Lord Sainsbury wins the chancellorship -- phew!
I am celebrating. It was announced a few hours ago that David Sainsbury had been elected Cambridge Chancellor on the first round of voting, scoring an absolute majority over all the other candidates: Sainsbury 2893, Blessed 1389, Mansfield 964, Arain 312. (That's from the BBC website, the University hasn't actually managed to get the result up on its own... festina lente is our motto.)
The truth is that I was beginning to get a bit worried that Brian Blessed would carry the day, and was wondering how I was not going to appear curmudgeonly -- welcome the democratic decision and make the best of it.
I myself went off to vote on Friday morning, thinking that I would find the whole process relatively queue-free at that point. I had a lecture to give at 11.00, and biked up to the Senate House at about 10.25 to find already a substantial line (and David Howarth and Edna Murphy -- who had already voted (trust an ex-MP) -- warning me that there would be a 20 minute wait.
I put on my gown and got dutifully in my place, next to a chatty, elderly lady who had a Cambridge MA and so could vote in this election (as a Member of Senate). She complained that it was a bit awkward having to turn up in person to vote. 'Well,' I replied, 'it shows that you are really interested and concerned'. 'OK,' she came back,' but what if I lived in Mongolia?' 'I would want to make it difficult for you,' I said slightly grumpily. 'The chances are you would know very little about the university -- I wouldn't want you to be casting a vote for my chancellor. Voting in person has a point."
'Were you this awkward when you were a child?', she asked. in what I think was a semi-friendly way. And it got more friendly when we discovered that we were both about to cast our votes for Sainsbury.
I have to say that the University (no doubt seeing a 'Development Opportunity') had organised things rather well: they had got loos laid on for the queue (which was policed as you see in traditional style); they gave out free university 'buttons'; they offered clear instructions about the Single Transferable Vote system; and when, with 10 minutes to go, I said I had a lecture to give at 11.00, they helped me get a bit ahead. (Thank you all)
But it was hard not to think that Blessed was not creeping ahead. You only had to look at the tweets and the headlines in the local paper, telling us how someone was even flying in from the US to vote for him. In fact, I met one of my own ex-students in town who had showed up specially to vote for Blessed.
It was, of course, all a bit illusory -- because the majority of Blessed's supporters are much more the tweeting generation than me and my mates (most of whom, who had met him, had thought Sainsbury a very good thing -- whatever their initial doubts). The curious thing was that overall, despite the apparent traditionalism of the whole vote, this was much more a youthful election than ever before, certainly more youthful than the last real election in 1847.
The electoral body is the Senate, which is -- more or less -- all holders of Cambridge Masters degrees. Even 50 years ago that was largely ex-undergraduates, no longer resident in the city, who had received Cambridge their MA's two or three years after graduating (that is: not less than six years after the end of your first term of residence). There would then have been a small number of doctoral students eligible to vote, if they had graduated at Cambridge . . .but PhD students were not thick on the ground in the mid 20th century.
Now there are some 6000 graduate students in Cambridge, of whom perhaps half are studying for a PhD -- and many of those would have taken a Cambridge MPhil (or similar) in the run up to a PhD, and so be member of the Senate. Which is to say that the Senate is a very different body: not just the dons plus the, more or less interested, old members; but the dons, the more or less interested old members AND a couple of thousand graduate students (with enthusiasm and twitter at their disposal). This is probably a good thing, but it makes the election and the mechanisms or persuasion and canvassing rather different from the old days.
Anyway, the election went as I had hoped and prayed. And now I am optimistic that our new Chancellor will do us some great good turns: that is, not interfering (as he has said he won't) with the policy making, and maybe helping not only to open up a space in which we can talk to the outside world more effectively, but also to open up a space in which we talk to each other (from graduate students to the Mansfield backers.. who in my view got the role of the Chancellor quite wrong, but have got a few other things right).
In my heart I am having a party. But only in my heart. I'm actually writing next week's lectures.