Alistair Moffat is installed as 51st Rector


On Tuesday 20 March Alistair Moffat took the oath which swore him in as the 51st rector of the University of St Andrews since the ‘modern era’ began in 1859.

At 4pm, the red gowned students in the Younger Hall stood to sing the Gaudeamus, a traditional Latin hymn celebrating the university and its students, accompanied by members of St Salvator’s Chapel Choir. During this hymn, the academic procession entered, preceded by all six of the university maces, one of which dates from 1418.

Photo: SuppliedThe programme began with an introductory prayer in Latin by the Principal of St Mary’s College, Professor Ivor Davidson, followed by an introductory address from Principal Louise Richardson, who welcomed everyone and explained the order of the event. Among the figures on the stage were Association President Patrick O’Hare, Director of Representation Sam Fowles, a representative from the University Court, Dr Mary Popple, the Principal, Louise Richardson, as well as Alistair Moffat and the Rector’s Assessor, Kate Andrews.

After O’Hare formally requested of the Principal that she administer the installation oath, Moffat swore the Latin oath, with good pronunciation, as given here:

iuro, me qua possum fide ac diligentia Rectoris munere defuncturum, studia omnia in hac Universitate Sancti Andreae ac privilegia procuratum, laudabiles eiusdem constitutiones sacrsanctas habiturum.

Which translates as: I swear, with what good faith and diligence I can, that I shall perform the Office of Rector, that I shall guard all interests and privileges in this University of St Andrews, and that I shall hold sacred its praiseworthy rules and regulations.

After this he was formally robed by O’Hare in a purple-blue silk robe with full sleeves, which was faced and lined with maroon silk, with a maroon velvet collar. A purple cap with a maroon tassel completed his academic attire.

Photo: SuppliedThen several representatives of the university gave speeches to the assembled students. In hers, Richardson reminded the rector of the examples of several of his predecessors, some she hoped he would not seek to follow, and others, whose examples lent themselves more to emulation, particularly Andrew Carnegie, who gave the university a new gymnasium, sports field and extension to the library. She also raised examples of the previous history of tension between the offices of Rector and Principal, citing one example where a Principal left the Installation ceremony in protest against the Rector’s atheism. She did point out the change in attitude in recent years towards a ‘working rector’, those who broke with the tradition of only appearing in St Andrews once during their tenure, and instead wanted to work with students to produce a better student experience.

O’Hare then delivered the ‘Loyal Address by the President of the SRC’, in which he gave a description of the purpose of the office of rector, as “merg[ing] the governance style of Bologna, where the students had the power and Paris, where it was held by the academic staff.” He continued the theme of using examples of previous rectors, but referred to more recent ones who “laboured in the shadows”, praising outgoing Lord Rector, Kevin Dunion, and his predecessor, Simon Pepper. He also described Moffat himself, giving a short biography of his life, which included his work in television and his involvement running the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He also mentioned the recent cuts to funding and alluded to the university’s decision to raise tuition fees to £9,000, warning the Rector that St Andrews must not become an “island of privilege”. In an unprecedented addition to the President’s address, he introduced Sam Fowles, Director of Representation to give a short address.

Fowles, whose involvement in Moffat’s election campaign caused much controversy at the time, given his representative position, delivered an impassioned speech to the assembled students. He described the rectorial installation in 1895 of John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, who gave his name to the Bute Medical Building. During a terrible downpour, students lit a large bonfire in the quadrangle, leaping around it in a scene he likened to The Lord of the Flies, as they had elected a rector that the student populace had chosen, not the university. He built on this student reaction as one which he felt had been reproduced to an extent by Moffat’s election campaign. He also read a poem by Robert Fuller Murray entitled Aien Aristeuein (Ever to be the best). He ended by quoting Churchill, who said “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life,” challenging students to live up to this idea, and inspire themselves to make a change where they saw one was needed.

Photo: SuppliedAlistair Moffat then stood to deliver his address. He began by citing his own academic career, which was marked throughout with poor attendance at lectures and examinations because of important rugby matches in his home town of Kelso, and interesting marginal comments in his essays, such as “oh really?”, from his tutors. He graduated with a degree in medieval history. Moffat described an epiphany he had during his third year when he was not playing rugby due to an injury. Upon walking into a lecture, he suddenly realised that “everyone was making it up as they went along.” This was the crux of Moffat’s address, that “no matter how authoritative or how thoughtful or apparently well organised they may appear, everybody is making it up as they go along.”

“What does this mean, exactly, and why is it important?” he went on to ask. “It matters, because it sets everyone on the same footing, and we are reacting to each other…and behaving like a responsive community of sentient human beings. It matters because it allows for constant changes of mind and adaptation and most importantly…it allows much greater involvement for everyone…and detaches young people from their background…and makes you your own person.”

This epiphany moved him to believe that “no-one was intrinsically better than anyone else…no-one was his superior or inferior in any important regard”, which led to his “getting of self-confidence, realising that I had just as much to offer as anyone else. And that, that is what I want for all of you, the students of this great university of ours…I urge you to take part, to talk to as many different sorts of people as you can find, treat them with equal regard and respect, and if you do that, you will find yourselves, and you will find a quiet self confidence inside yourselves. All of that interaction with the other 8,000 other young people here is the core of your education. Of course academic discipline matters and please don’t be as idle or as daft as I was, but what you learn from each other is absolutely central and it lasts for the whole of a lifetime”.

Photo: SuppliedMoffat received a standing ovation after his address from the students and staff, with much cheering and whistling from the massed red gowns in the Younger Hall. After a Latin benediction, the academic procession left and was piped around to Lower College Hall, where a reception was held for staff and students to mingle.

Moffat’s speech will be printed and bound and join the ranks of Rector’s addresses in the Special Collections department of the University Library. Alistair Moffat’s speech is, at this point, untitled.

Moffat described the event as “St Andrews at its best! It was really fantastic.”

Richardson felt the event was a “wonderfully festive occasion, it was a sunny day and with the red gowns – it looked so terrific – it was a very fun, unique-to-St Andrews occasion.”

O’Hare praised Moffat’s speech, and said, “Overall it was fantastic. It was great to see Alistair getting a standing ovation at the end. There is a really good bond and connection between him and the student body which is great to see and it bodes well for the years to come.”

Photo: SuppliedKevin Dunion, the outgoing Lord Rector, also attended. “It brought back strong memories for me of when my installation took place. It is a wonderful occasion for the rector to stand there in front of the students. I thought Alistair’s speech was fantastic, he like me is a graduate of the University, and he wasn’t afraid to draw on his personal experiences, a true student having applied himself only occasionally to his studies, but fully to the life of a St Andrews student. He’s a great choice as rector, and he’ll be a great success.” Commenting on his own rectorship, he said “I had an absolutely wonderful time as rector.  I was happy to speak to him before he became a candidate and tell him what was in store…It’s going to be the best three years, even better than the three he had here as a student. I loved being rector, and I’m sure he will as well.”


To read Alistair Moffat’s full address, follow this link:


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