Yale University provost Alison Richard was on the verge of accepting the vice-chancellor's job at Cambridge University this week, although plans to beef up the prestigious post with executive-style powers were in meltdown.
Professor Richard is expected to be confirmed next week as the university's first choice for the post, although she was said to be wavering over accepting it as The THES went to press. She would succeed Sir Alec Broers, who retires in 2003 after seven years.
The news came as Cambridge's plans to reform its governance and strengthen the vice-chancellor's powers were facing problems, with a mass veto from academics and a number of "awkward squad wreckers" opposed to modernisation seeking election to the governing council.
One senior academic said this week that he could not understand why Professor Richard would want to join the university at this time.
Cambridge is debating six major legislative changes to modernise its systems for governance and management. The Regent House, the community of more than 3,000 academics, has been allowed a free vote on the reforms but campaigning is under way to scupper them.
Opponents believe the changes - which would bring outsiders to the governing council, increase the number of pro vice-chancellors and boost the vice-chancellor's role - could destroy the tradition of democratic self-governance.
As The THES went to press, Anthony Edwards, an expert on the university's constitution, had collected 50 signatures supporting a move to declare the reform package non placet and send the council back to the drawing board. Other critics are planning a separate series of amendments, which will almost certainly delay balloting on the changes - due to be finished by January 6 - until later in the year, setting back the whole reform programme.
Voting for members of the governing council ends today. The candidates include Gill Evans, a historian with a long record of disputes with senior managers, Professor Edwards and Ross Anderson, who is leading the campaign against reforms to intellectual property rights.
Professor Richard, who comes from Kent, studied anthropology at Cambridge as an undergraduate, and received her PhD in primate biology from London University. She joined Yale in 1972, earning her chair in 1986. She was made provost in 1994 and is known as the university's "educational and budget tsar", as she is responsible for its massive operating and capital budgets and all its academic policies.
She has worked hard to increase the representation of women and minorities on the faculty. Since 1994, she has led a campaign to increase numbers by a third. Her research interests have focused on the sifaka, one of Madagascar's endangered primates.
It is understood that her husband, Robert Dewar, a former chairman of the department of anthropology at the University of Connecticut, has been offered a non-stipendiary position at Cambridge.