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Chancellor of the University of Cambridge - Sally's Journal
October 2nd, 2011
07:04 pm

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Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Who should I vote for? There are four candidates:

I am mostly ignoring Abdul Arain, because while I fully respect his right as a small business man to protest about big businessmen, I'm not sure 'supermarket chains are evil' is the key priority I wish the chancellor of the university to be focussing on.

I am quite divided on Michael Mansfield. On the one side, he is highly educated and highly lefty, both things I should approve of. His election statement makes all the right noises about being anti-fees and anti-privatisation, and in favour of access to education and free education. He marched in March, he's anti-cuts, he's pro-AV, and what's not to like about someone who gets Legal Aid lawyer of the year? He keeps a blog, and I agree with him on things like the punitive sentences against the riots. Then again, while I'm very much in favour of improved animal rights, I'm not sure whether overly rhetorical quotes like 'This is massacre, this is genocide', really move the debate forwards... and I would see the election of a raving right-winder to the chancellorship as a divisive and political statement, so it might be a bit hypocritical to vote for a raving left-winger.

Everybody loves Brian Blessed. Not only does he have a great sense of showmanship, his entire response to 'wouldn't it be cool if Brian Blessed was chancellor' has been warm and engaged, yet wise and professional. Stephen Fry thinks it's a good idea. And he's a coal minor's boy from Yorkshire, the romance and rags-to-riches aspect is adorable. His video is very convincingly full of the sort of love for Cambridge that I have and think the chancellor should have. It's quite rambly and name-dropping though. He has climbed Everest and been to the North Pole, which is Cool. And he is running on an Better Access card, which I approve of. Still, I'm not sure I think the 'we are all unique' and 'there is nothing in the world we can't achieve if you set your mind to it' rhetoric is actually true, although it's gloriously uplifting. Although anyone who puts 'don't let the bastards grind you down', and reads poetry in their election speech has style. And my husband and lots of my friends nominated him.

[Oddly, he finished his speech with what I thought was a pretty good rousing cry of 'The chancellor should be a guy with huge vision, a love of life, and a love of people, and a deep appreciation of people. He must sweat blood to help people who are under-privileged.' Sadly, I thought it was a better description of Michael Mansfield and what he has chosen to do with his life than Brian Blessed...]

And where does that leave us? David Sainsbury. If you had said to my 15 year old self 'there's a guy with lots of money who wants to be the chancellor of Cambridge, should we give it to him' I'd have been outraged. Also, it is quite telling that of all the candidates, he seems to have hidden the 'why I want to be chancellor' and 'what I would do if I was chancellor' page quite deep on his website, and even then it's a bit content free - 'I would stay out of policy and champion Cambridge at home and abroad' is really a rather weak statement. On the other hand, he is the only one of the candidates who actually went to Cambridge, which while it shouldn't be a prerequisite for the post at least suggests a meaningful connection with the place. And... this is a very embarrassing thing to write, but now I am old and reactionary, I actually find myself trusting the establishment. Things are hard for universities at the moment, and they convened a panel of very educated and thoughtful people to try and work out who to nominate as chancellor. The panel even had Dr Cowley on it, and while I do not always agree with him, I think he is thoughtful and wise and principled, and entirely not the sort of person who would go along with nominating a rich useless person just because we want their money. I think if you're going to select some very clever people to think very hard about a problem, you have to be really careful before just disagreeing with them because you've thought of something cooler[1]

So, I think my gut feeling is that I will vote Sainsbury, Mansfield, Blessed, Arain, in that order. But I'm very keen to be told why I'm wrong in the comments



The Chancellor of the University of Cambridge should be

Arain
3(3.5%)
Blessed
33(38.4%)
Mansfield
11(12.8%)
Sainsbury
9(10.5%)
Sally!
9(10.5%)
Me, the reader!
5(5.8%)
All decisions of the university should be made by LJ poll, so no chancellor will be needed
10(11.6%)
Brian Blessed killed my grandparents in Sainsburies, you insensitive clod
6(7.0%)



[1] The rant about government advisory bodies has been elided ;-)

(93 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
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From:forestofglory
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:27 pm (UTC)
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*grumbles about being disenfranchised by geography*
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From:atreic
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:28 pm (UTC)
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Yes, it is a bit surprising that they've kept the vote in person thing. I wonder if they think it gives the establishment the advantage, or what?
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From:kaberett
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
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Extremely superficial analysis: the Sainsbury Laboratory, funded by one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, leaves a nasty taste in respect to Sainsbury's nomination.

