The Lord Rector of The University of Edinburgh is elected every three years by the students and staff at The University of Edinburgh. Seldom referred to as Lord Rector, the incumbent is more commonly known just as the Rector.
The Rector chairs the University's highest governing body, the University Court; in addition the Rector chairs meetings of the General Council in the absence of the Chancellor. In more recent years the role has included a function akin to that of an ombudsperson for the university community. In their position, the Rector can exert considerable influence in Court and in the body politic of the University. They can be well-informed about student and staff issues and concerns, can champion their causes, and can make sure that these issues are fully aired in Court.
The position of Rector, along with the positions of Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, was only created in 1858. Prior to this, the University was governed by the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and town council of Edinburgh. The rector's place in the university was codified by statute of the Westminster Parliament, the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889, which provided for the election of a Rector at all universities then in existence in Scotland. To this day only the ancient universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh plus the newer Dundee, elect a Rector; the 20th-century universities do not.
In 1935 students went to great lengths to invite Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky to become Rector. Trotsky turned down the offer stating: "The elections to the rectorate are conducted on a non-political basis and your letter itself is signed by representatives of every political tendency. But I myself occupy too definite a political position. … [I could not] appear on any public tribune not under the Bolshevik banner."
Successful candidates are typically well-known figures with some connection to the city. Gordon Brown was unusual in being elected at the age of 21 while still a student, several years before he became politically prominent.
The post of Rector was separated from that of Principal in 1620.
In 1665, the Town Council of Edinburgh resolved that the role of Rector should rest thereafter with the Lord Provost of Edinburgh.
(The then Lord Provost was Andrew Ramsay, son of Andrew Ramsay, who had served twice as rector.)
The position of rector was recreated by the Universities (Scotland Act) 1858. Rectors of the university have been: