Professor Sir Geoff Palmer named new chancellor of Heriot-Watt

The renowned scientist and human rights activist was Scotland’s first black professor in 1989

Heriot-Watt University has named Professor Sir Geoff Palmer as its new chancellor.

The prominent scientist and human rights activist replaces mining entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr Robert M. Buchan, who is standing down after almost eight years in the role.

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer began his association with Heriot-Watt University in the 1960s, completing his PhD in grain science and technology jointly with Heriot-Watt College and the University of Edinburgh in the 1960s. He worked at Heriot-Watt University from 1977 until retirement, and in 1989 became Scotland’s first black professor.

After his retirement in 2005, Sir Geoff was awarded the academic title of professor emeritus.

He was knighted in the 2014 New Year’s Honours for services to human rights, science and charity. In 2018, he was appointed Jamaica’s first Honorary Consul in Scotland and is the 2020 recipient of the Jamaican national honour, the Order of Distinction (Commander Class).

Alongside his academic work, Sir Geoff is a board member of many charitable and equality organisations, including the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. He was also made a Freeman of Midlothian in 2012.

“Becoming the Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, an institution I know well and admire, is a position I accept with both honour and humility,” said Sir Geoff.

“It is an institution that has, since its inception, fostered the ethos of inclusion and education for all, and I am very proud of the continued focus on ensuring that its doors are open to everyone – in Scotland and across the world.

“As a truly international University, I am very much looking forward to promoting and enhancing its reputation as a provider of world-class education and as a global leader in innovative research and will assist the University to achieve its goals and ambitions during my period as Chancellor.”

Principal and vice-chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, Professor Richard A. Williams, said: “Sir Geoff has been an inspiration to thousands of students and staff at this University for a number of years and his vision and leadership qualities will carry on the exceptional legacy left by his predecessor, Dr Robert M Buchan.

“I have had the pleasure of knowing Sir Geoff throughout my time as Principal and Vice-Chancellor and he is the very embodiment of this University and its values.

“I am delighted that he has been named as our new Chancellor at a time when we all look forward to welcoming back our students in the new academic year and emerging from the challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. And as we celebrate 200 years of our University, I very much look forward to working with him in continuing to promote Heriot-Watt’s reputation nationally and around the world.”

In 2021, Heriot-Watt University celebrates the 200th anniversary of its founding in Scotland. The institution now has campuses in the UK, Dubai and Malaysia.

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer’s term will last for an initial five-years.

An official inauguration ceremony will be held during the university’s bicentennial celebrations in October.

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