Honorary Graduands and University Medallists
Professor Sir William Wakeham
"Lord Lieutenant, Mayor, Chancellor, Pro Chancellor(s), Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, Graduands
In 2009 Professor Sir William Wakeham retired as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton after a distinguished career as an outstanding academic scientist and a highly effective leader in Higher Education management. Few have done so much to champion the cause of science and engineering in UK academia.
Wikipedia may list Sir William Arnot Wakeham as a “British Chemical Engineer”, but above all he is a physicist. He gained a first degree and PhD at Exeter, before becoming a Research Associate at Brown University, where his work spanned physics and engineering, setting a pattern for the future.
In 1971 he was appointed to the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemical Technology at Imperial College as a “chemical physicist”. He worked seamlessly across science and engineering – providing him with twice as many opportunities to secure research funding. His specialisms were in the thermophysical properties of fluids and intermolecular forces and he became a Reader in 1979 and gained his Chair in 1985.
His move into academic management owed much to the frustrations of seeing the job done badly, and his invitation to become Head of Department arose in part from expressing his dissatisfaction leading to the challenge “Well if you think you can do better….”! He could indeed do much better and after a successful time as Head of Department, he became Pro Rector for Research, Pro Rector for Resources, and ultimately Deputy Rector.
These posts had wide operational responsibilities and during his time in office he was responsible, among many other achievements, for establishing Imperial Innovations and overseeing the merger of Imperial College with four Medical Schools.
In 2001 he moved to become the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton. He initiated a major programme of structural reform internally, whilst transforming the engagement of the University with the City and the surrounding region. The painful process of change paid dividends enabling the University to deal with major issues such as the major fire in October 2005 which destroyed a large building on the University campus.
He has fulfilled a number of key roles in the wider academic community and beyond, serving as Chair of UCEA, the University employer’s body, on the Board of the local Development Agency and leading a major review of Physics in 2008. He speaks with relish of the challenge of working with very, very smart people, saying that if you can come up with an “overwhelming and logical argument” people will accept it.
For more than 20 years, his main home has been in Exeter, and he has commuted on a weekly basis to first London and then Southampton. Perhaps this explains his liking for speed, evidenced by his Porsche 911 and – in a way that combines both speed and his other passion of fluid dynamics – his passion for water-skiing.
Bill Wakeham has made a substantial and lasting contribution to physics, to engineering and to higher education and so, Chancellor, it is a great personal pleasure and honour to present to you, and to the whole University, Professor Sir William Wakeham for the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.'