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Agenda: Why Edward Snowden should be elected rector of Glasgow University

The first rectorial election at the University of Glasgow was held on September 18, 1452.

At the time, the rector was the active head of the university but, since 1689, this role has been filled by the principal and the rector's role has become primarily honorary.

Today, rectors are invited to attend meetings of the university court, work with the Student Representative Council, and present student concerns to management.

However, at the University of Glasgow we have a tradition of electing rectors who represent causes that resonate with the student body.

These individuals may not be able to take an active role on campus. For example, the Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who was responsible for exposing Israel's secret nuclear weapons programme and subsequently spent 18 years in prison, was elected rector in 2005. Other previous rectors of the university have included Albert Lutuli and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Edward Snowden, if elected, will join a long list of people who have stood up for their beliefs and have received the recognition of our institution for doing so.

When Mr Snowden, 30, made the decision to expose the wide-reaching surveillance of the National Security Agency, Britain's GCHQ and others, he did so at great personal risk and that led to him having to flee his own country and seek asylum in Russia.

However, as Mr Snowden said himself, he released the information "to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them".

Mr Snowden's passion for democracy and transparency outweighed his very real concerns for his own future. This should lead us all to ask if we would be sufficiently courageous to do the same. By campaigning for Mr Snowden's election as rector, the message we want to send to the students of the University of Glasgow, and people all over the world, is that they should not be afraid to call into question the practices of governments and organisations. Graduates from the university should have the conviction and confidence to stand up for their beliefs without the fear of persecution or prosecution.

Moreover, we believe that people in this country, and those in others, have the democratic right to be informed of, and involved in, issues relating to their privacy. In the coming weeks, we will have a unique opportunity to show our support for these rights and our distaste for those who willingly breach them.

The elections for rector will take place on February 17 and 18, so we have limited time to organise a campaign. Without the support of students in the university we will miss an opportunity to allow voices from Glasgow to be heard worldwide in support of Mr Snowden.

As a second-year student at the University of Glasgow, I feel the opportunity to elect a figurehead of free speech and bravery as rector does not come around every day.

Our campaign group includes individuals from all corners of the university and I make a call to students who care about accountability and transparency to unite in support of the election of Edward Snowden as rector.

I would encourage anyone who would like to get involved in our campaign to get in touch as soon as possible either on our Facebook (facebook.com/edwardsnowdenforrector) or by email (edwardsnowdenforrector@gmx.co.uk). If you have never been involved in a campus campaign before, this is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and make a real difference.

Even if Mr Snowden is never able to come to the university in person, his courage and conscience are an example to us all.

If he is successfully elected, it will not be the end of our support for Mr Snowden, but instead the beginning of an ongoing campaign of solidarity with him and for freedom of speech and the exposure of the covert monitoring of global communications.

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