First female to head King's quits after two unpopular years

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The Independent Online

Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas became the first female provost in October 2003. It was hoped her experience as head of the Corporation of London would help ease a financial crisis at King's, which had an annual deficit of £1.2m.

But her perceived emphasis on finance rather than students made her unpopular. Yesterday, after just two years, she announced that she would step down from her position on 31 August 2006 at a congregation of the fellows.

King's College, founded in 1446 by Henry VI, is famous for its radical politics and high number of state school-educated undergraduates - many of whom are vehemently left wing. But under Dame Judith, the red-painted student bar was repainted a neutral cream in a virtual whitewash of the College's political history.

In an unprecedented move last autumn, three fellows of the college were appointed to advise Dame Judith. The fellows were described by one senior member of the college as "babysitters", according to the Cambridge student newspaper, Varsity.

A former editor of Varsity, Amol Rajan, said: "Her brief tenure is symptomatic of students not appreciating her style. When she took over at King's she pushed a marketing strategy and made the bar look like a conference facility. Over the last two years the college has become more commercial, market orientated and right wing.

"Students will be battling for a successor who will not come in with a modernisation programme, but who is attentive and sympathetic to their concerns."

In a statement yesterday, Dame Judith said: "The strategic and managerial agenda of the college has been reorganised successfully. I believe that the next stage in the college's development needs to be led by an academic. Accordingly, and in view of my other commitments, I have decided to give the college notice in good time of my decision to step down."

Dame Judith succeeded Professor Patrick Bateson as provost. He served five years in the role. Dame Judith's other commitments include being chairman of the Royal Opera House and of the London Development Agency's Private Investment Commission.

She was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire in the 2002 Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to the City of London. She is also a trustee of the Natural History Museum and a vice-president of London First.