Cambridge Vice-Chancellor to step down

Professor Stephen Toope has announced that he will be stepping down as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge at the end of this academic year.

Stephen Toope, Vice Chancellor Cambridge
Stephen Toope, Vice Chancellor Cambridge. Photo by Petr Kratochvil licenced under CC0.

Cambridge University Vice Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope is to step down next year. The Canadian, who has led the university throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, said he will be leaving in September 2022 after five years in the post so he can be near his family.

Leading the university through ‘hardest years since World War II’

In a statement published on the university’s website, Professor 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 II.

The Vice-Chancellor said that he was looking forward to returning to his native Canada, where many of his family members live.

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.

Professor Toope’s legacy

During Professor Toope’s time in office, Cambridge University has established a Priorities Framework for the University, launched and embedded the ‘Cambridge Zero’ climate change initiative across the University, moved towards making the university’s endowment fund carbon-neutral, widened student access and participation, introduced a £500 million Student Support Initiative, and created a new Foundation Year for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

​​Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, commented:

I totally understand and fully respect Professor Toope’s decision, taken for the best of reasons, to complete his term of office in September 2022. I know this is not a decision he will have made lightly, but he can do it in the knowledge that he has left his mark on the University, and contributed to making it an even better place to study, work and undertake research. His leadership throughout the pandemic has been essential to getting Cambridge through the biggest crisis of our times, and I am grateful for his dedication and commitment over the past four years.

There were challenges too

As well as steering the university through the pandemic, Professor Toope faced a number of other challenges during his time in the post. In 2018, when academic staff took 14 days of industrial action over a bitter pensions dispute with employers’ body Universities UK, Toope was praised for a conciliatory approach.

He was back in the headlines in December 2020, at the centre of a row over free speech, when the university’s governing body voted by a large majority to protect the right to express ‘controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without fear of intolerance or discrimination’. Toope welcomed the outcome, calling it an “emphatic reaffirmation of free speech in our university”.

What happens next?

The announcement comes shortly before students return to Cambridge for the start of the new academic year. Over the summer, the Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor announced the university’s intention to provide “as much in-person teaching as we possibly can”, as the university continues its recovery from the pandemic.

Toope commented: “The leadership transition next year will not detract from my commitment to the important work we have underway this year. The strength of our senior leadership and all our University community, the guidance of the Council, and the eventual choice of a highly able successor will allow me to pass the baton without missing a beat.”

The university has stated that the process to select a new vice-chancellor ‘will be underway shortly’.

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