Oxford University Gazette

Encaenia 1998: Speeches by the Public Orator

THE PUBLIC ORATOR delivered the following Oration `in commemoration of the Benefactors of the University according to the intention of the Right Honourable Nathaniel, Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham':

The traditional purpose of the Creweian Oration is the commemoration of our Founders and Benefactors. It used to be the custom to recall notable benefactions of the past, very often starting with the mythical largesse of King Alfred; an Orator in the nineteenth century remarks, rather defensively, that `no one of the Creweian orators whose speeches it has been thought worth while to preserve'—an interesting qualification—`ever seems to have hesitated to accord to King Alfred the title of founder of the University'. He quotes the chronicler William of Malmesbury as saying that King Alfred gave one third of all his revenue to the University, which in his time had 30,000 scholars. Golden days, with no hint of haggling over the college fee! But in this less credulous age we prefer to stick to recent times and to benefactions which are real.

It has also been the custom to use the Oration as a parish magazine, which commemorates notable events of the past year in the University: arrivals, appointments, promotions, and deaths. Neither of these functions is without its difficulties. Of parochial news there is potentially no end, and our benefactors are many and munificent. To list them all would weary even the hundred tongues and iron voice which the poet Virgil wished for himself, not to mention the patience of the audience seated in a building which could take as its motto `I bring you nought for your comfort'; yet here, if anywhere, selection is invidious, and we are grateful to all those who support us.

We are still, alas, much engrossed by questions of money. The days are distant when academics dwelt in an ivory tower, and neither the Development Office nor the Buildings Committee has any plans to construct one. The long and excruciating struggle over the ending of the college fee held the attention of the nation and produced a notable debate in the House of Lords. Peers with an Oxford connection spoke well and cogently, you yourself, Sir, worthily to the fore; but in the event a saving of thirty-five million pounds was thought well worth the risk of doing serious damage to the character of two of the nation's leading Universities. An unobtrusive change in the tax regulations which abolishes the repayment of dividend tax credits, deftly introduced in the Budget to general incomprehension, will cause the colleges another severe financial loss. It is thus with even keener gratitude than usual that we greet the generosity of our benefactors.

It is heartening news that the University's research income from research councils, industry, and government, was this year £107,000,000. Some of us are old enough to remember when that was a very great deal of money indeed; and even now it is impressive. And in fund-raising the Chancellor's Court of Benefactors continues to play an important part; it is gratifying to see that this year there are eleven new members.

A list of the names of our recent benefactors is printed in the programme of this ceremony. I can single out a few for special mention. The Norman Collison Foundation is giving a substantial benefaction to endow a Chair and give other kinds of support to orthopaedic research at the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. The Drue Heinz Trust is making a substantial grant to the Oxford American Institute, which will endow the postdoctoral programme and make it possible for the Institute to enjoy the participation of distinguished Americans. The Institute is also receiving generous benefactions from two Directors of the Wisconsin Central Transportation Corporation, Mr Edward A. Burkhardt and Ms Cindy McLachlan. Altogether the Oxford American Institute has collected £10,000,000. The Paul G.Allen Virtual Education Foundation is giving a generous grant to support course development in the Technology Assisted Lifelong Learning Programme at the Department for Continuing Education.

The Bodleian Library reports a lively and rewarding year. The Old Bodleian Development Project will transform the Library in three years from September 1998, exterminating (for instance) the death watch beetles which now hold their destructive and funereal revels in the roof of Duke Humfrey's Library: the Good Duke Humfrey, most memorable of all Founders and Benefactors, `perhaps educated at Balliol College', as we read in the DNB, and well deserving mention in any Creweian Oration. All is to be ready in time for the 400th anniversary of the refounding of the Library by Sir Thomas Bodley, himself hardly less memorable, in 2002. Important benefactors include the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust, the Rayne Foundation, the Rhodes Trust, and the Wolfson Foundation.

The Lower Reading Room of the Radcliffe Camera, the S.T.Lee Reading Room, is to be re-equipped and fitted with the very latest technology, thanks to a generous grant from the Radcliffe Trust. There is progress to report also on the Bodleian Incunabula project, which will produce a definitive catalogue, expected to fill five volumes, of the 6,500 items in the Library's possession which were printed before the year 1500. A generous grant has been received for this work from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation of New York. The late Miss Cynthia Mary Perrins left the Bodleian the residue of her estate, and the late Canon John Kelly left seven paintings, to be sold on behalf of the Library.