Also: chancellor as figurehead, do we really need another peer for that, cf Bill Bryson as chancellor at Durham.
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From:atreic
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:48 pm (UTC)
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You mean, 'he has recently bought us a plant laboratory, so maybe we are only offering him the chancellorship because he recently bought us a plant laboratory'? I guess I just trust the nomination board not to be as blatantly corrupt as that. YMMV, you're living and working with them much more closely than me at the moment.

[I'm not sure 'has just given the university lots of money' is unique, too... ]
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From:piqueen
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
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I would have been supportive of Brian Blessed until I watched that video. He comes across as a rambly loon. Plus it's clearly been cut down from something longer which makes me wonder how much worse that stuff was. The bit you liked at the end he's clearly reading from something.

However, as a thought exercise, can you imagine what Prince Phillip's election speech (had he been required to give one) would have been like?

I'd be minded to support Mansfield. Are you going to go and vote? I hadn't considered doing so until you posted this but I'm now tempted.
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From:vinaigrettegirl
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
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Sainsbury is just as tarnished an old player, with zero incentive to recreate access, as any other old pol. He's squarely in the mainstream of sludgey old-boy privilege that put us all in the economic sewer we're in now. I think Blessed or Mansfield would do a better long-term job; I'd vote for Mansfield as the doughtier but maybe Blessed's intelligence and soft skills would make him more effective. Sainsbury is too much One Of Us.

I'll get my coat now.
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From:atreic
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
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I don't think you need to get your coat, everyone else is on your side ;-)
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From:burkesworks
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
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From:edith_the_hutt
Date:October 2nd, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
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Personally I'm voting Blessed then Sainsbury

Arain will be kicked out in the first round so and as he's not my first choice there's no point in listing him.

After dismissing that it's a question of who brings more value to the university (at least it is for me)

Blessed could do some real good for the university, not only in grabbing headlines and changing the public image of the university, but in terms of the access campaign he could really do some good if he got involved. I'd like to hear a bit more from him about what exactly he intends to do, if he goes out and does school visits, releases an annual "come to Cambridge" invite and actually lends his personality and profile to the job then yes, this is totally worth it.

I'm not keen on Mansfield, I get the impression this would be a stepping stone for him seeking a political office in government (either that or a platform for his personal views and opinions). I don't like the idea of an overtly political choice, and he's the most political of the lot (more than Sainsbury imho)

Sainsbury pretty much bought the nomination with a shiny new lab in the botanic gardens (it's quite pretty, the café there is good too) I dislike the idea of selling the position but I think he has connections with industry and business that would bring in scholarships and grants that none of the others could. One of the things Prince Philip did for the University was host an annual dinner for the Benefactors on Senate House lawn every year, of all the candidates, I think an annual dinner with Sainsbury would raise the most money and bring in the highest level of sponsorships.
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From:ilanin
Date:October 2nd, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC)
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I really don't see why we shouldn't sell the position (it is the next best bet to my preferred solution of abolishing it), given that the University is eternally in need of money and the position is of no particular relevance to the actual running of the place.
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From:piqueen
Date:October 2nd, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps emperor would like to tell us why we should vote for Blessed (in the interests of balance)?

Also Dr Walker and Julia Gog were on the nomination committee
http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/chancellorship/candidates/sainsbury.html
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From:mister_jack
Date:October 2nd, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
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I'd be extremely concerned about someone with extreme animal rights views getting a voice in our leading research university so Mansfield is the worst possible choice in my view. I also find the idea that there isn't a link between Sainsbury's money and his nomination laughable. The nomination for chancellorship is payback for his investment, pure and simple.

Not entirely unreasonable, to be sure, and it doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't suited to the job or that it doesn't make financial sense for the university to attract and reward rich benefactors but that doesn't stop it leaving a bad taste.

I'd vote Brian if I could.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:October 3rd, 2011 01:54 am (UTC)
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(I'm voting Brian; the only question is how to rank the other candidates.)

Hmm. I'd not noticed his views on animal rights before. Though Wikipedia leads me to this page which nonsensically talks about animals being "electrocuted, executed and gutted while alive". I'm not sure "electrocute" means what he thinks it means; I'm not even sure what on earth, in context, he can think "while alive" might mean.

Hmm.

I think there's more to dislike about Arain and Sainsbury. Probably.
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From:rjw76
Date:October 2nd, 2011 07:40 pm (UTC)
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One of the major things the Chancellor does is impress really, really big donors. So I'm torn, because, well, whatever you say about Sainsbury, he knows how to hobnob and bring in shitloads of cash for the university.

