Chancellor choice queried

November 3, 1995

(Photograph) - The debate over the election and role of the university chancellor was gaining momentum this week at Huddersfield University, which has been without one since last December.

The search for a replacement for the widely respected Reg Cross will be complicated by moves by the university's joint union council, which favours a more democratic procedure, and is seeking to prevent the governors from electing the new chancellor.

During his period in office Mr Cross made known his deep concerns over the governance of the university - and his inability to influence events during the long dispute between staff and governors. He resigned as a governor during the dispute but remained as chancellor until the end of his two-year appointment.

The JUC says it is seeking to open a public debate over the election process by proposing that the governing body distance itself from the election of the new chancellor. It stresses that the campaign is not an attack on the governing body.

JUC spokesman Harry Lahmers said that the chancellor would eventually need to possess the powers of a visitor, although this would take at least a year since it would require changes to the articles of government. "We consider that if someone having this order of power had been available to us in March 1994 the votes of no confidence would not have been necessary and the dispute would have lasted about three months instead of 15 months. This would have resulted in much less damage to the university."

Mr Lahmers, a course leader in chemistry, said it was particularly important that the chancellor have the power to investigate the governors. "If that is to be the case then obviously the chancellor cannot be elected by the governors. We want to get it right this time." A number of models are to be discussed for a democratic selection procedure.

John Tarrant, newly arrived as vice chancellor of Huddersfield from the University of East Anglia, will only concede that "events" at the university over the past 18 months may "change the order of priorities" of the tasks to be done there. He will not be drawn into any discussion of the legacy of the infamous golden handshake offered to former vice chancellor Ken Durrands or the ensuing National Audit Office investigation into higher education accountability, which affected every university in the country.

"There is a positive job to be done here and I decided at the start it would be unwise to come with any blueprint," he says. "My first task is to improve channels of communication here and to make people realise that what they have to say will count."

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