Staff news

Sir David Smith: an appreciation

Sir David Smith took up his appointment as Principal of the University of Edinburgh in 1987. His predecessor was Sir John Burnett who also preceded him in the chair of Rural Economy in Oxford.

I worked closely with him as a Dean of Social Sciences and Provost of Law and Social Sciences when he had to grapple with a number of challenges, including a serious financial problem for the university and the consequent major reorganisation. He had to address these challenges at the same time as confronting the implications of radical changes in the university system nationally. None of these developments could have been foretold but David faced such issues, which could cause major conflicts, with quiet determination and courage.

The problems during his tenure as Principal demanded brave leadership because of policies and changes which had been forced upon the university. The UGC imposed a penalty on the University for the malfunction of its financial management system. Cuts are always controversial and David saw clearly that change in structures were necessary to make savings equitable.

Through the changes, he maintained a calm demeanour and tried to smooth ruffled feelings where he could. He knew how to take difficult decisions and accept responsibility for them. This was not only the case for matters of general policy but also in personal issues affecting staff.

One of David's special talents was to make Degree ceremonies worthwhile and useful occasions. He showed his talents as a teacher. He delivered interesting orations about the purpose of a university education, the state of the university, government policy and other matters which could all be very tedious but David talked about them with charm, lightness of touch and authority. I enjoyed them, a sentiment which was shared by the assembled company of graduands, their families and friends.

With his wife Lesley, herself a remarkable person in her own right, David entertained members of the university and guests in a warm, generous and friendly manner. The occasions in Heriot Row were pleasant and relaxed. After we had both retired, he was always a generous host when I visited him on my trips to Edinburgh. For a man of considerable achievements and a distinguished career, he was modest and open in manner. He will be enormously missed by Lesley and all those who were close to him.


Professor Emeritus Malcolm Anderson, former Dean of Social Sciences, Provost of Law and Social Sciences, and Director of the Centre of European Governmental Studies and the International Social Sciences Institute.