But... Brian Blessed! (I am ignoring Arain here because he's made his point now, I feel, and Mansfield because I know nothing about him beyond what I've read on Wikipedia. Will become more informed before voting day :p)
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From:atreic
Date:October 2nd, 2011 10:00 pm (UTC)
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Mansfield does have an on-line CV, and an on-line 'why I'd be a great chancellor', which is at least addressing the question more than Sainsbury does...
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From:robert_jones
Date:October 2nd, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
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I'm not intending to vote (despite the offer of a free lunch): I don't really have any strong views, and doubt the outcome will make enough difference to be worth travelling to Cambridge. Like you, I'm inclined to think that a committee of Cambridge academics who have given the matter serious thought will probably come up with a better answer than me, but I imagine that Sainsbury will be returned any way, so I needn't fuss about.
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From:atreic
Date:October 2nd, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
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If my friendslist are representative, Brian is a shoe-in...

...but that sentence did start with 'if' ;-)
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From:koryne_is_me
Date:October 2nd, 2011 08:12 pm (UTC)
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The campaign to make Brian Blessed Chancellor has already done wonders for the University - simply for getting a generation of alumni to engage (and give the University their contact details).

Lord Sainsbury does offer a huge amount in terms of business experience, but it's not especially likely that he will withdraw all support if not voted in - although I would expect him to be given some sort of position to 'appreciate his contribution' in a couple of years if so.

I consider the biggest challenge the University faces in the coming few years is in boosting applications from state schools, especially poorer areas, and that's more a matter of publicity than policy. I'd also consider which of the candidates has more chance of making an impact on getting minority groups to apply.
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From:atreic
Date:October 2nd, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
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From the evidence I've seen, and the list of people who nominated them, Mansfield is probably the best vote for getting minority groups to engage, although I guess Arain is the only one who passes the 'not a white man' test as far as I can tell...
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From:the_alchemist
Date:October 2nd, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)

Thinking as I go along ,,.,

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1) I had decided against Michael Mansfield, but only because I thought he was Michael Meacher. Predicably, I don't think that the massacre/genocide thing is "overly rhetorical". Though I have some human supremacist inclinations myself, I don't think that human supremacism is demonstrably truer than (some of) the alternatives, and if you're not a human supremacist then those are perfectly sensible words to use about the meat industry.

As for "divisive and political", I don't think it's a good idea to vote for people on the grounds that their opinions are generally acceptable, if you don't happen to agree with those opinions. There have been 'generally accepted' things at all previous points in history that we now think to be completely evil, and there will probably be things generally accepted at this point in history that the future sees as evil. If you think you've spotted what some of them are, I think it's right to be very vocal about it

2) Abdul Arain is awesome. I got to know him a little bit when I lived round the corner from him, and the ready meals sold by Al Amin are some of the most delicious things in the whole world. I reluctantly agree, however, that this does not in any way qualify him to be Chancellor of Cambridge University.

3) I don't think I have much to say about Brian Blessed. I will vote for him if it turns out that there's something bad about Michael Mansfield that I haven't considered. Or possibly if I decide that Lord Sainsbury is a Bad Thing, and neither of the others stand a chance of winning (or is it an electoral system that means I don't need to vote tactically?) Why do you think "we are all unique" isn't true? It seems fairly obviously true to me, though not particularly useful.

4) Lord Sainsbury makes some good noises about "maximising the impact" of his philanthropy, but I think it's only in the sense of picking some areas he happens to like, and then making vague attempts to maximise the impact within those areas, but without telling us exactly what he's doing to measure the impact and what the results of that are. I will vote for him if he turns out to be some kind of cost effective giving champion, but I don't think he will.

I also have a general inclination to default to agreeing with clever people I believe have thought more about things than I have, which presumably includes the panel. I wouldn't agree with a panel's decision because I happen to trust one person on it though - that person might have disagreed with the final decision.

I'm not sure I'd see it as "blatantly corrupt" for the panel to have chosen him because he gave the University lots of money. As ilanin says, there are arguments why that might not be an awful thing to do. I disagree with them though, because I think it would be so bad for the university's image. Which in fact it will be whether or not the panel were actually swayed by the donation, or whether they were just perceived to be.

So its Michael Mansfield for me, I think.

Phew. Now I've decided, are you going on Friday or Saturday, and are you free to meet up for a drink or something? No worries if not - I'm more than capable of amusing myself.
From:yrieithydd
Date:October 2nd, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)

Re: Thinking as I go along ,,.,

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It's STV -- so you can express your tactics!

