South East Wales

Support for Sir Martin Evans' uni role delays Griff Rhys Jones

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Media captionThe university says the appointment is being given further consideration

Griff Rhys Jones's appointment as Cardiff University chancellor was delayed after questions were raised over why a Nobel Prize winner was not offered the role for a second term.

BBC Wales has learned some members of the university's court refused to approve the comedian's appointment.

They protested that the man he was due to replace - Prof Sir Martin Evans - should have been asked to continue.

The university said it "has not been custom" to reappoint its chancellor.

Chancellor is the university's leading honorary position.

BBC Wales has also been informed that Sir Martin told the court meeting - which he was chairing - that he would probably have accepted the offer if it had been made.

Sir Martin left the meeting while the issue was discussed by an estimated 100 members of the court.

After the court's refusal, the university was forced to announce at short notice that Rhys Jones's appointment had been "delayed". The university confirmed the hold-up just 40 minutes before it was due to have been made public on Thursday afternoon.

Sir Martin was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2007. In his honour, the university has also renamed the building which houses its School of Biosciences after him.

Meanwhile, Rhys Jones - who is probably best known for his partnership with the late Mel Smith in the long-running BBC comedy Alas Smith and Jones - had already posed for publicity pictures in a Cardiff University gown the week before.

The Cardiff-born performer had also spoken in an embargoed press release about how honoured he was.

The court's decision means it has to be considered again by the university council, which manages the institution. But it remains unclear when that will happen.

Image caption Prof Sir Martin Evans was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2007

One member of the university court who was at the meeting told the BBC that many believed Sir Martin should have been offered a second term.

"He wasn't offered it and a lot of people thought that was disrespectful," said the source.

The court member said the issue was raised by Prof Ron Eccles, director of the university's Common Cold Centre.

The source said Sir Martin was asked in the meeting if he would have accepted the offer of a second term, and he replied: "Had I been asked I would have considered it favourably."

Sir Martin then said he would leave the room so it could be discussed without him in the chair.

According to the source, Prof Eccles wanted to approve the appointment of Sir Martin for a second term there and then. But the source said that, under university rules, the court was not allowed to appoint a chancellor unless the nomination had been put forward by its council.

The meeting agreed that it would not approve the appointment of Rhys Jones, and sent the issue back to the council. The council must now discuss it again, and will need to put forward a nomination again to the court.

The court member said officials had run out of the meeting, apparently to halt the official announcement of Rhys Jones's appointment.

The source said a number of people were upset by what had happened. "Somebody stood up and said court should no longer be viewed as a rubber-stamping body. It's quite reassuring, actually, that court are challenging the university on this."

Image copyright David Dixon
Image caption Prof Sir Martin Evans has a building named after him at the university

Another court member - who also wants to remain anonymous - said: "It was so sudden and seemed quite an esoteric point. But a lot of people were taken off their guard.

The second court member said the meeting voiced no negative opinions about Rhys Jones, but instead was in support of Sir Martin.

In a new statement on Friday, the university said: "It has not been custom and practice to reappoint the university's most senior honorary role in the entire 130 years of Cardiff University's history.

"Only three former holders of the post held it for more than one term... the office of chancellor is an honorary and non-salaried ceremonial role.

"Members raised the question of whether Professor Sir Martin Evans could serve a second term. Discussion followed over the rules of nomination and appointment, and the matter was referred back to the council for clarification, and later reconsideration by court.

"No appointment was considered during the meeting because of the raising of the procedural point.

"The university wishes to make it explicitly clear that the reputations of both Griff Rhys Jones and Professor Sir Martin Evans were not in question. Both are valued friends and supporters of Cardiff University."

A spokesman for the comedian declined to comment.

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