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3 February, 2004

New Chancellor for the University

So, the new Chancellor of Lancaster University is to be Sir Chris Bonington CBE, taking over the role from HRH Princess Alexandra who has been the Chancellor for the full 40 years since the University was founded.

For those who don't know already, Sir Chris Bonington is Britain's best known mountaineer, having led and made 19 Himalayan expeditions, including 4 to Everest (which he climbed at the age of fifty in 1985), and having made many first ascents in the Alps and greater ranges of the world. He has written fifteen books and frequently appeared on TV. His existing connection to the University is an honorary doctorate conferred (by Princess Alexandra) in 1983, plus work with the University to promote the region, especially the Lake District.

To further clarify, the Chancellor is the titular head of the University; metaphorically the Chairman rather than the Chief Executive, a role held by the Vice Chancellor. The Chancellor's most visible function is to preside over degree ceremonies. So he's not directly going to be my boss!

On the whole, I'd say Sir Chris is a good choice. There's a certain caché in having a member of royalty as Chancellor, but with Princess Alexandra's decision to retire from the post, the challenge was to find a public figure combining a degree of gravitas (few events are more formal than a degree congregation) with public recognition and popularity, without descending into populism. I think that balance has been achieved.

My personal distaste for snobbery makes me a little uncomfortable about this, but having a respected Chancellor is rather important for the prestige of the institution. The whole charade of Princess Alexandra visiting with her personal maid and toilet seat (yes, really), and wearing brand new white gloves in case she touches commoners, is somewhat distasteful, but hey, how many University Chancellors are in the royal succession? Sir Chris can command as much respect, but more for his manner and achievements. That said, those who care about such things will get a warm glow from his resemblance to Edward VII....

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