The Museum of the History of Science has had substantial gifts from the Wolfson Foundation and the Pilgrim Trust, for the redevelopment fund; the work will be in partnership with the Heritage Lottery. The Ashmolean is to have a fine new gallery for Chinese paintings, thanks to handsome benefactions by the Christensen Foundation and an anonymous benefactor; and it has received a large sum from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the cost of a new gallery for art of the twentieth century. All Orators take a special interest in the Bate Collection of old instruments. This year, it is good to hear, it has acquired an alto sax by none other than Adolph Sax himself. To all those whom I have mentioned, and to many other loving friends and benefactors, we offer our most sincere thanks.

As for the parish magazine and the glittering parade of our promotions and distinctions, a Milky Way in which the mind, enraptured, loves to lose itself, it must be confessed that those in the audience who are seriously interested already know all about them. It would be absurd, in a way, to pass in silence over the installation of a new Vice-Chancellor. If any of our acts is important, that must be. But who is there in this astute and well informed company to whom it will come as news that early last October we installed the Master of Balliol? Yes, eight months ago the golden chains of that exalted drudgery were fastened on Dr Colin Lucas, and he wears them yet; golden chains, and also golden opinions; while even the most envious of us reflect, as we contemplate his onerous elevation at this crisis of our affairs, that at least it isn't we who have to go through it.

A new Vice-Chancellor, and a new Vice-Chancellor's Secretary. An era closed with the departure of Miss Anne Smallwood, Secretary to no fewer than eight Vice-Chancellors. Seven of them are still alive and attended the ceremony, a festive occasion for the University, at which she received an honorary M.A. Her successor is Mrs Alison Miles, who comes with the Vice-Chancellor from Balliol. A new Vice- Chancellor, and a new Registrar. Dr A.J.Dorey, Registrar for almost twenty years, is another of those familiar and benevolent landmarks whose disappearance is hard to imagine; as if one went into Radcliffe Square, missed the Camera, and was told that it had left Oxford and was spending its time sailing. His merits have been so very recently proclaimed in the classical tongue that I shall not dilute that recital in the vernacular.

His successor is Mr David Holmes, Registrar and Secretary of the University of Birmingham; a Merton man, which itself is virtually a guarantee of respectability; and (to silence any doubters) as an undergraduate in 1968 he won the Chancellor's Prize for Latin Prose. The Orator feels like Bertie Wooster when, in the scaly setting of the prize-giving at Market Snodsbury Grammar School, a boy was called up to receive the prize which he, like Bertie before him, had won: the prize for scripture knowledge. In his own words, One of us, I mean to say! It is a sad reflection that in that happier period Mr Holmes got to recite part of his composition at Encaenia: one of the prize winning junior members whose fresh young voices used to vary its monotony. I hear it rumoured that the University will next year turn its godlike mind, godlike not least in that it moves in a mysterious way, to the question of restoring to this greying occasion some younger presences.

Meanwhile, a few random items may attest at least the continued existence and activity in the University of students. It is impossible to give an adequate impression of the range of interesting things that go on here at undergraduate and graduate level. This year I have dipped into the list of the prizes which are annually offered for competition: all this is happening, and much, much more. The number of the Gazette which lists the University Prizes is a mine of material for the day-dreamer. We might, had we but world enough and time, enter for the Nubar Pasha Armenian Prize, or the Nuclear Electric Prize in Mathematical Modelling and Numerical Analysis, or (one of my personal favourites) the Bapsybanoo Marchioness of Winchester Prize for a thesis on international relations. In the intervals of swotting for the Renwick Vickers Dermatology Prize, we might hope to pick up the Egerton Coghill Landscape Prize for `the best landscape painted in oils by a member of the University who is reading for any degree, diploma, or certificate of the University'; our hopes fixed on the St Catherine of Alexandria Prize for the best performance in Theology Schools, or the Oxford Cryosystems Prize for a project in condensed matter physics, we might still have some evenings free to compete for the Tynan Prize for the best portfolio of theatre reviews by a student. We might chance our arm at the Chancellor's English Essay (a recent title: `The Virtues of Forgery'), but we must, of course, wait until we are M.A.'s to have a shot at the really big money, the Prize for an English Poem on a Sacred Subject (a recent title: `Thou shalt see my hinder parts; but my face thou shalt not see'). And there is always the Vaughan Cornish Bequest, which encourages `postgraduate students engaged in the advancement of knowledge relating to the beauty of scenery'.

