UK: Yale provost to head Oxford

To the surprise and dismay of some in academia, a second outsider has been nominated as vice-chancellor of Oxford University. Professor Andrew Hamilton, a distinguished scientist and provost of Yale University, will take up his post next year, subject to Oxford dons ratifying his appointment this month.

Professor John Hood, the outgoing vice-chancellor and the first outsider, raised hackles among staff for his reforming zeal that caused rifts between dons. Historically, a vice-chancellor of Oxford has been recruited from its own fraternity. Hood was not and neither is Hamilton.

Andrew Hamilton, 55, was born in Guildford, Surrey, and read chemistry at Exeter University. He studied for a masters degree at the University of British Columbia and received his PhD from Cambridge University in 1980. From 1981, he worked at Princeton and Pittsburgh universities before joining Yale in 1997, becoming provost (second in charge) in 2004. In addition to his administrative duties, he is Benjamin Silliman professor of chemistry and professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry.

Hamilton could be seen as an inspired choice: not only is his academic record first-rate but he has the valuable knowledge and experience of running an Ivy League institution at a time when Oxford has just launched a £2.5 billion appeal to compete with the likes of Yale and Harvard.

Oxford Chancellor Lord Patten, who chaired the nominating committee, said: "Andrew Hamilton's remarkable combination of proven academic leadership and outstanding scholarly achievement makes him an exceptional choice to help guide us in the second decade of the 21st century. This is a particularly exciting time for Oxford and in Professor Hamilton we have someone with the experience and talent to help us take advantage of these opportunities."

Professor Alan Ryan, warden of New College Oxford, said it was a smart move as Yale was good at undergraduate education which was endangered in Oxford as research was an obsession.

Nicholas Bamforth, fellow in law at The Queen's College and a member of the university's council, also welcomed the news, saying it was good to have a distinguished academic nominated for the post.

But another professor anonymously told Cherwell, the student newspaper, that although Hamilton was a man of ability, he had no connection with Oxford and that this was "quite clearly undesirable". He also claimed the nominating committee was determined to exclude insiders.

A senior academic said the new vice-chancellor would have to smooth over rifts between dons - the "Hoodism and anti-Hoodism" - that had risen in the last few years. Hamilton, however, seems well aware of the situation, saying diplomatically: "In due course and with the support and help of colleagues in every part of the collegiate university, I shall seek to play my part in ensuring that Oxford's outstanding reputation as a pre-eminent centre of teaching, learning and research is safeguarded and enhanced for generations to come."

He added that the invitation to serve as vice-chancellor was "an inspiring and humbling one".

As provost at Yale, Hamilton's achievements included the acquisition of a 54-hectare research campus which will be home to new scientific initiatives, and a new collections campus dedicated to the storage and preservation of Yale's arts, library and natural history collections. He also re-established the Yale school of engineering and applied science after a 40-year hiatus, and developed a new interdisciplinary programme of teaching and research in the humanities.

Yale President Richard Levin was full of praise for Hamilton, noting his major initiatives in science and the arts and saying: "He is a first-rate scholar who is respected by his faculty colleagues as a wise academic leader."

Hamilton said his excitement over the challenges ahead was inevitably tinged with sadness at having to leave such great friends and colleagues behind. He will clearly be missed as attested by a posting on Yale's student newspaper's website: "A great guy and a fantastic provost. I don't blame him for taking advantage of a tremendous opportunity but Yale will certainly miss him - even those who don't know what the hell a provost does."