Fulfilling the need for people who lead (2 of 3)

October 4, 2012

I would like to correct the impression that the University of Warwick had no track record of producing vice-chancellors until quite recently.

John Forty, who was foundation professor of physics at the university (1964-86), left Warwick to become vice-chancellor of the University of Stirling (1986-94), and I, foundation professor of biological sciences (1969-82), after four years in a start-up biotechnology company, became vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia (1987-95).

Maybe there were so few of us because Warwick was such a splendid place to work, with Jack (later Lord) Butterworth as vice-chancellor and Michael Shattock as academic registrar, later as registrar. Why leave Warwick to go to clear up someone else's mess?

Jack worked very hard to make excellent appointments and then left people alone to flower, providing encouragement when needed but never micromanaging.

For my first year, I was on my own, establishing research before teaching started. After six months, Jack called me in. "Well, my boy, what are you going to do?" I explained my plans to him. "Go and do it" was his response. I was 39, and the experience was liberating - we worked our heads off and within 10 years the department was near the top.

It is a truism that academics are driven from the inside, are often self-doubting and need strong but encouraging leadership to release their talents in a way that makes sense for the institution. We seem to have forgotten that.

Derek Burke, Norwich

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