The shady history of Edinburgh’s new Principal that everyone needs to know about

He starts in January

Being totally honest, most Edinburgh students don't care about, or more likely don't even know, who our Principal is. You'll probably never have anything to do with them and you're also unlikely to know what they actually do.

A list of former Edinburgh Principals include Hugh Robson, John Burnett, E. V. Appleton, Thomas Holland, Alfred Ewing, William Turner, Alexander Grant, George Baird and John Lee. So other than them all being men who have lended their surnames to various Edinburgh buildings, what does the Principal actually do?

Well, according to the university website, they are the person primarily responsible for the overrall running of the whole university. The Princpial is handsomely paid for their efforts with current Principal, Timothy O'Shea, taking home a hefty £271,000 a year for his work.

Current Principal, Timothy O'Shea

Current Principal, Timothy O'Shea

In the new year, we will have a new Principal as O'Shea will be replaced by the University of Hong Kong Vice-Chancellor, Peter Mathieson.

Mathieson's time at Hong Kong has been marred by a serious of clashes between students and university officials. Here are a few the biggest controversies from his three year stay at Hong Kong:

Comparing a student protest to Hillsborough

Not a wise move. Last year, Mathieson made headlines when he compared a student protest to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster saying: "When I was trapped in the middle of a large noisy crowd on Tuesday evening, having great difficulty staying on my feet, I thought of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 when 96 football fans died."

Siding with the Chinese state against students and saying they 'abused' their 'freedom of expression'

Mathieson was also accused of siding with the Chinese state against students when he signed a statement condemning the actions of pro-Hong Kong independence students – something that was criticised by a senior academic at the university. The statement said that there had been 'abuses' of 'freedom of expression.'

Threatening to take action against whistleblowers

This year, Mathieson said he would introduce 'white terror' for whistleblowers who made complaints thought to be malicious and 'without reasonable cause.' Both staff and students could be punished for making claims against people that couldn't be proven, something that would clearly intimidate people from whistlebowing.

The University of Hong Kong

The University of Hong Kong

The Tab brought these instances to the University of Edinburgh who responded by saying: “The University reiterates what it said at the time of Professor Mathieson's appointment: that he has a wealth of experience at a senior level in Higher Education and that we have every confidence that he is the person to lead the University of Edinburgh into an exciting new era."

It's clear that his time at Hong Kong was controversial, complicated by an uneasy relationship with the university's students. It will be interesting to see how he gets on at Edinburgh when he starts in the new year.

(Featured image credit: Dickson Lee)

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