Will the ‘Working Rector’ Ever Work?

Liam Cruivie | 27 June 2018


The extent of Aamer Anwar’s unkept promises and hollow bluster is coming to light, and yet the record never changes.

It shouldn’t evoke any modicum of surprise to discover, as The Times did yesterday, that Glasgow University Rector Aamer Anwar has failed to deliver on pretty much every promise made during his bombastic campaign. The first indication that the “working” Rector had little desire to work came in January of this year in his spat with the Student’s Representative Council (SRC), who pretty quickly classed him persona non grata and ceased inviting him to council meetings – a first for any rector. Student paper The Glasgow Guardian soon ran a story bringing the spat to light and, for a day or so, they appeared to have shunted the guy off his backside. Anwar quickly followed up the bad press with a rare e-mail to students, promising fortnightly student surgeries which, we now learn, never materialised.


Shortly after the empty promise, The Glasgow Guardian rather undid their good work by granting the rector a full page - criticism and context free - to rehash his bombastic campaign rhetoric at an almost revolutionary, firebrand pitch. Herein Anwar took aim at the very “university authorities” who have now called him out on a rectorial career hitherto devoid of any meaningful action.


The Medusa Review’s own response to Anwar’s article is worth reproducing in full, so apposite is it to recent developments.


Just as the Medusa was going to print, the Glasgow Guardian’s latest issue has landed on our desks. Herein we discover that Anwar has been moved to write a column (“The Rector Speaks Out”) presumably in response to recent charges. Predictably, this is a whole lot of nothing padded out with bluster enough to make one’s eyes water. Anwar is still doing nothing besides having a few meetings and yet manages, as always, to blow enough smoke up his arse to send himself skyward. Two sentences in and he has already described himself as the university authorities’ “worst nightmare” (yes, really) and goes to on to list some fairly obvious observations regarding the economic woes of those employed by a modern university. The Medusa, incidentally, is very much on board with this line of argument (see editorial) but words and actions are different things.

Anwar is all words, and usually bombastic clichés at that. In Christ-like fashion, he closes with the following cringe - “Make this your time, keep your dreams alive and never be afraid to raise your voice for the truth”. Aye awryt Gandhi.

Going on like Che Guevara whilst you do hardly anything might be bad enough, but what really sets The Medusa’s snakes hissing is that this patter seems designed to mask a couple of pathetic, self-pitying excuses for the working rector’s blatant shortcomings. The first excuse Anwar slyly sneaks in is the following: “It is of course difficult trying to balance my life as a lawyer, Rector and single parent looking after three young children.”. We’re sorry, but whose problem is this except Anwar’s? - You can either do the job or you can’t.

The second excuse concerns Anwar’s recent spat with the SRC, a controversy which he suspects “some at the top have revelled in”. Those “at the top” aren't involved - thanks to Morrison and Drake’s excellent cover story in the previous Guardian, everybody knows the blame for that farce lies either with the SRC or Anwar himself. - Which is it?

Anwar doesn’t give us an answer to this, but we suppose blaming faceless bogeymen in the upper echelons of university management rather gets one out of owning up to one’s mistakes - or taking up one’s responsibilities. (Issue 1, 20/02/18)


As it was then, so it is now. Anwar hasn’t changed the record at all. It is worth quoting his response in The Times article, it constituting, after all, his defence against these criticisms.


When students have wanted to meet me, they’ve been able to meet me. So I’ve gone beyond the surgeries. It’s simply not correct to say that I have not met with students. […] It’s been proved to be more convenient to many students to meet on a one-to-one basis at a time that fits with their diaries. […] I’ve been on campus pretty much every week since I’ve been elected. I have attended a whole number of meetings and events, despite being extremely busy in my day job.


Here, as before, Anwar sneakily slips in a reference to his career as a high profile human rights lawyer as an excuse for his indolence. This may well be the reason (I actually suspect it is) but it represents no kind of excuse. Remember, Anwar has had his eye on this position for over a decade (he ran in 2008) and to have chased it all that time without complete confidence he would have the time and energy to honour the office would represent a man acting in incredibly bad faith.

At this point, Anwar just escapes being rumbled as a flat out liar. We have no evidence that he has met with students, but assuming that he has, he has still failed to raise a single concern with the university authorities. As an unnamed “senior source” reveals in The Times article:


He’s damaging the reputation of the university and it’s causing stress to junior members of staff. We have no problem with having a strong rector who speaks out when it’s justified. But he’s barely doing anything for students and hadn’t brought a single case to our attention formally for more than a year. It’s quite remarkable.


Remarkable indeed, and all of this after the eye watering bluster of both his campaign and his free Glasgow Guardian publicity spot. Aamer Anwar embodies a pathetic contradiction: a rector who entertains all of the cosmetic airs of a firebrand freedom fighter, but whose weak performance is tidied up with limp excuses. And even when his chickens are coming home to roost – as they now seem to be - Anwar is still ready with this hollow patter. Taste this (again from The Times article):


I have not shied away from raising issues of concern to students and staff publically. That hasn’t made me friends, I suspect, with some parts of the university. Some individuals have been deeply unhappy with that. But I make no apology for that. I wasn’t elected to make friends, nor am I commenting as a ‘university source’. However there is always room for improvement.


“There is always room for improvement” might be as close as we get to anything gesturing towards an apology. But what an underhand preamble! Anwar relies on this vague, euphemistic, ‘hint hint’ portrayal of ‘some individuals’ in the shadowy upper echelons of the university whom he has – we are told – deeply unsettled. He has also hinted at university “racial discrimination”, but again nothing clearer than that has been forthcoming. It’s certainly worth asking ourselves what type of character would make such a claim without following through with any reasoning at all, not to speak of anything like evidence.

The Medusa Review called it right back in February, but it was pretty clear from the beginning. Aamer Anwar is an ego-maniac, a windbag taking aim at an ill-defined enemy in the strongest possible terms, yet following through with nothing. One has never appreciated so keenly the rectorship of the sadly departed Charles Kennedy, the last guy who actually did anything.



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