Exiled American whistle-blower Edward Snowden was elected rector of the University of Glasgow by students Tuesday, defeating three other candidates.
"It's a done deal and he has the title for three years unless he chooses to stand down," Peter Aitchison, director of media and public relations at the university, tells U.S. News.
At American universities, the title rector generally designates the powerful chairman of the school's governing body, but at the University of Glasgow, the position is largely symbolic.
The rector does serve as the chairman of the University Court, which administers the university’s financial resources, but the position lacks voting power.
"The term rector in Scotland doesn't refer to someone who has substantive power, so he actually has no power within the university except as the voice of the students," Aitchison says. "He is ex officio the chairman of the University Court, but he has no power as such."
There's no salary attached to the position, but reasonable travel expenses are paid.
The outgoing university rector, Charles Kennedy, served two terms and leaves office March 31. Kennedy, a Liberal Democrat member of the British parliament, congratulated Snowden in a released statement.
“The post of Rector is an important one, and I would like to wish my successor all the very best for his term of office,” Kennedy said.
It's unclear when Snowden will be inaugurated as rector, but it will likely happen sometime in April, Aitchison says. "Obviously we are not expecting him to show up," he says.
Students at the University of Glasgow have a legacy of making controversial rector picks. Winnie Mandela was elected rector in 1987 and Mordechai Vanunu, who leaked information about Israel's nuclear weapon program, was elected in 2005. Neither took up residence in Scotland.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who reported many of the major Snowden disclosures for the Guardian, tells U.S. News in an email the election shows the high regard many people have for the whistle-blower.
“The U.S. Government and its loyalists consider Edward Snowden a criminal, but all throughout the rest of the world, he's considered a hero, especially though not only among the younger portions of the population, which have a unique appreciation for the values of internet freedom and individual privacy he risked his liberty to defend,” says Greenwald, now an editor at the new online publication The Intercept.