In the news: Sir Derek Roberts

August 2, 2002

Sir Derek Roberts was this week reappointed as provost of University College London, following the resignation of Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith.

Now aged 70, straight-speaking Sir Derek will fill the role until a new provost is found. Staff at UCL are divided over whether his appointment marks a return to the good life or to the roots of the college's financial problems.

Sir Derek's claims to fame include topping The THES 's first survey of vice-chancellors' pay, published in 1995. UCL was one of 80 institutions that chose to disclose the earnings of the highest paid staff a year before it became compulsory to do so. Previously a director of public company GEC, he said that his pay fell dramatically when he moved to UCL.

During his tenure, Sir Derek oversaw the strengthening of the colleges of the University of London at the expense of Senate House's power. UCL also expanded to absorb some of the university's smaller institutes, such as the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

The shift was unpopular with the then chairman of the university's academic council, Geoffrey Alderman, who believed that it undermined the academic credibility of the central university and put the smaller institutions "at the mercy of the robber barons".

In a notorious incident shortly after Sir Derek's appointment, UCL News published an article by Professor Alderman next to which appeared a note reading: "The editor showed this letter to the provost and he replied: 'I do not propose to waste my time with Alderman. Nor do I think that he should have any right of publication in UCL News '."

Sir Derek, who was knighted in 1995, worked in industry for his entire career before becoming provost of UCL in 1989. He lists his hobbies as reading and gardening.

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