The Lord Rector (more commonly known just as the Rector) of the University of Glasgow is one of the most senior posts within that institution, elected every three years by students. The theoretical role of the Rector is to represent students to the senior management of the University and raise issues which concern them. In order to achieve this, the Rector is the statutory chair of the Court, the governing body of the University. In fact, in view of the appointment of foreign public fugitives, whistleblowers, and convicted spies to the position in recent years, all of which have no connection whatsoever with the University, Glasgow, Scotland or even the United Kingdom, in recent years this role remains unfulfilled.
The current Rector is Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor and whistleblower, the first American and first fugitive to serve in this capacity. Snowden's appointment is purely symbolic and therefore the position of Rector is effectively vacant.
Students have not always voted for working rectors; anti-apartheid activists Winnie Mandela (1987–1990) and Albert Lutuli (1962–1965) were elected on the understanding that they would be unable to undertake the position's responsibilities, while Mordechai Vanunu (2005–2008) was unable to fulfil his duties as he was not allowed to leave Israel and Edward Snowden (2014-present) is not expected to fulfill his duties due to an ongoing self-imposed exile in Russia. However, other recent Rectors have been elected on the presumption they will be working rectors, e.g. Ross Kemp (1999–2000), who resigned from the post after the Students' Representative Council voted to request his resignation, such was the extent of student dissatisfaction with his performance.
At the Rectorial election in February 2004, no nominations for the post of Rector had been received. Upon the end of Greg Hemphill's term, the University was left without a Rector for the first time in the position's history. The University Senate set another election date for December, when Mordechai Vanunu was elected.
Until 1977, for Rectorial election purposes, the University was divided into four 'nations' based on the students' birthplace, originally called Clidisdaliae, Thevidaliae, Albaniae and Rosay, and later as Glottiana, Loudoniana, Transforthana and Rothseiana. Three of the 'nations' consisted of defined areas in Scotland, with Loudoniana consisting of students from all other places.