He was accused of lowering stamdards and failing to support freedom of speech by critics, but hailed by others over direct intervention and even bravery.
So when Professor Peter Mathieson begins his tenure as the next Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh this week – teaching students – he may have many points to prove.
He succeeds Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea as Principal and Vice-Chancellor, his popular predecessor standing down from the role after more than 15 years at the helm of Scotland’s largest university.
And it will full circle for the man who was once also Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Bristol.
His father, a merchant seaman with Trinity House, was Edinburgh-born and died when Professor Mathieson was just seven years old.
“I have few memories of him but one of the ones I do have is visiting Edinburgh Castle with him when I was a very young boy,” he said. “I feel he would have been very proud to know that I would go on to take up this role at the University of Edinburgh.
“As a result of my father’s job, we moved around a lot.”
Married to Tina, an orthodontist, they have two grown-up children – a son and a daughter – and a nine-month-old grandson.
He says he still feels a strong sense of connection to the city. “It’s now almost 40 years since I started my medical degree and I’m a great believer in the transformative power of education.
“I want to ensure that we continue to give other people the same opportunities as I had. I was the first in my family to go to university.”
He added: “One of my earliest priorities will be to meet and speak to as many students, members of staff, alumni and other stakeholders as possible to help me to develop a sense of the main themes I want to concentrate on in the early days of my time in post.
“Our main objective will always be to conduct world-class teaching and research, but there are so many areas for consideration – how we continue to ensure that the university remains globally relevant, how we widen access to the university, how we work most productively with our partners and neighbours in this great city. It’s going to be a hugely exciting time.”
And he said he was looking forward to getting back into the lecture theatre too.
“I’m passionate about teaching – the best teachers can be instrumental in inspiring people to go on to do great things,” said Professor Mathieson, “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to lead one of the world’s great universities into an exciting new chapter.”