Best left feet forward: De Montfort's v-c leads merry dance-off

February 10, 2011

Some vice-chancellors might take exception to being told in front of their staff that they are not a "plonker".

But Dominic Shellard, vice-chancellor of De Montfort University, took the declaration of support in the spirit it was intended and read it out to a packed room.

Professor Shellard had agreed to pass on a short message from his friend, the best-selling author Lee Child, at the launch of a book club at the university last week. The message ends: "I have known Dominic Shellard for a few years, and even though he's vice-chancellor, he isn't a plonker. Trust me on this."

To ensure the message was transmitted in full, Mr Child promised to visit the book club in person in July - but only if Professor Shellard read out exactly what had been written.

"My colleagues were happy to hear me described as 'not a plonker'," Professor Shellard said, adding that the unexpected turnout had added to his embarrassment.

"There were 80 people there. I was only expecting 15 or so," he said.

The book club's members include academics and students, as well as catering and clerical staff and local community representatives.

It is one of several activities that Professor Shellard said had been designed "to get me out of my ivory tower".

In May, a football team founded by the vice-chancellor will take on their first opponents: a team from the University of Northampton led by its vice-chancellor Nick Petford.

Professor Shellard said: "I'm playing centre-back and I'm hoping Nick Petford's playing centre-forward so I can take care of him on the pitch."

The team from De Montfort hope to add matches against the universities of Nottingham and Leicester to the fixture list in the near future.

Professor Shellard, who is an avid tweeter (@DMUVC), is also involved in a dance troupe that will be participating in a "dance-off" against a team from De Montfort Students' Union.

Although the event is in aid of Comic Relief, Professor Shellard said he was determined to win. "We will be working hard to trounce the students," he said.

He added that his decision to take part was not based on his natural ability. "My partner describes my dancing style as 'aircraft dispatcher at Manchester airport'," he said. "The arm goes up and then to right angles. I'm absolutely hopeless, but I'm having a wonderful time."

He stressed that the activities had a serious aim: "These events, which are quite fun to do anyway, are really good at breaking down the hierarchical barrier."

Professor Shellard added: "I'm creating a mission by doing all the sensible stuff and I'm concerned about community, but another way I'm trying to implement it is by injecting a bit of fun."

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