Anatomy of leadership 3 or 4

May 17, 2012

The presence in the same issue of an item about the creation of "provost" and "president and rector" posts at Imperial College London (The week in higher education, 3 May) and David Bignell's "Madness of metrics" is fortuitous and appropriate.

It is clear that all universities need appropriate leadership in or across the two areas, identified in the news item as a "US-style management structure". A former senior colleague of mine lauded the leader who "minds the shop", enabling staff to flourish. But to quote from Bignell, "slavery beckons". It is clear that the two roles require different, complementary skills, skills that any university requires, whatever its mission. As Bignell points out, the provost role in particular requires those who can "lead by example", otherwise their influence can be damaging.

Any university that appoints someone with all the skills required is lucky. I was fortunate to join the University of Aberdeen under the leadership of Sir Duncan Rice, recruited from New York University: he is an example of such an all-rounder. I trust that for less fortunate universities, the example of Imperial will be carefully examined - the gloom is gathering.

S.R. Reid, 6th century research professor, University of Aberdeen

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