Gone: a final blog

This is the third in my trilogy of blogs as I leave Hallam. The first looked at the way the external environment has changed over my time as Vice-Chancellor, the second at the University’s development and this third one is more personal.

I have loved my time as Hallam’s Vice-Chancellor. As my old friend, and much-missed late mentor David Watson said, ‘sometimes in life you get lucky, and find a job that fits you like a glove’, and so it has been here. That’s not to say that the job has been easy: it sometimes seems that one of the ‘essential’ criteria for appointment to any post in a university are the capacity to disagree. Leading any large organisation at any time involves multiple decisions every day, and almost all of them difficult choices between finely balanced alternatives.  Added to that have been the challenges of navigating a post-Brexit environment, a global pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and a political environment in which ministers seem to have wavered in their commitment to higher education as a personal, social, economic and cultural good. But these are the inevitable challenges of leadership – that’s what leaders are for.

I have thrived here on the three Ps of purpose, place and people. I have thrived on leading a university which, during my time has more and more confidently articulated its purpose as a driver of opportunity and community and become skilled at doing it. This year’s TEF award of ‘Gold’ for student outcomes, ‘Silver’ for student experience and ‘Gold’ overall was achieved by a clarity of purpose on our goals for our students and our determination to put in place the policies and procedures – it really is alliterative – which realise them. I have thrived on leading a university which is so important to its place: that importance is symbolised by the sheer scale of the University’s building, looming up above the city skyline, but it goes far deeper into the fabric of our being. Some universities, despite their names, are only incidentally of their place.  Sheffield Hallam is embedded in its place and so important to driving its success. And most of all I have thrived on the engagements I have, every day with people, with academics and administrators, with security teams and catering teams, with students and stakeholders. I have learnt so much from so many of them and I will miss my daily interactions with them all. When I got the job, and we were looking for a house in Sheffield, I was determined not just to live close enough to cycle in and back, but to be part of the community of which the University is part. Purpose, place and people: I will miss them all.

I thought long and hard about my decision to leave, and I’m sure this is the right time for me and for the University. There is, in a big and ambitious organisation, always a lot going on.  There are always some projects coming to completion and some just getting going. I am proud of what has been achieved here, and confident that the in-flight work will continue to shape a university fit for the future. And most of all, I am sure that I leave the University in good hands – with gifted leaders and staff across the University, and a fabulous successor who I know will be a great leader.

And so we all need to know when it is time to leave. I will be leaving Hallam, but not, at least for a while, Sheffield. And I will continue to be engaged, as practically as possible with the future of higher education, of education more generally and with public policy. I wanted to leave when I thought I still had ideas and energy to offer, and over the next few months that is what I will be doing. As Tom Stoppard has it in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, ‘every exit is an entrance somewhere else’.  So I hope it will be for me. But the job of a chief executive – and this is my second, so I’ve been at it for fifteen years – is unremitting, and I’d like to find some time for other things.

I was appointed to this job in 2015, the centenary of the birth of the twentieth century music icon I will, predictably, close with. Not everything in this job has been easy, and it shouldn’t be, and, yes, as Ol’ Blue Eyes sang ‘regrets, I’ve had a few [but then again, too few to mention]’ and then – as you all know – he sang on ‘Yes, there were times I’m sure you knew/When I bit off more than I could chew/ But through it all, when there was doubt/I ate it up and…/ Let the record show I took all the blows and did it my way’.

For now, after just over two hundred blogs, it really is time to…[Lights. Curtain]

2 thoughts on “Gone: a final blog

  1. Take care, Chris, and the very best of luck for the future. I’ve followed your career with great interest over the years. You’ve done a fantastic job at SH, and should be very proud of the progress you and your team there have made. You leave the University better than you found it, which is always a good marker.

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