Credit to: Ollie Rudden

Glasgow’s first working female rector is officially installed in the University

By Lucy Dunn

The Honourable Lady Rita Rae was welcomed by the Principal and SRC President in Bute Hall on Thursday

The Honourable Lady Rita Rae has made University of Glasgow history by being the first female working rector to be officially installed at the University. Following her introduction and installation led by Ella McCabe, President of the SRC on Thursday 15 July, Lady Rae commented that she was “truly humbled by the honour the students have bestowed upon me”.

Fiercely campaigning down the feminist line, Lady Rae emphasised that whilst she follows an extensive list of impressive rectors, the first being appointed in 1542, the descriptions that they were awarded “can, in no sense, be applied to me. I am not a man”. A woman of many firsts, including being one of the first women to join the Faculty of Advocates, Glasgow’s new rector continued to discuss her approval at the increasing levels of equality at the University. She stated in her speech that, since the rectorial election, she has continued to meet with a number of students “including the presidents of four of the student unions, [who are] all female”.

Working her way up the legal ladder at a time when there were few women in the profession, Lady Rae became a successful partner in a leading criminal law practice, joined the male-dominated Faculty of Advocates in the early 1980s and was appointed the Queen’s Counsel in 1992. She has worked as a sheriff, before becoming Senator of the College of Justice, with a seat as an Upper Tribunal Judge presiding over immigration and asylum appeals. Her career has been colourful, with high-profile criminal work and appearances in front of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Lady Rae came out of retirement initially to provide help in the courtrooms over the course of the pandemic, but will now additionally take on the role of rector at the University. 

Working alongside the University of Glasgow appears to have been a long time coming for Lady Rae: she described how, when she was applying for her undergraduate degree in law, she had only sent applications to two universities: Glasgow and Edinburgh, but never received acceptance into the former. Joking that her letter of acceptance or rejection may still be in the University’s archives, Lady Rae made it clear that she has always had Glasgow in her sights.

Intent on using her experience as a judge to become an “active impartial rector”, Lady Rae’s manifesto championed principles of widening participation, multiculturalism, student welfare and internationalism. On Thursday, she made clear in her first speech as rector that working productively with both students and the University was one of her main goals over the coming years. The Principal, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, spoke encouragingly of Lady Rae’s proposed focuses as rector, emphasising that the University believes strongly in the concept of internationalism, and has this year welcomed 10,000 international students to the institution. 

The role of the rector at Glasgow is to work closely with the SRC to provide an independent, external perspective on University issues, in order to “bring student concerns to the attention of the University managers”. For more information about the function of the rector, Lady Rita Rae or her manifesto, please click here.


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