SENIOR PROCTOR: Insignissime Vice-Cancellarie, maiores nostri imperaverunt ut procuratores orationem suam dicerent Latine; et haec lex, diutius in oblivionem lapsa, forsitan in usum reducenda esse videatur. Quaproptersed murmur opicorum ad aures meas pervenit. Licetne Anglice loqui?
This is the moment at which, like released hostages dragged before the world's media, the Proctors emerge blinking into the sunlight after a year chained to the same desk to give some account of themselves, swearing eternal friendship but feeling, just possibly, that they can manage the next fortnight without each other's daily company. My few words of Latin provide me with a peg on which to hang the trivial curiosity that for the second year running one of the triumvirate of Proctors and Assessor has come from the Sub-faculty of Classical Languages and Literature and another from the Department of Engineering Science (to which I add the equally trivial note that this year both Oxford and Cambridge have had a Proctor married to a clergywoman). Sometimes the Proctors come from similar backgrounds: a few years back the pair of them went on to write a book together. That is unlikely to happen this time, unless there is a demand for Ancient Greek for Engineers. The Proctors and Assessor are expected to learn about the University as a whole, and the chance that each of us comes from a quite different part of it has been happily educative.
The Assessor is the first psychiatrist to have held his office. This has been serendipitously useful in a position which carries especial responsibility for welfare; and the Proctors, given some of the letters they get, have had reason to think at times that the Assessor should be a psychiatrist always. The current Assessor is also the first to have been installed in the magnificent purple that you see today. So splendid is his raiment that the Proctors have become quite used to hearing people enquiring in a whisper who those men are with the Assessor. The Assessor himself reports that when he wears his gown people come up to stroke him, but my own belief is that they do that anyway.
As a trio, we can claim an unenviable distinction. As the years pass, you must have noticed that Proctors start to look older. It is no illusion. This team has collectively been the oldest ever: none of us would have been eligible before the recent raising of the age limit, and one of us needed a notwithstanding decree even so. For the first time all three of the triumvirate are eligible to celebrate the end of their term by going on a Saga holiday together.
Glad though we have been to hold our offices, one may still feel that there is some loss here. Everyone understands the pressures that lead younger dons to be unwilling to involve themselves in administration. Equally, one can appreciate why Heads of Divisions and executive Pro-Vice-Chancellors need to be people of long experience; they are excellent appointments every one. But the fact remains that the new Council of the University seems set to have only one member under the age of fifty, except insofar as the Proctors and Assessor provide some leavening. Heads of college too have got older, which is odd in an era when they have become more likely to leave before their retiring age. When I came up as an undergraduate there was still a college head who had been elected in his thirties, and there used to be a few in their forties, but a college head under fifty-five is now a rarity. We need the newer voices as well as the elder statesmen; so I hope that future Proctors will not too often be like us.
Not everything is getting older. In the last century University College celebrated the thousandth anniversary of its foundation by King Alfred (when the Master of Balliol is alleged to have sent the Master of Univ a box of cakes, rather charred). But last year Univ wouldn't admit to more than 750; and now that the scaffolding is down from its High Street frontage it can be observed that the once grey stones of this Zsa Zsa Gabor among colleges have become quite blonde. The college generously asked us to join them for the visit by Her Majesty the Queen. The worthies gathered outside St Mary's to greet her displayed enough variety of dress to keep an ethnographer happy for months: university officials in gowns and mortar-boards, the clergy in their surplices, City dignitaries in fur and chains, the Lord Lieutenant in military uniform, the High Sheriff in his Little Lord Fauntleroy velvet and breeches, and a Superintendent of Police in crash helmet and fluorescent yellow jacket. The college's festivities, splendid and yet friendly, did it high honour.
Many colleges have offered us hospitality, and we thank them warmly. The President and Fellows of Magdalen invited us to the top of their tower on May Morning. Though this fulfilled a long-standing ambition of mine, I confess that I had been expecting to be shivering in a light drizzle. But the day was exquisite, and the sight of the mists drifting among the trees and a big red sun rising over Headington Hill remains a magical memory. The music too was enchanting. Nor was this the last splendour of the morning, for the Fellows had invited us, with members of the two police forces, to breakfast in the common room. The sight of a policeman who has been up since three in the morning putting himself outside a full English breakfast is, as they say across the Atlantic, awesome.
Readers of Don Marquis may remember the story of the worm which had a low view of robins, until he was eaten by one; then, as he was assimilated into the bird's interior he began to feel like a robin, and see the point of robins for the first time. In the past I may have thought, very occasionally, that the Proctors themselves believed in their importance, but I had not supposed that this view was shared by anyone else; however, I too, as I was ingested by Wellington Square and began to feel the enzymes acting on my outer surfaces, started to think that yes, these Proctors are quite something after all. What I do believe is that the Proctorship is a valuable institution, and that we have the balance of powers and constraints about right. Last summer we had support for this view from a most satisfactory source, when one of Cambridge's recent Proctors spent a few days visiting our office and admiring our arrangements.
