Monday, 15 February 2010

Rectorial elections.

Last week saw the election of Dundee born Hollywood star Brian Cox as the twelfth Rector of the University of Dundee. In his new role Brian will be following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Sir Peter Ustinov, Stephen Fry and Lorraine Kelly. This year’s rectorial election has been less dramatic than some in the past. The 1980 election was notable for the favourite candidate, Teddy Taylor, pulling out of the race at the last minute when he was selected as the Conservative candidate in the Southend East by-election. The 1992 election produced something of a surprise when Stephen Fry defeated the legendary Scottish Rugby player David Sole, who had been tipped for victory. On the other hand Fry’s re-election in 1995 was the least suspenseful contest in history as no candidate emerged to oppose the comedian who was undoubtedly one of the most popular rectors the University has had to date.

The most interesting rectorial election was probably the 1971 contest which saw Peter Ustinov narrowly secure re-election against a strong challenge from Michael Parkinson. The result was very close and Ustinov was only declared victorious after recounts. However, it was claimed that the initial results had suggested Parkinson had won and it was felt that at least one more recount should have been carried out to validate the result. Perhaps not surprisingly Parkinson's supporters were not satisfied with the declared result and pressure grew for a new poll. The situation was made even more complicated by the fact that the returning officer had refused to accept the nomination of one candidate – a goat named Mervyn. Ultimately, while the University accepted Ustinov’s election, the Students’ Association agreed to conduct a new poll. This opened the very real prospect of there being an official rector recognised by the University Court and a separate unofficial one recognised by the Student’s Association. However in the end Ustinov won the second poll comfortably and an awkward situation was thus avoided. However, the fact that Mervyn was allowed to stand in the second ballot, and polled more votes than the journalist Paul Foot, might suggest that not all students took the office of rector entirely seriously.

Archive Services hold a special collection of records relating to the University’s rectors (RU 293). Details of most rectorial election campaigns since 1968 can be found in the extensive run of student newspapers that are held in the Archives.

Written by Kenneth Baxter

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