Countless, too, are the musical, dramatic, and literary events organised by junior members of the University. This year an opera- oratorio in Latin and English by Dr John Caldwell on the Passion, Good Friday, received its first performance, which involved the choirs of all three Turl colleges and progress through all three chapels. To some extent at least in contrast, the choir of New College sang at a tribute concert to Princess Diana, alongside Sir Cliff Richard and Wet Wet Wet: this last, it seems, not three ageing Tory grandees but a pop group. Of course, as pop stars grow richer and richer, and older and older, those two sorts of people more and more overlap. The artificial hockey pitch, often mentioned in past Creweian Orations as imminent, receives a timely grant, and another shunt towards reality, from the Rhodes Trust. Vainly one tries to extrude the memory that the great aesthete Walter Pater, taken for a walk (rather unkindly) past a field where Dons were playing hockey against undergraduates, could utter only the stricken murmur `Come away; we oughtn't to look'. And that was on real grass. Meanwhile—a sentence kept permanently on the computer for transference from year to year, or from decade to decade, and doubtless to be intoned repeatedly by my successors—the University is still working, yearning, and accumulating to get its first SWIMMING POOL. Another constant point in a changing world is that once again Oriel were Head of the River.

A team from Magdalen has won University Challenge for the second time; its captain is quoted as saying, with engaging immodesty, or perhaps modesty, `That has put Magdalen on the map!' Well, I suppose it had to happen some time. To prevent junior members from killing themselves by jumping from it, Magdalen Bridge was, with enormous hoopla, closed on May morning. The Provost and Fellows of Oriel, faced with their most difficult decision of the year, have again ruled that, for undergraduates entering for the Eugene Lee- Hamilton Prize for a Petrarchan Sonnet, `Enjambment between the eighth and ninth lines will be permitted'. One hears hair raising accounts of the stormy college meetings at which, year by year, that thorniest of questions is fought out.

One event which did not after all take place this year was the conferring of an degree by diploma on President V&aactue;clav Havel of the Czech Republic. Illness prevented him from coming to Oxford. We hope that a day will be found when he will be able to come; his career with its injustices, sufferings, and triumphs, went splendidly into Latin. Mrs Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and honoured by the University while she was President of Ireland, did come, and delivered the Romanes Lecture; an appreciative audience heard her powerful plea for stronger action to defend human rights in the world. President Mandela also came and addressed a large audience in this Theatre on the way forward for South Africa.

A new centre for supercomputing was brought into activity, offering fantastic prospects for research. The opening ceremony was immediately followed by a talk by Professor Denis Noble entitled `How to give a computer a heart attack'; so these things do have hearts; and perhaps (who knows?) emotions. But stiil it came as a surprise to read that the supercomputer `was turned on by the Vice-Chancellor'. Its name, by the way, is Oscar. Dr Lucas' appeal, we are delighted to see, is international: last Saturday he received a chaste salute from HE the French Ambassador, who presented him with the insignia of a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the forest, the Department of Astrophysics is sending a spectrometer to Saturn; two Departments are collaborating on chronic pelvic pain; and in the Department of Plant Sciences research is afoot into the respiration of potatoes. And the Christ Church Picture Gallery is mounting an exhibition with the title `Christ Church as Wonderland'. It is indeed tempting to identify among the denizens of that marvellous place the White Rabbit, the Red Queen, and the Old Sheep; but sometimes, surely, temptation must be resisted.

Our relations with the City of Oxford were prominently in the news this year. In a ceremony on the thirteenth of September the University received the freedom of the City; a great improvement on the days when the townspeople massacred the scholars, and the University got the Pope to impose on the City penalties and humiliations which long survived the Reformation. To echo the suaver utterance of the Vice-Chancellor, relations between City and University have not always been harmonious. It is sadly still the case that the University views with alarm, and continues to oppose, the City's plans for closing the High Street to traffic, without controlling the traffic through the Science Area. Among the City's grounds for conferring the honour was that the University is an important local employer. Gone, however, are the days when it used to be said of Oxford: `There's the young gentlemen; and there's them as lives off the young gentlemen; and there's them as lives off them as lives off the young gentlemen'. The Dons and the townspeople fell respectively into the second and the third of those categories.

