Helen Alexander, who will take over the role of University Chancellor in July, holds a role on the board of one of Britain’s largest arms companies.
Alexander is listed as a non-executive director with Rolls Royce, a company who produce military jet engines and nuclear reactors. She will take over the role from current Chancellor, Sir John Parker, when his term ends on July 31st.
Another link to the arms industry is likely to anger Southampton based campaigners, already frustrated by the long term strategic partnership the University share with BAE Systems, and the regular presence of arms companies at careers fairs on campus.
The University’s Amnesty group issued a statement saying, “Amnesty as a group are opposed to the role the arms industry plays in causing and exacerbating human rights abuses worldwide. We are disappointed that such a high profile figure within the University should be so intimately linked to the industry, and concerned that it represents another example of this institution condoning an industry which we, as academics, should be against.”
Best known for their luxury cars, Rolls Royce also play an extensive role in the defence industry. Twenty-five percent of military aircraft worldwide receive engines or services from the company, according to figures on their own website. This equipment is exported to an estimated 109 countries worldwide.
After BAE Systems, it is the country’s second largest arms company, with arms sales of nearly £3 billion in the 2010 financial year.
Among many other types of aircraft, Rolls Royce supply the engines for Hawk Jets, which in the past have been used in genocide in East Timor. Hawk Jets have also been exported to Saudi Arabia, and Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe.
Nuclear reactors for submarines used in the controversial Trident missile programme are also constructed by Rolls Royce at their plant in Derby. This has led to the plant being shut down by nuclear disarmament campaigners.
In the 2009/10 financial year, the University recieved £629,000 from Rolls Royce sponsored research, making it one of the most lucrative relationships the Universtiy shares with a private company.
Despite officially recognising the arms trade as unethical, SUSU does not oppose the appointment of the new chancellor. President Billy Fitzjohn did however comment that he hopes the appointment will lead to some “constructive conversations” about their concerns.
The University defended the appointment of Alexander, stating that, “Helen Alexander brings the University a great wealth of experience across a range of business sectors that match the institutional strengths here at Southampton. I am confident that she will be an excellent ambassador for the University and am delighted to welcome her as our next Chancellor.”
Alexander was unveiled as the University’s first female Chancellor in April this year. She is currently President of CBI, the country’s leading lobbying group for big businesses.
The role of Chancellor is largely ceremonial and ambassadorial. She will become the University’s leading lay officer and will preside over degree ceremonies, such as graduation.