Between 1979 and 1981 all the four principal posts in the University's administration changed hands. It seemed as if a new consortium of managers was assembling and preparing to tackle the problems of a much bleaker era. None, however, was a businessman; all had risen to eminence by climbing academic ladders, albeit in a slightly unorthodox manner, and they did not all share the same values. The University advertised simultaneously the two top jobs of Registrar and Bursar, on the retirement of Vincent Knowles, who had held sway as constitutional authority for a quarter of a century, and on that of Geoffrey McComas, the former colonial officer who had been Bursar of UMIST before coming to Owens. Fred Ratcliffe, the passionate book collector, accepted appointment as Librarian of Cambridge University in the spring of 1980. A joint committee of Council and Senate—appointed to search for a new Vice-Chancellor—met and deliberated at intervals between February and August 1980, whilst its chairman, Sir George Kenyon, consulted advisers in such London venues as the Athenaeum and the Oxford and Cambridge Club, and sounded out potential candidates for the job.
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