Another memorable City ceremony was that of public mourning in the Town Hall for the late Princess Diana. Sir Richard Southwood represented the University on an occasion at which many of the schools and other organizations of Oxford gave public expression to their sorrow, official and personal. A rather different career was recalled when we held a service in St. Mary's to mark the centenary of the death of Mr Gladstone. It did not, of course, include any Romish prayers for the dead.

There were honours, too, for the living. There was a Life Peerage for Sir Patrick Neill, lately Warden of All Souls and Vice-Chancellor of the University; he becomes Chairman of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life. Already he has made his mark on Formula One motor racing. Sir Robin Butler, lately Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, who has succeeded Professor John Albery as Master of University College, has also been raised to the Peerage. General satisfaction greeted the knighthood conferred on Dr Peter North, Principal of Jesus, presiding genius of the North Report, and Vice- Chancellor in a very difficult time, `for public services and services to international law'. A knighthood was also conferred on Dr Peter Williams, Chairman of Isis Innovation, marking the success of the University's technology transfer company. There were four recipients of the CBE: Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Dr John Muir Gray, Dr Schuyler Jones, and Professor Denis Noble; while Dr Derek Hopwood received an OBE, and Dr Brenda Boardman an MBE. Congratulations to them all.

Honours of a more purely academic sort were not few. Inside the University 122 persons applied for and received (but how many applied and did not receive?) the title of Professor or Reader in the second round of Recognition of Distinction. The curious observed some asymmetries. Thus it is remarkable that three large scientific faculties produced between them 58 promotions: 12 in Biological Sciences, 27 in Clinical Medicine, and 19 in Physical Sciences; while by contrast four large arts faculties can point only to 6: 2 in English Language and Literature, 1 in Law, 1 in Literae Humaniores, and 2 in Modern History. One possible inference, that Oxford scientists are roughly ten times as distinguished as their colleagues in the arts, perhaps does not command universal acceptance; nor is it quite borne out by this year's crop of elections to the Royal Society and the British Academy. We salute this time four new Fellows of the Royal Society: Professor Roger Cashmore, Professor David Clarke, Professor Raymond Dwek, and Dr Robert Thomas. And eight new Fellows of the British Academy: Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Professor John Kay, Professor Basil Markesinis, Dr John Muellbauer, Professor Anthony Nuttall, Professor Nigel Palmer, Professor Alfred Stepan, and Sir David Cox, formerly Warden of Nuffield, who becomes an Honorary FBA. Perhaps what is more conspicuous in our scientific colleagues is less the possession of distinction than the desire that its possession should be recognised by others. Fame, we know, is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise; it seems that it does so with much more imperious jab in a laboratory than in a library. It is no less pleasing that Mr Stephen Farthing, Master of the Ruskin School, was elected to the Royal Academy.

Not exactly an academic honour, perhaps, but it still seems worth mention that one of your predecessors, Sir, as Chancellor of the University, William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke, was proclaimed (by Miss Katherine Duncan-Jones of Somerville) as the object of the passion expressed in Shakespeare's Sonnets, surprisingly few of which are about a Dark Lady. It is true that the period of his Lordship's life when he attracted the roving eye of the Bard was over by the time he became Chancellor. Certainly his statue in the Bodleian courtyard, a portly figure in full armour, is not that of a Ganymede.

Last year was a bumper one for new Heads of House. This year the rate of turn-over is much less hectic. I was able last year to speak of the succession at Green College, and I have already had occasion to mention the change at University College. This year Sir David Rowland returns to Oxford, following the late Michael von Clemm as President of Templeton. He has been Chairman of Lloyd's, and he is remembered with warmth in Oxford as a prominent and successful figure in the University's fund raising. The Master of Campion Hall, The Revd Dr Joseph Munitiz, retires and is succeeded by The Revd Dr Gerard J. Hughes, lately Vice-Principal of Heythrop College. We also find ourselves, with regret, saying Goodbye to Sir Stephen Tumim, Principal since 1996 of St Edmund Hall, the name of whose successor has not yet been announced.

