qmunicate: So, how does it feel to be rector?
Aamer Anwar: It still feels surreal. It was extremely overwhelming and emotional to have won, and to win by a landslide. I was heartened by the fact it was the largest vote in a long time, and that my message about an active rector has carried through.
q: How are you settling into the role? You mentioned earlier that you’ve had a very busy day.
AA: I seem to have spent more time at the university in the last month than I do in my office or at court! It’s pretty full on.
q: Did you anticipate this level?
AA: I did. I mean, there were a lot of pledges that I made about how I want to be active. I pledged to be on campus once every two weeks, at the current rate I’m on campus every second day! At the moment I’m meeting as many individuals and groups as possible, and forming an action plan of how we move forward. My first engagement was days after the results – a charity rodeo at the vet school – and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing, the emails haven’t stopped. [The role] is taking up a lot of my time but that is because there are so many issues. I need to find an even balance – if students want me to act, then I hope they also mobilize on these issues – I’m only one person at the end of the day.
q: What do you think is the best for the future of the QMU? Improved funding for the student bodies or a merger either with GUU or SRC?
AA: I am conscious that there are people in management and finance who want to see a merger of the unions take place. I said that’s a red line in the sand. I’m against the concept of a merger because there is no point in the university talking about tradition and its rich history as the fourth oldest university, only to dispense with the [student body system] and merge it all. When you try and run higher education like a business, it’s a wrong move. How do you quantify what a student union does in breaking down religious, cultural, political barriers? How do you put a price tag on it? It will simply become “who sells the best food?” and that isn’t what a student union is about.
q: What is your fondest memory from your student days?
AA: Whenever there was a demonstration on! Coming into [the QMU] would be hit or miss because I would stand up on a chair and start to give a speech – there would either be lots of claps and cheers or lots of boos. Michael [one of the QMU porters] who is still here was the man who had the job of telling me ‘right, get out!’
q: Was that the reason for your lifetime bans?
AA: The lifetime ban from the GUU was for ‘ungentlemanly conduct’ towards members of the board. The QMU ban was on the day I had received my results and I got into a row over politics and racism. I would probably handle things in a different way now, but at the time I was a young, angry man. Both bans were overturned in 2008 [when I then ran for rector].
q: What other activism did you get up to?
AA: I was the Scottish organiser for the anti-Nazi league and the SRC voted to take buses to London to shut down the BNP headquarters. We raised the money – I remember going out with the buckets and people just poured hundreds and hundreds of pounds in and I remember it was pretty much unanimous. About 1500 students went down to London to protest; a huge amount.
q: So, when can we expect rector surgeries to start – will these begin in the new academic year, or earlier?
AA: I spoke to the university today and I hope to get that sorted soon. I would like to get some up and running before the summer holidays for the students who don’t have summer holidays, and to get a feel for it. The other thing is that my door is always open. I see this as an integral part of what I do on a day-to-day basis. No student should suffer in silence and there should always be a place for them to come to.
q: Sounds promising Aamer, best of luck!