The boss man

Our exclusive interview this edition with Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Cantor provides a rare insight into the opinions of a man who, despite remaining firmly behind the scenes, exercises more power in this University than anyone else, not only over its day-to-day running but its long-term future. As the chief architect of the Heslington East plans, and a vocal champion of scientific investment and entrepreneurship, Cantor has shaped York as it is today, for both better and worse. In person, he proves stubbornly resistant to being pinned down on particular bones of student contention, but robustly defends his stewardship of the University, and is keen to emphasise the benefits of expansion and growth for students present and future.

None of this will come as a surprise to those who already regard Cantor as a scrupulous bean-counter, a shrewd businessman who has combined an academic career with an keen eye for the bottom line. There is good reason to be highly suspicious of this approach: what’s good for business is not necessarily good for students, or for areas of study that yield slow, steady scholarship rather than lucrative leaps of innovation.

For his part, Cantor genuinely believes that business can find an accommodation with education. This year has provided plenty of evidence that this might be an over-optimistic hope. It is nonetheless true, though, that he represents a general trend in academia away from an examined clique of lofty scholars, and toward a close accommodation with the gritty world of business. Cantor’s plans for York will only survive if he can ensure that more than just the cash cows are left at their fruition.

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