Edward Snowden, the US intelligence whistle-blower, has been installed as Rector of Glasgow University in Scotland. The 30-year-old was only able to accept the honour via video link from Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum.
The rector of Glasgow University is an historic role enshrined in law by the Universities (Scotland) Act of 1889. The rector is supposed to represent the interests of students amongst senior management. They are also the Chairman of the Court, which is the governing body of the University.
Snowden was elected in absentia by polling 3,347 in the second round of voting, his nearest rival the Scottish Episcopal clergyman Kelvin Holdsworth got just 1,563 votes. The other candidates were cyclist Graeme Obree, and the author Alan Bissett.
The installation ceremony was held at the University’s Bute Hall. The BBC reports Mr Snowden said via video link: “I’m disappointed and I must apologise for being unable to attend in person, but unfortunately I’ve discovered that I’m barred from entering the United Kingdom on the grounds that my presence is considered detrimental to the public good.”
“I do think it’s fair to say that the election shows the students of this university have a different opinion.
“Regardless of what the government says, today, now, nearly a year forward, what we are learning is that the public feels something different, the students feel something different.
“It’s my great honour to be given the opportunity by this university, by the students, to serve the public good not only in defence of our public rights, but as rector of this university.
“We may not need to know the names and identities of every target of surveillance on every active operation, but we should know the general outlines and what the government is doing in our name, and particularly what the government is doing against us.
“The idea that we believe in something, that we have to stand for something is what I intend to follow and what I intend to guide my service as your rector.”
It remains highly unlikely that Snowden will be ever be able to take his seat as Chairman of Court in person. However this was also true of the former nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, who was elected Rector despite being banned from leaving Israel.
Mr Snowden will hold the post for three years and he succeeds the former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.
He is still a wanted man in America for leaking information on NSA surveillance programmes. Attitudes towards him vary greatly in the United Kingdom, with some branding him a hero and others a criminal.