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Conflict muddies Oxford search
June, 02nd 2008

The University of Oxford is considering going outside its confines to find someone unsullied by the recent internal conflict over governance to fill its vice-chancellor position.

One person seriously touted within the university's governing council, according to Oxford insiders, is Andrew Hamilton, second-in-command at Yale University in the US. Another possibility council members have discussed is David Eastwood, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

For Oxford dons, the option of picking a complete outsider grew increasingly attractive as it became clear that leading insiders had been handicapped by association with either the supporters or the opponents of John Hood, the current vice-chancellor, who leaves in September 2009. Hood supporters have favoured more centralised university governance. His critics have fought a fierce battle to preserve college power.

The battle has harmed the chances of Roger Ainsworth, master of Oxford's St Catherine's College, and a champion of college autonomy. He was an early leading contender but was excluded, according to a personal friend of his, from the special nominating committee's shortlist. The conflict may have damaged leading figures on the Hood side, such as Andrew Dilnot, principal of St Hugh's College.

Prof Hamilton, a British chemistry professor but long-term US resident, is provost of Yale, the university's chief educational and administrative official after Richard Levin, the president. Under their stewardship, Yale has continued to prosper, featuring in the world's leading university league tables.

One anti-Hood don said he would have preferred someone with direct experience of the workings of Oxford's institutions. "But being provost of Yale is a big job and the general feeling is he's a bloody able chap."

Another anti-Hood don said he was worried another vice-chancellor from the outside (Mr Hood was Oxford's first) "will not understand when to compromise and when to negotiate".

The criticism was frequently levelled at Mr Hood, who was plucked from the vice-chancellor's office at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Hood supporters dispute the criticism.

Prof Eastwood holds one of British academia's most powerful positions. He is a former Oxford don, giving him an understanding of the university's notoriously complex political structure. Some on the anti-Hood side dislike Prof Eastwood, regarding him as too eager to make Oxford more like other English universities.

Oxford insiders say the university's governing council, which vets the nominating committee's proposal for the new vice-chancellor, could announce a candidate as early as Monday. It must then be approved by congregation, the dons' parliament.

A previous Yale provost, Alison Richard, is vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge.

The University of Oxford on Sunday would not make any comment on who might be appointed to succeed Mr Hood.


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