The future Cambridge University Chancellor: a choice to ponder

Eleanor Dickinson - Deputy News Editor 28 June 2011

The future Cambridge University Chancellor: a choice to ponder

The race for the position of Cambridge University Chancellor is now on, after four candidates have confirmed their place in this ongoing election.

Following the close of nominations on the 17th June, members of the Senate will vote on who will succeed the Duke of Edinburgh as Chancellor, after he retires on 30th June, shortly after his 90th birthday.

The main contender for the position was originally assumed to be the unopposed Lord Sainsbury, a businessman, whose family owns the giant supermarket chain.

However, he has subsequently received competition from local shop keeper, Abdul Arain, who opposes the plans to build a Sainsbury’s on Mill Road. Mr Arain’s decision to join the race marks the first contested election for Chancellorship in 61 years.

Following Mr Arain’s entrance to the race, the actor Brian Blessed and the radical barrister Michael Mansfield have also staked their claim to running in the election race. All candidates received the required 50 signature nominations to make themselves eligible to stand.

Cambridge University Student’s Union President, Rahul Mansigani, commented to The Cambridge Student: “In the year when higher education has come under unprecedented attack, with tripled tuition fees and huge cuts, students believe that we need as symbolic head of the University a Chancellor.

“We need someone who is committed to widening participation and championing the importance of higher education to society, as well as resisting the Coalition’s chaotic and destructive policies on higher education.

“We look forward to inviting the candidates to Cambridge to see what they stand for and make a decision on who to back.”

The four candidates…

Abdul Arain

Grocery stores owner Arain was nominated to stand after gaining ‘well in excess’ of the 50 signatures required, primarily through word of mouth. The fervent campaigner against the supermarket giants, including Sainsbury’s, has owned a grocery shop on Mill Road for the last 15 years. Arain stated that “I think there are a lot of people here who think that Cambridge is once again being attacked by the multiples. They think that Cambridge has already been badged a ‘clone town’ with only one independent shop in the city centre, and they don’t want the same to happen to Mill Road.”

Michael Mansfield

The self-described ‘radical lawyer’ is known for having participated in several high profile court cases involving accused IRA bombers, the families of the murdered Stephen Lawrence and Jean Charles de Menezes, and also Princess Diana.  Described as a ‘champagne socialist’, the republican vegetarian asserts that 95 percent of his work comes from legal aid. In a Press Release, Mansfield commented: “I shall feel very privileged in standing as a candidate in the election of a new Chancellor for the University of Cambridge, and if successful would give very close thought to how I could serve the University’s best interests.”

Brian Blessed

The most publically well known of the candidates, legendary actor Blessed was chosen by a group of Cambridge alumni to succeed the post. Group spokesperson Seth Thevoz said: “Who better than a national treasure like Brian Blessed to personify Cambridge?”

Born in South Yorkshire to a miner, the 74-year-old actor has had a distinguished career in Shakespearean theatre, as well as many film and TV roles. If elected, he would follow the footsteps of other actors such as Sir Patrick Stewart who is currently Chancellor of Huddersfield University.

Lord Sainsbury

Lord Sainsbury, a businessman, politician and philanthropist, was proposed for Chancellor by the University nomination board. The Old Etonian ex-Chairman of the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain graduated from King’s College in the 1960s with a BA in History and Psychology. His current wealth is cited by The Sunday Times Rich List as £960m, and he recently donated £165.1m to charity. The recently opened Sainsbury Laboratory in the University Botanic Gardens was funded by one of his family charitable trusts. He also sits in the House of Lords as a member of the Labour party.

How to vote

Votes for Chancellor must be cast on Friday 14th or Saturday 15th October, between 10am and 4pm. Former undergraduates with a Cambridge MA (which is automatically granted three years after graduation) can vote, as can Cambridge academics, and former postgraduate students.

There is no postal ballot – all voters must come to the Senate House, Cambridge in person – and candidates are ranked in order of preference.

Eleanor Dickinson – Deputy News Editor