Notable recognition has come the way of our Museums. Four of them figure on the list, drawn up by the Museums and Galleries Commission, of 26 museums of `pre-eminent importance to the national heritage': they are the Ashmolean, the Pitt Rivers, the Natural History Museum, and the Museum of the History of Science. We rejoice in this well earned distinction. Three of these Museums get new Directors this year. The new Director of the Ashmolean is Dr Christopher Brown, Chief Curator at the National Gallery. The new Director of the Pitt Rivers is Dr Michael O'Hanlon, from the British Museum's Dept of Ethnography. The new Director of the Museum of Natural History is Professor Keith Thomson, who comes to us from New York and Pennsylvania.

But what, I hear a rising murmur, of the North Report? What of it, Sir? What indeed? It addresses, as a central concern, the fact that everyone in Oxford is now too busy and too oppressed to have time to think about questions of policy. That is so true, it now emerges, that we are also too busy to read or think about the Report. The Gazette, its calm pages sporting an untypically excited headline, promised `University set for vigorous debate on North Report'; that turned out, when the debate in Congregation was actually held, to be very far wide of the mark. There has been little public debate so far, and surprisingly little discussion in private. In the Long Vacation, we tell ourselves guiltily, we shall really turn our minds to it—along with the research we had no time for in term, and the graduates whose chapters are waiting to be read, and the challenging new options which we keep introducing in the undergraduate teaching syllabus, and some activities concerned with admissions and our relations with the schools, and a spot of fund- raising, and all those new books—some of them no longer so very new—which are still unopened on our shelves...

Clearly, we are reluctant to think about the North Report. In part that is because our morale is generally not high; there is a sense that changes are in any case unavoidable, even when do not believe them to be either desirable or necessary; even when we believe that they will damage what we most value about the University. Last year you heard me quote the poet Tennyson on new layers of administration—Tiers, idle tiers, I know not what they mean. That anxiety has not gone away. Let us hope that in the process of ejection baby and bath water will be kept sharply distinct; and that we shall not lose sight of two cardinal facts about Oxford.

The first is that we are a great teaching institution, famous and successful at the teaching of the young, which does not mean only the training of potential future academics; and the second, that the democratic style of our procedures is very precious. People work harder, as a rule, and in better spirits, when they feel in control of their own destiny, than when they just feel like employees. In this century centralization has been tried so often and so hopefully, and the list of its triumphs is so sadly short. It is perhaps unfortunate that as central government, of whatever complexion, privatises and hives off more and more areas which it once controlled, education remains one of the dwindling few in which its natural inclination to know best can be exercised with undiminished panache.

Centralization of structure, and constant interference from the centre, has the aesthetic appeal of uniformity, a lunar bureaucratic beauty which endears it to theorists and reformers, who are at heart romantics one and all; but we have learned that its loveliness is that of a wraith, a spectre, a Lorelei, at home (perhaps) in the Platonic world of the ideal, but too impractical (certainly) for this imperfect world of pragmatic reality. Small units like Oxford colleges, and the energies of people working in the realm of freedom rather than in the realm of constraint: these things may lack the plausible allure of perfect system and orderliness; they may not possess that bleak and aseptic beauty which warms the theorist's heart; but they do suit the human animal, and they do work better. Let us hope that we shall not yield too hastily to the arid glamour of some metallic and soulless simulacrum of the Oxford we love: which has done, and which continues to do, not so badly.

From anxieties about the future let us turn to grateful commemoration of the past. This year, as every year, the Orator has deaths to record. Men and women who devoted their lives to the University's high purposes, scholars and teachers, colleagues and friends, they have suffered the common fate that awaits all scholarship, however deep, and all companionship, however dear. Each of them is mourned by some of us here present, and all alike are mourned by the University, our kindly mother. I record the names of Isaiah Berlin, President of Wolfson; Reginald Burton, Fellow of Oriel; Michael von Clemm, President of Templeton; Theodora Cooper, Fellow of St Hugh's; Norma Dalrymple-Champneys, Fellow of Somerville; Charles Dowsett, Fellow of Pembroke; George Forrest, Fellow of New College; Patrick Gardiner, Fellow of Magdalen; Cecil Grayson, Fellow of Magdalen; John Jakubovics, Fellow of St Cross; John Kelly, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Vice-Chancellor of the University; John Kendrew, President of St John's; Kenneth Kirkwood, Fellow of St Antony's; Mary O'Brien, Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall; Roger Opie, Fellow of New College; John Owen, Fellow of Lincoln; William Parry-Jones, Fellow of Linacre; Leslie Rowse, Fellow of All Souls; John Walker, Fellow of Worcester. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

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