David Rothwell

    Hi Craig,

    I’ve just listened to David Hare’s play ‘Murder in Samarkand’ based on your memoir. An incredibly powerful ‘story’ of which I was previously unaware – I still haven’t fully taken it in.

    Quote 1:

    “If you are winning, they re-write the rules”.

    True of the UK civil legal process too!

    Quote 2:

    “Just because the allegations were not proved does not mean they are not true”.

    In the UK civil divorce process that translates as: ‘Just because truth is denied as a defence does not mean that truth cannot be fabricated as an indictment’.

    Quote 3:

    “I admire people who pay the price for their principles”.

    The UK civil legal process disavows actions based on principle. In so doing, it undermines its pretensions to support morality and justice, and will happily see the impoverishment of the principled litigant.


    What you say of the UK executive is true also of the UK legal system and, therefore, of the UK ‘establishment’ as a whole. Was not British imperial ‘gun-boat diplomacy’ based on the fear of the threat of punitive action rather than the ability to carry it out? That deceit/subterfuge is as true today in the exercise of British power – nationally and internationally – as it was 150 years ago. It politicises even the legal process.

    I’m afraid that UK voters who believe in democracy are guilty of naivety and self-deception.

    Is there something I can do to help you, and people like you (not forgetting David Hare), to allow you to flourish and prosper for all our sakes?

    Best regards

    David Rothwell

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