The Lord Rector of The University of Edinburgh is elected every three years by the students and staff at The University of Edinburgh. Seldom referred to as Lord Rector, the incumbent is more commonly known just as the Rector.
The Rector chairs the University's highest governing body, the University Court; in addition the Rector chairs meetings of the General Council in the absence of the Chancellor. In more recent years the role has included a function akin to that of an ombudsperson for the university community. In their position, the Rector can exert considerable influence in Court and in the body politic of the University. They can be well-informed about student and staff issues and concerns, can champion their causes, and can make sure that these issues are fully aired in Court.
The position of Rector, along with the positions of Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, was only created in 1858. Prior to this, the University was governed by the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and town council of Edinburgh. The rector's place in the university was codified by statute of the Westminster Parliament, the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889, which provided for the election of a Rector at all universities then in existence in Scotland. To this day only the ancient universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and St Andrews plus the newer Dundee, elect a Rector; the 20th century universities do not.
In 1935 students went to great lengths to invite Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky to become Rector, Trotsky turned down the offer stating: "The elections to the rectorate are conducted on a non-political basis and your letter itself is signed by representatives of every political tendency. But I myself occupy too definite a political position. … [I could not] appear on any public tribune not under the Bolshevik banner."
Successful candidates are typically well-known figures with some connection to the city. Gordon Brown was unusual in being elected at the age of 21 while still a student, several years before he became politically prominent.
List of Rectors
Rectors in the 17th century
- 1620 Andrew Ramsay (1st term, resigned 1626)
- 1627 Sir Alexander Morison
- 1631 Vacant
- 1640 Alexander Henderson
- 1646 Andrew Ramsay (2nd term, ejected 1648)
- 1649 Robert Douglas
(The then Lord Provost was Andrew Ramsay, son of Andrew Ramsay had served twice as rector.)
Rectors since the Universities (Scotland Act) 1858
The position of rector was recreated by the Universities (Scotland Act) 1858. Rectors of the university have been:
- 1859 William Ewart Gladstone
- 1865 Thomas Carlyle
- 1868 Sir James Moncreiff
- 1871 Sir William Stirling-Maxwell
- 1874 The Earl of Derby
- 1877 The Marquess of Hartington
- 1880 The Earl of Rosebery
- 1883 Sir Stafford Northcote (from 1885 Earl of Iddesleigh)
- 1887 The Marquess of Lothian
- 1890 George Goschen
- 1893 James Robertson
- 1896 The Lord Balfour of Burleigh
- 1899 The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava
- 1902 Sir Robert Finlay
- 1905 Richard Haldane
- 1908 George Wyndham
- 1911 The Earl of Minto
- 1914 Field Marshal The Earl Kitchener
- 1917 Admiral Sir David Beatty (promoted Admiral of the Fleet in May 1919 and created Earl Beatty in Oct. 1919).
- 1920 David Lloyd George
- 1923 Stanley Baldwin
- 1926 Sir John Gilmour
- 1929 Winston Churchill 
- 1932 General Sir Ian Hamilton
- 1935 Field Marshal The 1st Viscount Allenby
- 1936 Sir H. J. C. Grierson
- 1939 Sir John Donald Pollock
- 1945 Admiral of the Fleet The Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope
- 1948 Alastair Sim
- 1951 Sir Alexander Fleming
- 1954 Sir Sydney A. Smith
- 1957 James Robertson Justice
- 1960 Jo Grimond
- 1963 James Robertson Justice
- 1966 Malcolm Muggeridge (resigned 1968)
- 1968 Kenneth Allsop
- 1971 Jonathon W. G. Wills
- 1972 Gordon Brown
- 1975 Magnus Magnusson
- 1979 Fr. Anthony Ross
- 1982 David Steel
- 1985 Archie Macpherson
- 1988 Muriel Gray
- 1991 Donnie Munro
- 1994 Malcolm Macleod
- 1997 John Mark Colquhoun
- 2000 Robin Harper
- 2003 Sir Tam Dalyell
- 2006 Mark Ballard
- 2009 Iain Macwhirter
- 2012 Peter McColl
- 2015 Steve Morrison
- 2018 Ann Henderson
- 2021 Debora Kayembe
- "The Rector". University of Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- "How the Rector's Role has Changed". University of Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 28 August 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- "Letter from Leon Trotsky to the students of Edinburgh University, 7 June 1935". Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections. Archived from the original on 24 September 2010. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
- Trotsky, Leon (7 June 1935). "Students at Edinburgh Offer Trotsky Rectorship". Marxist Internet Archive. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
- "Rector (office of)". The University of Edinburgh: Our History. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
- "The Rector of the University". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 17 August 2008.
- Paul Addison (30 September 2004). "Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer (1874–1965)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 September 2007.
- "List of rectors". Previously Answered Reference Questions. Edinburgh University Library. Retrieved 29 July 2006.
- "List of chancellors". Previously Answered Reference Questions. Edinburgh University Library. Retrieved 29 July 2006.
- Wintersgill, Donald (2005). The Rectors of The University of Edinburgh 1859–2000. Dunedin Academic Press. ISBN 1-903765-44-7.