Author of chemistry department controversy calls it quits

The vice-chancellor who suggested closing the University of Sussex chemistry department earlier this year has announced he is to step down.

Alasdair Smith said that he would leave in August 2007, following ’careful reflection over the summer’. He had originally planned to serve a second five-year term as vice-chancellor, which would have run until August 2008. 

Smith said he had decided on an earlier departure so that a new vice-chancellor could be installed in the academic year 2007-08, ’an important year of opportunity for Sussex’, when the next national Research Assessment Exercise is scheduled.       

In March this year, Smith had announced plans to replace Sussex’s chemistry department with a department of chemical biology, saying that falling student numbers were to blame. But after protests from academic staff and students, and criticism by the UK parliamentary Science and Technology select committee, a compromise was reached with the creation of a new merged department of chemistry and chemical biology. 

Discussions over the future of Sussex’s chemistry department hadn’t contributed to his decision to step down, Smith told Chemistry World. In retrospect, he said, those discussions could have been better managed to cause less aggravation, if more time had been allowed for the decision-making process.

Sam Younger, chair of the university’s governing body, said: ’Alasdair’s leadership over the last eight years has moved Sussex forward significantly, and he has given the University, and his successor, a solid platform for meeting the challenges ahead.’

Gerry Lawless, head of chemistry at Sussex, commented, ’We’re all looking forward to a new vice-chancellor and greater support for the department of chemistry.’

Richard Van Noorden