An unpaid ambassador

Patricia Lee, the wife of Simon Lee, former vice-chancellor of Leeds Met, responds to the media's slings and arrows

May 14, 2009

When Simon and I met as law students at the University of Oxford, college heads lived with their partners among the students. Staff and students got to know and support each other in a way not always possible at larger institutions. On his appointment to Leeds Metropolitan University, with its huge student body and some 3,500 staff, Simon and I were determined to recreate that sense of personal involvement and joint commitment.

There has never been any question of my being a paid member of staff. Everything I did was on a voluntary basis. Despite the expense of buying and maintaining a family home in Yorkshire, Simon and I spent most of our time over the past six years in a one-bedroom flat on campus, for which we paid rent to the university. We did so willingly and, until recently, in the belief that our commitment was understood and appreciated. For example, after the 2007 summer graduations, Ninian Watt, the chair of governors, sent "a huge thank you" to me for my "support, courtesy and good humour".

I have attended every Leeds Met graduation ceremony in the UK over the past six years and a few abroad, a record equalled only by the vice-chancellor himself and a handful of paid staff. I have never sought or received a clothing allowance.

In 2008, I was asked to deliver a light-hearted session entitled "Leeds Met Manners" in September during the Staff Development Festival, based on my experience of university life over the past 25 years. There were more than 60 voluntary attendees including students, security personnel, lecturers, cleaners, caterers and university professors.

In October, Times Higher Education obtained a copy, and quoted from the background booklet I prepared in July for a session to graduate trainees. It was an initial draft and never intended for wider dissemination. Over the summer I had edited it brutally to ensure that it accurately reflected my belief that good manners mean making each other feel at ease, not one-upmanship over prissy etiquette.

I also included guidance on dressing appropriately for work and work-related events, table manners (on which I was specifically asked to comment), making conversation with strangers and what to expect at formal dinners. I received only positive feedback and many requests to repeat the session.

When, at the behest of Leeds Met's facilities management, I joined the project team refurbishing the university accommodation in which Simon and I would live, I drove down furnishing budgets to the consternation of architects and designers, and came in for meetings even during the few precious weeks of summer leave.

Having been left with only two possible weeks for a summer holiday in our 25th wedding anniversary year in 2007, Simon and I were urged by Mr Watt to visit other countries and represent Leeds Met abroad in the unique way we were doing at home.

Any trips I made were in response to individual invitations by faculties or partners of the university who wanted my involvement, and I insisted on the most competitively priced fares. I travelled without my husband only when he was engaged elsewhere and where both of us declining would have caused inconvenience or offence - for example, the Great Ethiopia Run 2008 with Haile Gebreselassie. Along with everything else at Leeds Met under Simon, such trips were reported transparently on the university website.

At Leeds Met, I raised thousands of pounds in outdoor challenges for the Rugby League Benevolent Fund. I abseiled 337ft for Marie Curie Cancer Care, tackled the Great North Run for the Alzheimer's Society and recently ran the Great Edinburgh Run for Specal, another Alzheimer's charity (donations can be made at www.bmycharity.com/patricialee).

I did my best as an unpaid ambassador for Leeds Met. It was often exhausting, but I was proud to serve the university.

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