The new Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews described his alma mater as “the greatest university in the world” when he was officially installed last Tuesday.
Alistair Moffat, the university’s 51st rector, made the comments as he recalled his time as an undergraduate student there in the 1970s.
In his rectorial address, Mr Moffat described growing up in Kelso and making the “leap into the dark” when he enrolled at St Andrews in 1968. He spoke to an audience of students, officials and invited guests about his ‘blissful years’ at university, during which he met his future wife, Lindsay, and thanked students for their support in his election campaign.
He said: “St Andrews was and is a small town with a huge student population.
“The atmosphere is intense, but the east wind that blows down North Street makes sure it is not too fevered. Close friendships were forged that have endured and it was here that I fell enduringly in love. What I learned while avoiding all that education was something simple. I found that I could get on well with people – all sorts of people, no matter their origins, their gender or their beliefs.
“It is an immense honour to be rector of the University of St Andrews. Thank you for making it possible for me to come back.
“Thank God there are no exams, but even so I promise to do better. Unlike me, please pay some attention to your academic work, but not too much.
“By all means, discover all you need to know from those who teach you – but most of all learn from each other and discover who you are and who you might become.
“This place is where you will begin to grow up, where all the wonderful possibilities of life begin to reveal themselves. Just as I was, you are lucky to be here, and even luckier to be here with each other.”
In taking on the historic position, Mr Moffat follows in the footsteps of luminaries such as Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie, Jungle Book creator Rudyard Kipling and comedian John Cleese.
The official event took place after the traditional student “drag”, during which students took Mr Moffat on an epic six-hour tour of student halls and local hostelries.
The mode of transport for the arrival of the new rector to the drag is traditionally a closely-guarded secret.
Historically, they arrive in a novel manner – former rector Clement Freud was “delivered” to the university in 2003 by Royal Mail.
Mr Moffat arrived in St Andrews on a horse, before being dragged around town in a carriage by the university Blues.
Mr Moffat, author and director of the Lennoxlove and Borders Book Festivals, took up office in October last year after beating off competition from Lord Michael Forsyth, Colin Fox, Abeer Macintyre and Pat Nevin in an intensive week-long election campaign.
When Mr Moffat took up the three-year position, he replaced outgoing Rector Kevin Dunion, the former Scottish Information Commissioner, who was also present at the installation ceremony. Mr Moffat’s period of office will span the University’s 600th anniversary celebrations which run from 2011 to 2013.
The position of rector is an important and unique role which exists only in four Scottish ancient universities – St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen – and in Dundee.
The rector represents the students of St Andrews and takes the chair of University Court, its supreme governing body.
The first rector of St Andrews was Sir Ralph Anstruther of Balcaskie, who took up post in 1859. He was followed, among others, by John Stuart Mill (1865), Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig (1916), Sir J. M. Barrie (1919), Rudyard Kipling (1922), Fridtjof Nansen (1925) and Jan Christian (“General”) Smuts (1931).
Decades later, the 1970s uniquely saw a host of famous British personalities take on the role, with John Cleese, Alan Coren, Frank Muir and Tim Brooke-Taylor all holding the position.
Mr Moffat was officially installed by the university’s principal and vice-chancellor Professor Louise Richardson, who recalled the great names associated with the position, such as Charles Stuart Mill and Andrew Carnegie in her welcome address.
She said, “On behalf of the academic community of the University of St Andrews I am delighted to welcome Alistair Moffat as rector.
“Alistair Moffat is a graduate of St Andrews, a man of letters, and a proud Scot.
“He has spoken frequently of coming back to St Andrews. I hope you will have opportunities for many discoveries, and come to know the university and everyone here, in new and different ways.”
He was also officially welcomed with addresses by Dr Mary Popple on behalf of University Court, SRC (Students’ Representative Council) president Patrick O’Hare and director of representation Sam Fowles.
It was a return visit to the stage of the Younger Hall for Alistair, who graduated with an honours degree in medieval history from St Andrews in 1972.