University of Cambridge vice-chancellor to step down next year

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The vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge will step down at the end of September next year after five years in office.

Professor Stephen J Toope said he was “proud” of the prestigious university’s delivery of education and research during the coronavirus crisis.

But the Canadian said being separated from his children and grandchildren by closed borders during the pandemic “has been hard”, adding that being near his family and friends is “more important than ever”.

The announcement comes as thousands of students arrive at university campuses across the UK over the next few weeks after 18 months of disruption to in-person lectures and seminars due to Covid-19.

Prof Toope said: “I take a great deal of pride in our accomplishments, which were built together as a collegiate Cambridge community.

“I am especially proud of our joint leadership across collegiate Cambridge to deliver on our dual mission of education and research through the unprecedented Covid crisis.

“We kept the university on track and safe during its hardest years since World War Two.

“Indeed, there is still much to do through our programme of recovery from the pandemic.

“I am fully committed to focusing on the priorities set by the University Council. The leadership transition next year will not detract from my commitment to the important work we have under way this year.”

The vice-chancellor added: “The upheaval of Covid has led me to reassess my own years ahead from a personal perspective.

“As an expat living far from home, being separated from my children and grandchildren by closed borders has been hard. Being near my own family and friends is more important than ever.”

In December, the university came under fire for a free speech policy which had proposed requiring staff and students to be “respectful” of differing views.

But after an intervention, the university’s governing body voted to revise the wording in the freedom of speech guidelines from “respect” to “tolerate” following concerns from academics and alumni, including actor Stephen Fry.

Opponents of Cambridge’s original draft statement on freedom of speech warned that calling for respect for opposing views could undermine academic freedom at the university and stifle views.

At the time, Prof Toope said that the Canadian psychology professor’s “casual endorsement” by association was believed to be “antithetical” to the work of the Faculty of Divinity at the university.

The process to recruit a new vice-chancellor will begin shortly.

Mark Lewisohn, deputy chair of the University Council, said Prof Toope had had a “profound impact” on the university as vice-chancellor.

He said: “Under his leadership, the university has become more transparent and more robust in its processes and has launched several new and exciting research and teaching initiatives.

“Stephen’s focus on sustainability, which has led to the creation of Cambridge Zero, will be an important part of his legacy, as will his efforts to make Cambridge more accessible to students from all backgrounds.”

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