Today, 23 April, marks the installation of Edward Snowden as the Rector of Glasgow University. The ceremony took place in the Bute Hall from 11am, which all students were invited to attend. Over 150 people were in attendance to view the video message by Snowden.
As traditionally the Rector sits alongside the SRC on University Court to represent the needs of the student body, President Jess McGrellis opened up the ceremony with her welcome speech. President Elect Breffni O’Connor also spoke at the installation.
The election of Edward Snowden as Rector garnered worldwide media attention after Snowden leaked NSA documents revealing the extent of US surveillance. Whilst currently seeking refuge in Russia, Snowden was able to speak to those who attended the installation via a video message broadcasted to the Bute Hall.
Edward Snowden began his speech to loud applause and cheers. In his speech, he said: “First off I’d like to give my thanks to everyone at the University, to the student body, to the SRC, to everyone who participated in the election, whether they were candidates or whether they were voters.
“I’m disappointed that I couldn’t attend in person. But unfortunately I’ve discovered that I’m barred from entering the United Kingdom, on the grounds that my presence is considered detrimental to the public good. I think it’s fair to say that the election shows that the students of this University have a different take. I’m honoured to find that that is the case. In fact, I find it a great honour to be part of this today.
“And regardless of what the government says… what we’re learning is that the public feels something different. The students feel something different. It is a great honour to be given the opportunity to be part of the University by the students, to serve the public good not only in the breach of our common rights, but as rector of this University. And for that, you have all of my gratitude and admiration for your support.”
He continued: “In democracies, people have a right to know the policies of their government. We may not need to know the names and identities of every target of surveillance… but we should have some outline of what the government is doing in our name. And particularly what the government is doing against us…
“We have to remember that human rights are not granted by power, but they’re inherent to our nature. But at the same time great institutions – powerful institutions – rarely cede that power to the public easily. And if we’re going to build a better future, we have to abide by the principle that you can’t merely believe in something, you can’t just say the words, you can’t just think about it. If you believe in something you have to stand. And this, more than anything else, is what the students at Glasgow University have shown in the result of their election.”
The video connection froze part way through Snowden’s speech, but Snowden did manage to end his installation speech, summarising: “To believe in something you have to stand for something.”
Snowden will not fulfil the role of working rector over the next three years, with his election and installation serving a symbolic role. Over the years there has been precedence for a non-working rector at Glasgow, with Winnie Mandela and Mordechai Vanunu previously holding the position. However, both Jess McGrellis and Breffni O’Connor alluded to collaborating with Snowden in some form to benefit the students of Glasgow University.
In her welcome speech, Jess McGrellis said: “On the one hand, the position has been associated with fun… on the other hand, the role of rector can be influential and integral to the University… It can be very advantageous to students.”
McGrellis continued: “The 2014 election highlighted a number of issues crucial to students and their welfare, which must not be forgotten about over the next three years. I understand that Mr Snowden is looking to work with the SRC and students to make sure this isn’t forgotten.”
Breffni O’Connor, in her Vote of Thanks speech, announced: “Today marks a new era – today is the official beginning of Edward Snowden as rector… I am eager to collaborate with Edward Snowden on how [furthering student interests] can be achieved.”
The election of Edward Snowden was controversial among the student body, with opponents believing a working rector was necessary. However, Snowden won by a landslide, more than doubling votes received by other candidates in the second round.