'Bill' is the word on Oxford lips

January 10, 2003

Former US president Bill Clinton is emerging as the front-runner for the next chancellor of Oxford University, although no formal nominations have yet been placed.

The death at the weekend of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, chancellor since 1987, led to immediate speculation about a successor. Mr Clinton, former education secretary Baroness Williams, Lord Heseltine, Lord Lawson and European Union commissioner Chris Patten have been named as potential candidates.

One of the key roles for the new chancellor will be to appoint the next vice-chancellor. Sir Colin Lucas will leave in September 2004 and an appointments committee has been set up.

Its first meeting, due to be held before Christmas, was postponed because Lord Jenkins was unwell and did not want the meeting to go ahead without him.

Graham Richards, chairman of chemistry and a member of the appointments committee, said: "I have been promoting Clinton for several years and have found a lot of support among some very senior people, including heads of house. Clinton would bring a truly international dimension to the university."

Alan Ryan, warden of New College, who is on a sabbatical year in the US, has said that he would "love" to see Mr Clinton nominated.

All members of Congregation - those admitted to Oxford degrees - are entitled to vote in the election, although they have to go to Oxford to vote. Last time, about 8,300 people voted.

The university has not yet set a date for the election - at least three weeks' notice has to be given. The elections are highly public events, and the view of some in the university is that Mr Clinton may be unwilling to subject himself to intense public scrutiny.

He does, however, have close ties with Oxford and has described his two years as a Rhodes scholar at University College as among the happiest in his life. His daughter Chelsea is a postgraduate at University College. Oxford awarded Mr Clinton an honorary degree in 1994.

In May 2001 he opened the Rothermere American Institute and was told by Lord Jenkins that he was welcome at the university any time - as long as he did not have premature ambitions towards the chancellorship.

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