Annie Smith sheds light on the manifesto and campaign of 2020 Rector Election candidate Dr Fiona Hill, interviewing Co-Campaign Managers Chris Anderson and Leo Kelly, who outline some of the reasons students should vote for her.
Who is Fiona Hill?
Dr Fiona Hill is a graduate of the University of St Andrews where she studied History and Russian. She is known for being a witness in the impeachment of President Donald Trump, and she has also served under three US presidents as a nonpartisan national security advisor, acting as the White House’s top expert on Russia. In terms of St Andrews involvement, Dr Hill served as the President of the St Andrews American Foundation to ensure American students are financially able to study at St Andrews.
She is now serving as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and she is writing a new book, There Is Nothing for You Here: Opportunity in an Age of Decline, about the ways in which people of the rising generation are not given the same opportunities that people in hers were given, with a focus on university attainment and scholarships.
Dr Hill’s campaign manifesto focuses on six key points: sexual violence, racial justice, opportunity, mental health, accommodation, and sustainability, with slogans of Speak Truth to Power” and “The best St Andrews can be” to address her qualities of coming from a low-income background and standing up to authority, particularly Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
As rector, Dr Hill hopes to form a Special Committee for Student Wellbeing with student groups to lobby the University to establish a non-academic misconduct board and refine the anonymous reporting system. In terms of sustainability, she seeks to ensure projects like the Voluntary Carbon Offsetting project are seen through to completion, and hold the University accountable to its 2035 carbon neutrality commitment.
Dr Hill wants to ensure there is greater training for mental health staff and online consultations, and she hopes to expand the Rectors’ Fund to help students access internships. Dr Hill also seeks to expand the Accommodation Award and pressure the University to enact a student-led racial justice action plan.
On the manifesto and the issues it addresses, Co-Campaign Manager Chris Anderson noted Dr Hill recognises that the issues which existed when was a student such as accommodation, sexual harassment and assault are still faced by students in St Andrews today.
The manifesto came from collaboration between Dr Hill and the campaign team, as well as speaking with people of interest in St Andrews, including past Rector Catherine Stihler.
Co-Campaign Managers Mr Anderson and Leo Kelly found interest in Dr Hill during the Trump impeachment hearings in November 2019, where they saw her on the news and were impressed to learn she was a St Andrews graduate.
When considering ideal Rector candidates, Mr Anderson said, “We wanted somebody who was from a slightly less traditional background and could therefore help St Andrews become a bit less elitist, and someone who has a close connection to the University. I don’t remember which one of us suggested Fiona, but she was basically perfect.”
Mr Kelly added, “We felt like we got really lucky because we found her at a time where she’s really looking to give back to St Andrews even more than she already has, and just leverage her really substantial platform.”
On her initial reaction when St Andrews students approached her to run for Rector, Dr Hill told The Saint, “I was very surprised, but also delighted. I had never contemplated running for Rector and was honoured to be asked. As you know, I gave a short video address for the virtual Graduation this year. I encouraged new graduates to tap into the St Andrews alumni network and also to reach out to me, if I could be of any assistance.
“I have previously made myself available to St Andrews undergraduates who are looking for career advice, and this seemed like the ideal opportunity to scale things up from the individual level to assist the broader student body.”
On her own experience at St Andrews, Dr Hill noted that it was “transformational”, adding, “I am keenly aware of what the University did for me in terms of offering a first class education, providing mentorship and opening doors. I have always been very grateful and appreciative of the opportunity to study at St Andrews. I am deeply committed to assisting the University as an alum.”
Speaking on campaign strategy, the team clarified that while they did launch their campaign before the formal campaigning period, there were no rules against pre-campaigning and ensured that it was allowed with the Director of Wellbeing.
Mr Anderson added, “A five-day campaign is a really short period for students to get to know the candidates that will be representing them. Obviously we think the Rector elections are really important, so we thought it was important that students were given the opportunities to fully get to know all the candidates and their policy issues and everything, and for things to take shape in a bit more of an extended period.”
The campaign is on Facebook and Instagram at @FionaHillRector, with over 480 likes and 210 followers respectively, along with a campaign website at fionahillrector.co.uk. The campaign includes a “Fiona Will” series, focussing on different policy points and action plans, as well as ensuring that students can get to know Fiona and her story.
On why she believes she is suited to the role of Rector, Dr Hill told The Saint, “I always try to listen to what people have to say, hear them out and remain open to new ideas. I am also committed to working closely with others, to building networks and coalitions to get things done, and to ensuring clear and open lines of communication.”
Speaking of Dr Hill’s experience, Mr Anderson noted, “She did a masters and a PhD in Harvard, and [there] she worked in various different roles in halls of residence and research, so she has a lot of experience as a go-between with faculty and students, which is obviously deeply relevant to the role of the rector.”
Mr Kelly also addressed the campaign slogan as why he believes students should vote for Rector: “Not only does she have experience in managing students’ complaints … this also ties into the idea of speaking truth to power. She has had experience at the highest level of authority, of government. She advised three presidents; her remit was foreign policy for all of Europe in the White House. And that’s not to say it’s especially relevant to St Andrews; however, it does show that she has a lot of analytic ability, a lot of ability to disseminate information.”
He added, “Her experience is one of the reasons why we trust her to represent us correctly. She told us a lot of stories about how she would have fights with her landlord when she was a student, and she understands how expensive rent is because she needed tons of assistance to pay it. … This isn’t to say that Fiona has a universally lived experience of every student here, but she does have a lot of experience with what St Andrews is like, how it works, and that’s why we trust her in many ways.”
Mr Anderson spoke of his admiration of Dr Hill as why he is supporting her, telling The Saint, “She serves as a role model for St Andrews students. One of the slogans we’ve been using is ‘The best St Andrews can be’ because we think that’s what Fiona is,” speaking of coming from a deprived background and achieving career success beyond St Andrews.
He concluded, “I think it’s a matter of time that St Andrews had a working-class Rector who came to this University and made something of themselves in the way that she has.”
Students can vote in the Rector Elections on Thursday 15 October and Friday 16 October.