Audrey Mullender will be the first woman to head troubled Ruskin College in Oxford when she takes up her post as principal in April.
Professor Mullender, currently chair of the faculty of social studies at Warwick University, will need to muster all her diplomatic skills at Ruskin.
The college is famous for its trade-union links and for educating working-class mature students - deputy prime minister John Prescott went there. It most recently made the headlines because of staff dissent and financial difficulties.
The previous principal, Jim Durcan, resigned last May after failing to consolidate the college onto one site and failing to deal with its £1.3 million projected deficit over three years.
Mr Durcan had hoped to sell Ruskin's three sites and buy land owned by Berkeley Homes in north Oxford. But the college and Berkeley Homes were unable to agree a price.
The move was also strongly opposed by the Ruskin branch of the Association of University Teachers, the students' union and the alumni organisation, the Ruskin Fellowship. There were complaints about a lack of consultation and the underselling of assets.
Commenting on her appointment, Professor Mullender said: "Ruskin is a historic institution with a crucially important role in the modern world.
"It has never been more vital to offer educational opportunities to people from all segments of society, including those who lacked chances the first time around."
Professor Mullender edited the British Journal of Social Work for four years and was vice-chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work.
She was also a member of the 2001 research assessment exercise panel for social policy and social work.
Christine Doubleday, acting executive director of the local Learning and Skills Council, said: "I have every confidence in Professor Mullender's ability to run Ruskin College successfully. I know she will do an excellent job."
In 1994, the funding of the college was switched from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to the Further Education Funding Council - now the LSC.
One of Professor Mullender's first tasks will be to show the LSC that she is serious about turning the college's deficit into a surplus.