The vice-chancellor is described in the University of Manchester's Supplemental Charter (1973) as the 'chief executive officer and principal academic and administrative officer of the University'. The vice-chancellor was therefore the senior official in charge of the day-to-day running of the University of Manchester between 1903 and 2004.
The office of vice-chancellor was created by the Royal Charter of 1903, which established the independent University of Manchester. Until independence, a principal had been in charge of Owens College, while the federal Victoria University, of which the College was a constituent member, had its own vice-chancellor. The post of principal was discontinued with the formal incorporation of Owens College into the University of Manchester in 1904.
The vice-chancellors of the Victoria University of Manchester, 1903-2004, were:
- Sir Alfred Hopkinson 1903-1913
- Frederick Ernest Weiss 1913-1915
- Sir Henry Alexander Miers 1915-1926
- Sir Walter Hamilton Moberly 1926-1934
- Sir John Sebastian Bach Stopford 1934-1956
- Sir William Mansfield Cooper 1956-1970
- Sir Arthur Llewellyn Armitage 1970-1980
- Sir Mark Henry Richmond 1981-1990
- Sir Martin Best Harris 1991-2004
The duties of the vice-chancellor were several. The vice-chancellor was an ex officio member of most Council and Senate Committees, and chaired Senate and many Council committees. More generally, the vice-chancellor was the public face of the University in the wider community, and was the key figure in the government of the University, linking academic staff and lay officers.
Sir Alfred Hopkinson (1851-1939) was the University's first vice-chancellor, having previously served as principal of Owens College, 1898-1904 and vice-chancellor of the Victoria University, 1900-1903. Hopkinson had been a student at Owens in the 1860s, before going on to study law at Oxford. He practised as a barrister, and was professor of law at Owens from 1875 to 1889. Hopkinson was also active in politics, sitting as Liberal Unionist MP for the Cricklade division of Wiltshire from 1895 to 1898. In later life he was a Unionist (Conservative) member of parliament for the Combined English Universities between 1926-1929. Hopkinson was knighted in 1910. His period as vice-chancellor was dominated by the setting up of a new teaching and administrative structure following the creation of the independent University of Manchester in 1903.
Hopkinson was succeeded by Frederick Weiss, the University's professor of botany, in 1913. This was a stop-gap appointment until a suitable candidate for the post could be found. Weiss continued to act as professor of botany during his tenure as vice-chancellor; he resigned in 1915. His replacement, Sir Henry Miers (1858-1942), was a distinguished scientist, who had been professor of mineralogy at Oxford University, and was a former principal of the University of London (1908-1915). His tenure of this post coincided with the war years, and the difficult post-war period when student numbers expanded rapidly against a background of constrained financial resources.
Miers in turn was succeeded in 1926 by Walter Moberly (1881-1974). Moberly had trained as a philosopher, and held academic positions in Oxford and Birmingham, before becoming the first principal of the University College of the South-West of England in 1922. Moberly's success in this post led to him replacing Miers as vice-chancellor in 1926. He made great efforts to build links between the University and the city's business community. A devoted churchman, Moberly was keen to emphasise the continuing importance of Christian thought in higher education. In 1934 Moberly resigned to become chairman of the University Grants Council.
Moberly was followed by John Sebastian Bach Stopford (Baron Stopford of Fallowfield, 1888-1961). Stopford was probably the most influential vice-chancellor in the history of the University. A medical practitioner by training, Stopford was appointed professor of anatomy at the University in 1919 (he continued to hold this chair for a short period after his appointment as vice-chancellor). He remained in office as vice-chancellor until 1956, overseeing a major expansion of the University, with a doubling in the number of staff and students. Stopford's reputation as an administrator saw him much in demand as a member of public bodies, and he served as chairman of the Universities Bureau of the British Empire, vice-chairman of the CVCP, vice-chairman of the Nuffield Foundation, and first chairman of the Manchester Regional Hospital Board. Stopford's diplomatic skills and unpretentious manner proved invaluable to the University at a time of rapid change in the post-war period.
Stopford was succeeded by William Mansfield Cooper (1903-1992). Cooper had worked his way up from WEA classes to become the University's professor of industrial and commercial law in 1949. He had previously been the University's registrar, and continued to act as joint registrar until 1952. In 1953-1954 he had been acting vice-chancellor when Stopford was absent through illness. In 1956 he became the full-time vice-chancellor. Cooper occupied this post during a period of great change at Manchester, with the expansion of staff and student numbers, and a complete administrative re-organisation. By the late 1960s, Cooper was forced to deal with student unrest, which rather clouded the last years of his office.
At the time of Cooper's retirement in 1970, Manchester was the largest (non-federal) University in the UK, and it faced a number of difficult challenges. There was obvious instances of dissent from the student body, but also concerns amongst academic staff about how departments were being run, and in some parts of the University, a feeling that Manchester was falling behind in certain areas of research.
Cooper's successor, Sir Arthur Armitage (1916-1984), tackled these problems with vigour in the face of diminishing financial support from central government. Armitage retired in 1980, and in 1981, Mark Richmond became the University's seventh vice-chancellor. Richmond promoted administrative and academic restructuring in light of the stringent economies required of the University in the 1980s. He placed great emphasis on reinvigorating research performance, particularly in the sciences and medicine. He was succeeded by (Sir) Martin Harris in 1991, a linguist and former vice-chancellor of the University of Essex. Harris was the last vice-chancellor of the Victoria University of Manchester, and helped oversee Project Unity, which brought together VUM and UMIST. He retired in 2004, and in October 2004 the new University of Manchester was instituted, with Professor Alan Gilbert taking over the new office of President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester.