Responsible leadership (1 of 2)

November 8, 2012

As deputy academic secretary at the University of Stirling at the time of the Queen's visit in 1972, I, inter alia, served as clerk to the discipline committee, which was anything but the "hopeless kangaroo court" to which Dennis Farrington refers (Letters, 18 October). Both the university and the Students' Association were represented by four distinguished QCs, one of whom went on to become the premier judge in Scotland (Lord Gill), while another became a senior UK Cabinet minister (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). They conducted the business with the integrity and fairness one would expect from such luminaries.

I feel strongly that Sir Richard Evans' criticism of Tom Cottrell's handling of the situation is unfair, given that the principal cannot respond. As Evans acknowledges, Cottrell was a visionary founder of an exciting academic institution, assisted greatly by Stirling's first distinguished university secretary, Harry Donnelly (also cut down too soon by terminal illness at the end of Stirling's second year). They complemented each other perfectly.

That a retired general was appointed to succeed Donnelly was surprising and unfortunate, but in fairness, Sir Derek Lang had a distinguished military record, and at that time the "plate-glass" universities were drawing on the experience of able people from a variety of backgrounds to lead them. Farrington's remarks about Lang are unkind, as is what he says about "local government officers" and "unqualified and inexperienced managers". To whom is he referring?

Many of Stirling's early academic and administrative team felt let down by the antics of a comparatively small group of drunken students, whose behaviour was, even in "fun", totally unacceptable on such an occasion. The team had invested hugely in helping to establish the university, and its shock over the incident, extravagantly blown up by the media to attract worldwide headlines, was more palpable than scrutiny of archival material could ever convey.

I am surprised that Evans felt it necessary to rake over old embers as he has done.

Lorna Paterson, Stirling

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