Actually they say it's STV, but it's for a single candidate, so isn't that AV?
From:emarkienna
Date:October 2nd, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
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Brian Blessed has my vote! AIUI, it's a figurehead position, so I don't feel we're throwing a spanner into some carefully thought out plans.

The whole No To Tesco On Mill Road (and now, the same battle with the proposed Sainsbury) isn't something I really support, so I don't want to vote for Abdul Arain over David Sainsbury. And I have no idea about the other guy.

So I shall probably be giving a 1, and leaving it at that.
From:yrieithydd
Date:October 2nd, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
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As someone who does support campaigns to keep out the major chains, can you summarize your arguments as I can't read that post?
From:yrieithydd
Date:October 2nd, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
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When is the vote?

It was, I believe, ASNCs* who started the Arain for Chancellor campaign. It was a response to the fact that Mill Road is facing an application for a Sainsbury's (after getting a Tesco after a long campaign against). Chains are taking over and this tends to force out smaller businesses because they can afford to cut prices for a while and thus undercut the locals. Thus I have sympathy with him -- it's a blow for the local.

Thus I'm probably an Arain 1, Blessed 2 sort of person, but haven't actually looked into it in any detail.

*Certainly friends on facebook were key in promoting his nomination, and one seems to have been responsible for the idea and another for acting on it.
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From:ilanin
Date:October 2nd, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
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The vote is on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th October. I am not, therefore, eligible to vote, since I will be proceeding to the degrees of Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy on the 22nd October. If I was, I would probably vote for Lord Sainsbury, who has done the decent thing and bought the title like an honest man.
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From:requiem_17_23
Date:October 2nd, 2011 10:28 pm (UTC)
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I'll go with the opinion of a distinguished gent of my acquaintance who holds that selling figurehead positions to rich people is in the very finest tradition of the University, and that far from the worst thing that Lord Sainsbury can do with his money is give some to the University.

The job of the Chancellor, along with most other high-level honorary non-executive figurehead positions, is to (a) represent the university at large fundamentally pointless occasions (b) acquire money and (c) dispense gongs. I think Sainsbury can do a) and b) well, reckon Blessed would be passable at a) and decent at c), and believe that none of the others on the list are capable of any of them; I think that b) is the most important and will remain so regardless of the economic conditions, and anybody could do c) with even a modicum of training.

Beyond that: while both Sainsbury and Blessed can discuss things like 'please don't cut funding to Cambridge' over the right type of dinner with the right type of people, one of them is a hugely rich member of the political aristocracy with experience in government and the other one is a successful actor. Entertaining as Brian Blessed is, if Sir Humphrey Appleby were a potential choice for Chancellor I'd be voting for him.
From:writinghawk
Date:October 2nd, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
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I will vote for Abdul Arain who has not always been a small businessman, probably knows a thing or two about running large (as well as small) organisations, is a highly principled man, and above all who in my view has made more of a contribution and shown more commitment to Cambridge than all the other candidates put together and will presumably continue to live in the city rather than just jetting in a couple of times a year, as I imagine any of the others will. I'd be surprised if having a popular local didn't end up making the ceremonial aspects of the role rather more fun, and do good things for town-gown relations. I also think having a local Asian businessman in what's largely a figurehead role will do more for access than any amount of Blesseds or even Mansfields.

I'm not old enough to trust the establishment yet - I don't think I ever shall be - and I certainly rate David Sainsbury last. 'Stay out of policy and champion Cambridge at home and abroad' sounds like admitting that we want him for his money - or the money that we think he can raise. Money is not to be sneezed at, but we have developemnt offices to raise money (oh yes and there's this idea about higher education being publicly funded). I don't know what he will add.
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From:3c66b
Date:October 3rd, 2011 07:46 am (UTC)
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I don't think there's ever been an idea about higher education being *exclusively* publicly funded; it certainly never has been in Cambridge.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:October 3rd, 2011 01:35 am (UTC)
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I'm probably voting Blessed, Mansfield, Arain, Sainsbury. Maybe on the day I'll put Sainsbury above Arain, but I'm comfortable with 1 and 2. I really don't like the notion of "jobs for the boys" or of buying the chancellorship and I don't think Sainsbury has an especially good track record at promoting higher education or research, let alone research with no direct commercial applicability. That we have this election at all is a measure of the unease people feel about him.

My favouring Brian Blessed is based in large part on having for years felt he'd be perfect to play Mustrum Ridcully in a Discworld film. And if he can play an Archchancellor, why shouldn't he be a chancellor? Seriously, the rôle does have a large ceremonial component (Phil the Greek demonstrated that it's the only indispensable component) and of the four candidates he'd clearly be the best at that.

