Rector interview and analysis: Dr Leif Azzopardi

Published

Steven McFeat
Writer
Interview

How did you come to be nominated for Rector and what attracted you to the role?
I was previously a Senior Lecturer in Computing Science at the University of Glasgow – teaching hundreds of students how to build web applications. I was approached by a number of former students who believed that I would make an excellent representative for the students of Glasgow University. They were concerned that students’ views and concerns were not being communicated effectively and subsequently reflected in decisions made by the University’s management. The students who nominated me have seen me in action; they have seen how I have taken student feedback on board and how I’ve used it to improve the courses and degrees I was involved with. They know I am committed to supporting and educating students.

Should you be nominated as Rector, what specific policies would you aim to introduce at the University?
I see the role of the Rector as the voice of the students to the University Court. It is the highest level of representation that students within the University have – and I would be committed to delivering and communicating the needs and desires of the students to the Court, providing them with the much needed representation that has been missing for the past three years.

I think it would be great to enable this representation in a more democratic and accessible way by developing a web/mobile app to collect and gather opinions and concerns from the students themselves. I believe that there are lots of issues that need to be discussed, ranging from student depression to university cuts to equality and diversity – and also BREXIT! So by providing the infrastructure to enable and empower all students to weigh in on such matters would be really awesome.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges of the role and, if elected, how would you tackle these?
I believe the biggest challenge is finding a balance between what is desired, what is possible, and what can be achieved. I look forward to discussing with the students and student unions what they want from their university, what they want to promote, celebrate and address over the course of the next term of Rectorship. And then expressing that will to the powers that be – convincing them of the importance and necessity of taking actions and measures to support the students and the causes that they passionately believe in.

You are currently a Senior Lecturer at Strathclyde University. How would this tie into your role as Rector?
I spoke to my Head of Department about the Role and he was very supportive of my nomination. As an academic, service is part of my duties, and one of the more fulfilling aspects. Whether it is helping out at schools, explaining why science is important, chairing committees for particular societies, or providing educational resources. Of course, the role of Rector takes this to a whole new level.

Also, my Head of Department and I have both spent many years at the University of Glasgow, with both of us having many fond memories – myself as a lecturer for 10 years, while Ian did both his undergraduate and PhD at Glasgow University. He expressed how it would be a refreshing change to have a Rector that would represent the students – and recalled that a puppet, “Basil Brush” had been nominated for Rector while he was a student – and that Basil was only narrowly beaten by 6 votes!

Being nearby and based in Glasgow means that I will be able actually attend the meetings and also be accessible to students – something that I highly doubt some of the other candidates will be able to seriously offer. Furthermore, being an academic, I have a greater appreciation of the challenges faced by students, and how important it is that they are represented, especially, at the highest level. To be able to serve students at two largest academic institutions in Glasgow would be a privilege and honour.

A large part of your manifesto focuses on your links to both the University and the city of Glasgow as a whole. Do you believe that there is an appetite amongst students for a local Rector following Edward Snowden’s time in the role?
Certainly from the students I have spoken to, they have expressed their desire for a Rector that will actually be able to represent them – rather than one that is elected purely as a political statement, or someone who has their own agenda and/or self-interests at heart. I understand why it might be appealing to nominate such a candidate – but there are other mechanisms that can be employed to bring attention to particular people and particular causes, and do so more regularly than once every three years. Actually, the Rector is probably in the best position to help students achieve this. For example, if students would like to showcase and highlight the cause of a particular individual, then an honorary doctorate would provide a better platform for this.

Other candidates have drawn criticism and controversy in the past. How does it feel to share the ballot with these divisive candidates?
Since the nominations were announced, we have seen a lot of negative reaction about certain candidates in traditional and (especially) social media. However, nominating whomever you wish is a basic democratic right – if you disagree with what someone stands for, then don’t vote for them.

The role of Rector is principally and fundamentally there to represent the students, and to provide them with a much needed voice to lobby the University’s senior management. As Rector, this is exactly what I would intend to do. At this time, with so many issues that could affect students directly in the University (e.g. Brexit, Funding Cuts, Equality, Diversity, etc.), a strong advocate to voice the concerns of students is essential. I believe I can provide that voice.

Analysis

Dr Leif Azzopardi is our next candidate on the shortlist for the position of Rector. Currently working as a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Strathclyde, and having previously worked here on campus, it is clear that Dr Azzopardi is a candidate with local knowledge and experience of the issues facing staff and students at the university. In his manifesto, this appears to be a clear selling point, in a not so subtle nod to the outgoing Edward Snowden, who has spent his time in the role in political exile.

Another selling point of Dr Azzopardi’s campaign seems to be his dedication to represent students at the highest level and fight the powers that lie, alongside the SRC. However, this statement seems vague and sweeping, and Dr Azzopardi does not outline any specific issues or policies in his campaign which he would tackle should he win the vote. Dr Azzopardi does suggest the creation of a mobile app in order to get students to engage and weigh in on issues that affect them on campus but as seen from this election, where no nominations were initially received for the role of Rector, engaging students in campus issues is easier said than done.

Indeed, Dr Azzopardi is clearly passionate about his work and for the welfare of students at both Strathclyde and Glasgow. His experience working alongside students and dealing with the issues that affect them most would stand him in good stead should he win the role of Rector. His willingness to work alongside both unions and the SRC in order to identify the most hotly-debated issues on campus shows a clear concern for the student body. However, with no clear, tangible goals on the horizon, it is a question of whether students will vote or Dr Azzopardi or a candidate with more clear and specific campaign promises.