Responsible leadership (2 of 2)

November 8, 2012

I am grateful to correspondents for pointing out a couple of slips of memory (perhaps inevitable after a gap of 40 years) in "A right royal rumpus" (Opinions, 11 October). Lord Wheatley was indeed chairman of the university court, not chancellor (that was Lord Robbins); the union executive did indeed technically just call a meeting, but the expectation was surely that it would protest against the royal visit; and the bottle Jackie McKie (correct spelling, but everyone called him "Jackie Mackie") was photographed brandishing over the Queen's head did indeed contain Riesling, not whisky. Jackie was one of my students - it was he who told me he was only wishing Her Majesty good health - and I got on well with him: I'm delighted to learn that he did so well later in life.

I'm astonished, however, by the attempt by some correspondents to suggest that almost anyone apart from the vice-chancellor was to blame for the fiasco, whether it was university secretary Sir Derek Lang, "a few academics" or "some well-organised students". Lang was responsible to the vice-chancellor. The protest was not well organised - it was a drunken shambles. (It took many more than 10 students to drink the supermarket dry!) Tom Cottrell managed to alienate not just a few but virtually all of his academic staff. Of course, he consulted before arranging the visit (although unfortunately he didn't consult the students), but as vice-chancellor he had overall responsibility: anyone who knows anything about the position must surely know that the vice-chancellor's desk is where the buck stops.

Sir Richard Evans, President, Wolfson College, Cambridge

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