Michael Mansfield has done good stuff. But the profession of representing a client to the best of one's ability leaves a complicated sour taste in my mouth. Yes, he represented the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, but he's also represented Arthur Scargill and Mohamed Fayed. While I'm against the establishment candidate, that's not the same thing as wanting an anti-establishment candidate.

Arain, *shrug*. I don't feel he's of sufficient stature to be a serious contender. It would be a disaster if he won. But it would be nice if Sainsbury came last.

More generally, as you know, I like the idea of The Duchess of Cambridge as Chancellor, but couldn't see any way to establish her willingness to stand and get the requisite nominations in time. catyak pointed out in comments that electing an elderly Chancellor this time round, while of course, of course, wishing them a long and happy life, would open the possibility that Kate might be willing to take the post once she's got more used to the being-royalty thing.
From:emarkienna
Date:October 3rd, 2011 09:01 pm (UTC)
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When we can vote for a Duchess of Cambridge, I'd gladly vote for a Duchess to be Chancellor...

(I'd also dislike it perpetuating the idea that she has a connection to the city, beyond simply being given a title that took its name from the city.)
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From:gerald_duck
Date:October 3rd, 2011 02:04 am (UTC)
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Oh — hypothesis, by the way: possibly Sainsbury realises the only votes he'll get are from people who respect the establishment's choice of candidate. He hopes those are enough, but doesn't want to be seen to be trying too hard if he fails. This might explain his well-hidden manifesto and lacklustre campaign.

Alternatively, maybe his stance is "I've donated so much money a mere peerage isn't enough of a gong" and he has enough sense not to say so.
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From:ptc24
Date:October 3rd, 2011 07:54 am (UTC)
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This is massacre, this is genocide

It's the wholesale slaughter of animals by people who are just butchers!
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From:stephen_cowley
Date:October 13th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC)

Roles

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"Brian is keen to go climbing with the mountaineering club, run along the river shouting encouragement to the boaties, and sit (possibly not quietly) in the audience at college plays ...": that's what Heads of House are for ... not Chancellors.

"He could do this without failing to accept the realities of higher education funding ...": so can the University, e.g. see http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=417622

"I think that Brian would also be fully able to fulfill the fundraising role of Chancellor": well I disagree; "hosting raucous lunches for donors to the University": ah so that's what they want; "the Development Service should not have to rely on the Chancellor's network of contacts to support their campaigns - they should be using the networks of all influential alumni": CUDO has networks. As I posted above, think about the end game.
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From:robert_jones
Date:October 5th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
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The field seems pretty lacklustre to me: I'd certainly vote for the Duchess of Cambridge in preference to any of these candidates.

It seems to come down to what we want a Chancellor for. Do we need one at all? Probably not, but we've always had one, and to remove the post would require a change to the statutes, which would be more trouble than it was worth. On the other hand, I don't think there's any desire on anyone's part that the Chancellor should play any sort of meaningful role in the University's administration. So we're left with a purely titular position.

One view you could take (which I suspect the appointment committee may have taken) is that if we have to a Chancellor, and we need some money, then we might as well appoint someone as Chancellor who will be effective at bringing in donations.

Another view would be that as the Chancellor is basically an ornamental position, we should appoint someone ornamental, which leads us to Brian Blessed.

A third view would be that the Chancellor is something like the President of Ireland: that we should appoint someone who has made a significant contribution to public or academic life, who we're not expecting to do anything as such, but who will reflect well on the University. This candidate seems to be missing.

A fourth view would be that the Chancellor is a ceremonial position, and we already have a family we've selected specially for fulfilling such roles, so we should appoint one of them.
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From:serenasnape
Date:October 13th, 2011 10:14 am (UTC)
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I'm voting Mansfield, Blessed, Arain. Do we have to rank all the candidates? If not, I'm not ranking Sainsbury at all.
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From:the_alchemist
Date:October 14th, 2011 08:10 am (UTC)
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Snap, I think.
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From:benparker
Date:October 14th, 2011 08:59 am (UTC)

Blessed every time

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Everyone is taking it way too seriously; how much fun would Brian be?

We have the vice-chancellor to worry about politics. The chancellor should be there to bumble around, open buildings, and occasionally say the wrong thing in a very comical way. That's what the Greek did, and exactly what Chancellor Blessed will do!

Happy voting!
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From:piqueen
Date:October 14th, 2011 12:55 pm (UTC)

Re: Blessed every time

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That's the best argument I have for Blessed. I'm wrestling with my conscience about whether that is enough.
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