We look back at the Principals who made the University of Dundee the place we know today.
The position of Principal and Vice Chancellor is of utmost importance to the success of the University, as the Principal is the chief academic and administrative officer who presides over the Senate, the decision-making body of the University. Since the first days of the University of Dundee, or as it was known originally, University College, Dundee, there has always been a Principal at the helm.
William Peterson, who was a Latinist and Scholar, became the inaugural Principal in 1882 at the tender age of 26. Peterson stayed in post until 1895. He was succeeded by John Yule Mackay who stayed for an impressive 35 years. Principal Mackay gave the first ever Saturday Evening Lecture Series, a tradition that continues to today, where we welcome some of the most exciting and prominent thinkers in the world to come and talk at the University. Principal Mackay’s lecture title was Primitive Man, given in October 1924.
There then followed a period where chemist, Sir James Irvine, acted as Principal whilst also being Principal of the University of St Andrews but in 1939, Angus Fulton, a Dundonian by birth who had trained as an engineer and served in the Royal Flying Corps in the Great War, stepped in. He was viewed as a safe pair of hands for the University as it went through a difficult period.
It was only in 1946 that a permanent Principal was installed with Douglas Wimberley’s appointment. Major General Wimberely started during a time when University College, Dundee was striving for independence from St Andrews University and he worked tirelessly with the staff and students to make that hope a reality without alienating St Andrews University and its Principal Sir James Irvine. When the “Wimberley Memo” was written in 1947, this paved the way for change and to this day, the “Wimberley Award” is given annually to a student who has contributed most to the life of the University.
When Major General Wimberley retired in 1954, David Rutherford Dow and then Arthur Alexander Matheson held the post for four years and eight years respectively before the psychologist, James Drever, was appointed to oversee the transition of the University of Dundee to become fully independent in 1967.
Drever saw the University through exciting but challenging times and worked hard to develop links with Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art. After eleven years in office, Drever retired in 1978. We’re commemorating James Drever with the Drever Lecture in March, with George Robertson, Sir William Patey and John Suchet as guests. There then followed twenty two years of strong leadership under Adem Nevill, Michael Hamlin and Ian James Graham Bryce before Sir Alan Langlands became Principal in 2000. Previous to this, Sir Alan was Chief Executive of the NHS Executive in England and acted as Principal Policy Adviser for the NHS to the Secretary of State. Whilst Principal, Sir Alan acted as Chair of the UK Biobank which oversaw one of the world’s most ambitious genetic epidemiology studies ever undertaken and which was a collaboration between the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.
In 2009, Sir Alan retired and the current Principal, Sir Pete Downes, stepped up from his role as Head of the College of Life Sciences. Sir Pete worked closely with Professor Sir Philip Cohen at the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy, which saw a collaboration between the University and leading pharmaceutical companies to treat diseases such as cancer and diabetes. This ground-breaking work secured fifty million pounds of investment for the city.
Sir Pete was awarded his knighthood in 2015 and whilst he has been Principal, the University of Dundee has been voted the best student experience in Scotland six times. Sir Pete is recognized for making a huge contribution to the University sector in Scotland and is seen as an inspirational leader.