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Drummond Leslie

(Elected 2011)


Drummond Leslie has had a career in university management and governance. He was on the staff of the committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom (now Universities UK) holding six consecutive appointments covering virtually all aspects of university activities, and culminating in the post of Head of Administration. Subsequently he was Secretary to the Centre for Commercial Law Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and Company Secretary of the Higher Education Staff Development Agency, the then National Training Organisation for higher education in the UK.

Educated at the City of London School and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, Drummond was awarded first and higher degrees in Russian Language and Literature, studying French as a subsidiary subject at Birkbeck. He was President of his College students' union, and the first sabbatical President of the University of London Union 1967–1968. He was awarded Life Membership of the University of London Union.

He has served in a non-salaried capacity as a member of the governing bodies of five Colleges of the University including University College London; the Institute of Education; Heythrop College; and Birkbeck. He was Vice-Chairman of Heythrop and was made a Fellow of the College in 2006. He was an independent Governor of Birkbeck 2000–2011. He served on the governing body of the University continuously for 27 years and held the elected post of Chairman of Convocation of the University.

Drummond Leslie's interests outside the university sector include classical ballet and contemporary dance, classical and pop music, and railways. Drummond is a Trustee of the Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund and chairs its finance and investments committee, he is a Trustee of the Cecchetti Society Trust, the Cyril Beaumont Scholarship Trust and the University’s Convocation Trust.

He was a Governor of Sadler’s Wells Foundation 1980–1995, as well as a Director of Sadler’s Wells Trust and Sadler’s Wells Theatre Appeal Fund. He was Chairman of the Council of the Friends of Sadler's Wells for 10 years, and subsequently a Vice-President. In 1967, he was admitted as a Freeman of the City of London. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1982 and served until 2007.


Master, Distinguished Governors, Graduates and Guests.

I have deployed that salutation at the beginning of many orations to mark the accession of distinguished persons to fellowship of Birkbeck. On almost every occasion, the particular, and particularly distinguished governor I had most obviously in mind, was the person who is now sitting at third slip in the Fellow’s Chair, about to undergo the ordeal of Death by a Thousand Compliments, Drummond Leslie.

Drummond Leslie was born in Kingston-on-Thames and attended City of London school, then, as now the only school in operation in the City of London. He studied Russian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, gaining his MA in 1966. His transition into the world of university management was via student politics, firstly as President of SSEES and than as the first sabbatical President of the University of London Union from 1967-8. These were heady years in student politics worldwide, but my researches have so far failed to turn up any photographs of the young Drummond Leslie on the barricades, with balaclava and smokebomb.

The following year, he began a career with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals that would continue with both doughty persistence, and steadily increasing distinction until 1996. The CVCP (that I can now confess always blurred incongruously in my mind with the athletes of the Soviet Union, whose tracksuits were emblazoned in that era with the Cyrillic letters CCCP) was the body that gathered together and represented the interests of all the universities in the UK, in relations with the government and others. There is hardly any area of the CVCP’s multifarious activities that Drummond Leslie did not have cause to assist and improve over the course of 27 years, over which period he rose to become Senior Administrative Officer. He has had responsibility for university finances, for salary negotiations, for staffing and personnel, for international affairs.

He has been associated with the University of London even longer than with the CVCP, chairing more committees than it is possible to believe can ever have existed, let alone those it would be possible to particularise here. The list of colleges in London to whom he has given assistance, serving on governing bodies and advisory committees, includes Goldsmiths, Queen Mary, Heythrop, Royal Holloway, the Institute of Education and University College. As far as I can make out, only the University Marine Biological Station in the Firth of Clyde, the northernmost tip of the University of London’s Empire, has felt itself able to rub along without his advice.

Birkbeck is at the top of the list of London institutions to which he has lent his knowledge and experience. He has been an independent governor of this college for 10 years, from 2001-2011, during which time he has given uncomplaining service and invaluable advice, financial, constitutional and pedagogic in almost every area of the management of the college.

If you are planning a game of Degrees of Separation any time soon, you would be well-advised to have Drummond Leslie on your team. During his time at the CVCP he personally met and worked with 265 Vice-Chancellors. If there had ever been a mystery virus that struck exclusively and lethally at Vice-Chancellors, Drummond Leslie would certainly have come under strong suspicion as the vector. As it is, his powers of mediation and communication are of a much more benign and invigorating kind, so that he to be regarded much more as a neurotransmitter than a Typhoid Mary. Making and sustaining connections, spreading calm, harmony, efficiency, trust and goodwill, Drummond Leslie is the serotonin of Senior Administration.

He first began attending Birkbeck's Graduation ceremonies in 1998, when he was Chairman of Convocation, the body of graduates of the University of London which was established by Charter of 1858 and flourished up until 2003, when it was decided that its functions had been taken up by the alumni associations of the separate colleges. As you may very well hear from him in a moment, he is a veteran of occasions such as this. Since that time, he has attended 62 of them, which must make him the most capped (and gowned) member of this or any previous platform, like a veritable Ryan Giggs of the graduation ceremony. What is more, he is an exponent of the ceremonial equivalent of total football, capable, if necessary, of fulfilling all the roles necessary on an occasion like this. There have indeed been occasions when he has had to step in as sweeper to deliver an impromptu speech in the case of absence or illness. It was always a great reassurance to me, on my way to deliver one of these orations, to reflect that, if I were to be abducted by aliens on Arsenal station, Drummond would be sure to have a scintillating address ready-to-hand in his inside pocket. I imagine him stepping outside his front door to leave the house every morning and checking he has everything for the day - keys, phone, Oyster card, speech. In fact, I half suspect him of having about his person today a formal fellowship address to himself, just in case.

One is not greatly surprised that somebody with Drummond’s instinct for organisation and smooth running should have the interest that he does in the history of railways. Less predictable perhaps is his long-standing interest in dance. He has been active on the governing body of Sadler’s Wells Theatre and, following that, the Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund, for more than 30 years. Even here, though, there is perhaps, there is a kind of rhyme between ballet and the intricately patterned pliés and pas-de-deuxs of committee life, and with the fact that the smoothest and most swan-like manoeuvres, whether on the stage of Sadler’s Wells, or in a committee-room in Tavistock Square, depend upon hours of intense, indefatigable and unappreciated toil.

The word committee is perhaps not one that is calculated to set pulses racing. But we might usefully recall that the word means one, or a group of persons, that has been charged, pledged, or delivered up to a particular duty or mission. Our language intimates to us that all members of committees ought therefore by definition to be committed, and not necessarily of course in the psychiatric sense. The one who is committed is one who has given themselves up. Drummond is one of those rare spirits who have shown in his life what it means to give oneself up without stint to the values of collective care and responsibility. The word committee hovers in the vicinity of the lovely though now rarely-sighted Anglo-French word comity, which signifies friendship or fellowship. No colleague could possibly be more collegiate than Drummond Leslie, nor anyone ever have exemplified more fully the values and virtues of institutional fellowship. And nobody could be more worthy of the thanks and admiration we express when we invite them, as we now invite Drummond Leslie, to become a Fellow of Birkbeck.