Editorial: Des McSweeney (2013-2013)

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Stop the presses! Des McSweeney, the celebrity face of the University’s widening access schemes, has resigned. Renowned for his role as vice principal for external relations, he was practically a hero to those students who, if not for his Herculean efforts, would never have know they could study at an institution like St Andrews.

Except… that’s not quite true. In fact, it’s a safe bet you’ve never even heard of Mr McSweeney. If his appointment to the job last summer was greeted with a minimum of fanfare at best, his departure earlier this year was practically concealed. Today’s article in The Saint is, we believe, the first public record of his employment at St Andrews at all.

He was hired from The Economist, the prestigious weekly journal. There he held various high-up roles, including publisher of the twice- monthly Intelligent Life magazine, which describes itself as “[covering] the arts, style, food, wine, cars, travel and anything else under the sun, as long as it’s interesting”. He had also launched and run The Economist’s website, which is no small deal.

It’s an impressive resume for the publishing world, but it does raise an obvious question: what experience does this man have with external relations? Creating and producing a magazine – however intelligent – is one thing; managing worldwide recruitment for a top university and bearing the burden of its eternally-criticised widening access schemes is definitely another.

Mr McSweeney leaves us having served a grand total of about six months, with no reason given beyond his apparent desire to return to his career in publishing. And so we are left with two probable scenarios. Did he decide to give the job a try but find it not what he expected? Perhaps, like so many freshers who join societies in their first weeks, it was worth a shot in case he found that he liked it.

Or was he simply out of his depth? In that case his honesty in resigning is to be commended – but then why was he hired in the first place? A vice principal of any flavour is a senior position, and not one to be filled lightly. Maybe it is the University that needs to do a little more thinking about the members it signs up.

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