The vice chancellors

July 28, 1995

Three women take up vice chancellor posts in September, bringing the total number of women v-cs in the UK to five. However, their personal styles and reputations are very different.

Christine King is pro vice chancellor at Staffordshire University and a professor of history. She was the preferred internal candidate for the university's top job. She is a campaigner on behalf of equal career opportunities for women and the first chair of the Glass Ceiling network in universities.

She said: "There is an excitement and an expectation of a change of culture at the university with my vice chancellorship. I would like to think we can do things in a different way. A woman is an outsider in the world of university hierarchies and in a sense that legitimates difference and opens up other possibilities and approaches.

"I am very committed to team work as I think many women are. Building effective teams means allowing people to claim success in their areas of strength. I would favour training schemes giving opportunities to women and a woman-only staff monitoring scheme, but I am not in favour of quotas. There is nothing worse than the wrong woman in the wrong job, everybody suffers when that happens."

King felt she had a particular and personal style: "I am quick to negotiate things to a successful conclusion, I am much less worried about hierarchy than many men, much more goal orientated. I am prepared to duck and weave whereas I think men tend to go through the rituals of where they stand in relation to one another."

Janet Finch is professor of social relations at Lancaster University and was the first pro vice chancellor. She has been responsible for the university's estate strategy and finance "far-removed from women's traditional areas of responsibility''. She will take up the vice chancellorship of Keele University.

Finch said she would wish to preserve Keele's strong inter-disciplinary approach to education and honour its values of "collegiality and democracy''. She said: "Because there isn't a role model of a woman manager in universities, in many ways you can define the role yourself. That creates opportunities.'' At Lancaster, as pro vice chancellor she had initiated health promotion among staff and students. That she said had "broken with the idea that what a vice chancellor does is concentrate exclusively on the academic programme." She had, she stated, received her fair share of antagonism: "I am clear about what I want to do, I am straightforward, so it is easy for people to disagree with me. It has brought me into conflict with people, most of whom are men."

Her advice to women contemplating a management career is "not to be put off by the lack of other women'', but to try and find mentors, and make contact with women in similar positions of seniority.

Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll comes to the University of East Anglia from her directorship at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Famous for her "restructuring'' of the museum which resulted in the redundancies of eight of her most senior staff, and a sharp marketing strategy which led to her being labelled a "vulgar populariser " by Sir John Pope-Hennessy, himself a former director of the V&A, she has had an unusual and exotic career.

After having spent ten years sailing around the world with her husband she went to Birkbeck College to take an external degree in art history. She then became a librarian at Kingston Polytechnic where she was head of learning resources and later at Surrey University. From here she moved to the library at the museum, eventually making the "colossal leap'' to director.

She saw similar challenges in her new job as vice chancellor. "I think the job is about managing excellence on a diminishing resource. You cannot afford to lie down and die because life is difficult. You have to find radical ways around these challenges. You must give leadership and you must take advice. If there is a problem to be solved you solve it. In my own case I very much doubt whether I would do it differently to a man.'' The issue was not one of gender, "but a question of individual personality."

She said: "It is a generally held view that women rule by emotion, which is pejorative, or that they rule by intuition which is intended as praise, but nobody can manage a large complex organisation, the size of a small town in some cases, with responsibility for many millions of pounds, on the basis of intuition."

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