Catherine Stihler: My time as the 52nd Rector of the University of St Andrews

Catherine Stihler reflects on her time as Rector

Rector Catherine Stihler at her investiture. Photo by Terry Lee

When I began my own St Andrews story in 1991, being dropped off at David Russell Hall by my parents to study Geography and International Relations, never would I have believed that in 1994 I would be elected President of the Students’ Association nor that in 2014, two decades later, I would be elected unopposed as the 52nd Rector.

My journey to becoming Rector began when a 3rd year IR student from Texas called Annie Newman sent me an email asking whether I would consider standing for the role. Annie, Tiffany and Emmi then came to my house in Dunfermline for a soup lunch which by the end of our second bowl of my homemade lentil soup I was persuaded to stand. They were serious about a campaign, were social media savy and wanted to win. If they hadn’t approached me I would never have become Rector and my St Andrews story would have been very different to what it is today. Annie Newman changed my life and I will always be grateful to her for taking the initiative to approach me. Annie now works in Washington DC and remains a close personal friend.

What has been so special about serving as your rector has been re-engaging with a new generation of students. Three years passes quickly and already the memory of the 2014 Rectorial election is gone for most. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was being dragged around the streets of St Andrews stopping at 20 pubs driven in a pink Cadillac. I am proud of of my achievements in the role from introducing an ‘inspirer speaker’ series bringing alumni and others back to engage with a new generation of future leaders to fundraising for the Rector’s Fund which has provided students with internship opportunities otherwise they would not have been able to afford take up. I have approached being Rector in an open and accessible manner from my regular drop in surgeries to using social media to promote the role.  I have worked with current students to alumni from Brussels to Washington and beyond who share the passion for a St Andrews education. Student and alumni support was pivotal to the success of the “Save the Rector” campaign where we persuaded the Scottish Government to change its position and retain the position of Rector. We would not be having elections for our 53rd Rector if it hadn’t been for this collaborative effort of the St Andrews student community past and present.

It has been an incredible privilege to work with the sabbatical teams led by Pat, Charlotte and now Lewis. Their leadership and commitment to represent the interests of the student community has inspired me as well as their energy and enthusiasm in the role.  Maybe they remind me a little bit of my past self when I served as Student President all those years ago, where we were just at the beginning of creating student services. Today the same challenges still exist of affordable accommodation, inclusivity of the St Andrews experience, town/gown relations and health provision. The challenges will continue and incremental improvements are on-going but it is all our responsibility to keep campaigning for affordable accommodation, better mental health service provision and accessibility of the St Andrews experience so that someone like myself, coming from Wishaw in North Lanarkshire, can benefit from the unique experience offered through a St Andrews education. It has made me who I am today.


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