Campbell will retire as vice chancellor of the University of Nottingham in September 2008.
Since 1988, when he was appointed as the country's youngest vice chancellor at the age of 43, he has worked to expand the University of Nottingham and consolidate its position as one of the country's leading higher education institutions. Recently, he has been the driving force behind the expansion of the university overseas, the first such move amongst British universities. The University of Nottingham has two campuses in Asia: The University of Nottingham in Malaysia and The University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China.
Campbell has consistently shown himself to be unafraid of supporting unpopular causes, and he has been a loud advocate of controversial plans to introduce tuition fees. At the beginning of the century, he was criticised for the university's decision to accept a £3.8M endowment from a tobacco company in 2001. The funds donated were used to establish an International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University Business School The school now ranks 1st in the UK, 4th in Europe, and 28th in the world in Master of Business Administration (MBA) rankings compiled by the Aspen Institute, whose biennial table highlights full-time MBA programmes that integrate ethical, social, and environmental issues. Despite predictions that medical research income and cancer studies would be affected adversely in the long term at Nottingham, funding for cancer research has been strong in recent years, with significant public-private projects on Breast and Lung Cancer in the laboratory of Professor John Robertson, and a successful bid in 2008 to establish a UK centre for Tobacco Control Studies under the leadership of Professor John Britton.
Many current and prospective staff at the university felt that such a relationship with a tobacco company that has been accused, amongst other things, of illegal smuggling; trading with the Burmese junta; and illegally targeting their products at African children, was highly unethical however. This belief lead to resignations, including that of Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal; the loss of at least one grant for £1.5m; and the decision of the director of the CRC gene targeted drug design research group to take his 15-strong team to the University of London.
Campbell showed little inclination to be any less controversial in a recent public role as Her Majesty's First Commissioner for Judicial Appointments. He was heavily and openly critical of the previous appointments procedure for judges, and a new Judicial Appointments Commission officially came into existence in April 2006.
Further controversy came in 2008 when Campbell issued a statement in response to the recent arrests under the 2000 Terrorism Act, of a student and member of staff at the university, who were held for six days before being released without charge after downloading an Al-Qaeda document from a US government website for research purposes. Appearing to reject the notion of academic freedom, Campbell said in his statement that "There is no 'right' to access and research terrorist materials. Those who do so run the risk of being investigated and prosecuted on terrorism charges. Equally, there is no 'prohibition' on accessing terrorist materials for the purpose of research. Those who do so are likely to be able to offer a defence to charges (although they may be held in custody for some time while the matter is investigated).
Campbell graduated with First Class Honours in Law from the University of Aberdeen. He subsequently held appointments at the University of Dundee and the University of Edinburgh before becoming Professor of Jurisprudence at Queen's University of Belfast, where he was Dean of the law faculty and a Pro Vice Chancellor as well as Chairman of QUBIS Ltd. He was a member of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights for Northern Ireland, the Legal Aid Advisory Committee, and the Mental Health Legislation Review Committee; he also chaired various committees of inquiry in Northern Ireland.
He has previously served on the University Grants Committee as Vice Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and as a member of the Board of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He was chairman of the Northern Ireland Economic Council from 1987 to 1994, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority from 1990 to 1994, the Human Genetics Advisory Commission from 1996 to 1999, and the Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee from 1991 to 2001. He was a member of the Sheehy Inquiry Team into Police Responsibilities and Rewards and a member of the Trent Regional Health Authority from 1993 to 1996. He was Chairman of the Food Advisory Committee from 1994 to 2001. In 1999, he was appointed to the Board of Swiss Re.
He was knighted in 1994 and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire in 1996. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was elected a member of the Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences in 2000. He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Aberdeen in 2001. In September 2004, he was named an Honorary Citizen of Ningbo Municipality by the Standing Committee of the Ningbo Municipal People's Congress, in recognition of his contribution to the construction and development of Ningbo, where The University of Nottingham became the first foreign university to establish a campus in China. In April 2006, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.