He was rightly impressed by the quality of our support. Indeed, we could not have done our job without the help of many people. We have thanked them elsewhere and in other ways; even so, we must express our great gratitude once more to Dr Brian Gasser, Clerk to the Proctors, and Mrs Mason, the Assistant Clerk. We should also mark the departure of the Marshal, Mr Roberts, to a new job, and thank him for his years of dedicated and energetic service. The Proctors are hired, in part, to see the seamy side of life, but a charm of the job has been the sheer niceness of our colleaguesthe staff of the Proctors' Office, the bulldogs, the bedels, and the various officers in the administration with whom we have worked. We have been impressed by the dedication of our senior officers, though concerned at the very long hours which too many of them put in. As an academic, I start with the prejudice that bureaucracy should be minimised, and so I hope to be believed when I say that the administration is not overstaffed; indeed, parts of it are clearly under-resourced. Moreover, the Proctors at present have more immediate support than the Vice-Chancellor, and it is good that something is being done about that. Let me add that we have much appreciated the time that he has given to us, and enjoyed our weekly meetings.
Many people have asked me over the past year what the Proctors do. I had supposed that at least our disciplinary functions were well known, and so was surprised by the young man who, on being told that I was the Senior Proctor, asked if the Junior Proctor was an undergraduate. But it is appropriate for the Proctors to be obscure functionaries: deans of colleges soon learn that they are often doing their job best when their colleagues are unaware that they are doing anything at all, and similarly, some of the matters which have given us most satisfaction remain entirely private. The Proctors' role as ombudsmen is as important as their disciplinary duties, and usually takes a larger part of their time. On the disciplinary side, as also in handling complaints, the Proctors have the advantage of the time and space for thorough investigation. Last summer the press reported that two leading universities had got into difficulties through examiners penalising candidates on the grounds of collusion. It was some comfort to reflect that this particular awkwardness could not have arisen here, where examiners refer such suspicions to the Proctors.
It is sometimes noted as an oddity that the Proctors act as both prosecutors and judges. Curious though it may seem, this actually has an inhibiting effect: if you are to judge a case, you have to be pretty measured in how you quiz the accused. It is a further safeguard that every student charged with a major offence has the right to have the case heard by the Disciplinary Court instead of the Proctors, and that there is an automatic right of appeal to the Disciplinary Court for anyone whom the Proctors find guilty of such an offence. In this last year not a single defendant opted for the Disciplinary Court, and only one appealed to it. In fact, the system is one that can really only work by consent, and it seems to be generally accepted as modest, quick, and fair.
The Junior Proctor and I were interviewed by Isis; the subsequent article described us as `friendly and mild-mannered men', which we thought could do us a lot of damage. So we were cheered to read an item in The Times Diary a few weeks later, well up to that column's usual standards of inaccuracy, describing some wretched malefactor being `dragged before the Proctors'. That, we felt, was more like it. We are following our predecessors in donating the money raised in fines to the Bodleian's recording service for the blind, but we have to report that the takings are sharply down. A breakdown of all offences will be appended to the printed version of this oration.
We tried to police the Schools in the summer with a light touch (to borrow a phrase which we have heard somewhere else), and it is good to report that the number of fines for misbehaviour has dropped considerably. For particular reasons there was more traffic in Merton Street than usual this year, and the University Police did very well to maintain safety, good order, and good humour. The celebrations which became a serious embarrassment to the University some years ago now seem mostly harmless, and even charming. Friends come down to the Schools with their flowers, bottles, and balloons, and most of them behave well.
I cannot claim that there was no over-exuberance. It will be recalled that Bertie Wooster (a Magdalen man) thought that no boat race night was complete until he had relieved a rozzer of his helmet. We, for our part, would dearly like to know what has become of that bowler hat; if it is returned to the Proctors' Office, no questions will be asked. The offenders who were booked and summonsed paid their debt to society with a good grace. One finalist remarked to us that appearing before the Proctors was one more Oxford experience, and we advised her to tell the tale to her grandchildren. Another explained that he could not have been spraying champagne, as it was a very expensive champagne, and he would not have wished to lose a drop. His college wasbut no, I leave you to guess.
I have to admit to taking on the Proctorship without knowing what all the duties were. One is to protect the person of the Chancellor when he is in Oxford; this obligation does not extend to the Vice-Chancellor. I have sung the Latin litany, a duty now regulated by decree but formerly laid upon the Proctors by Statute I. The Senior Proctor is Chairman of the Radcliffe Square Committee, and in that capacity I was asked to permit a camel in the square. I thought I had spotted the obvious typo: of course, the word should be `camera'. But no, Cleo the camel was to walk from Oxford to Cambridge for charity, and she took her photocall on the day before Encaenia, strict instructions having been given that she should leave no memory of her presence. A fetching photograph later appeared of Cleo meeting the Vice- Chancellor. A cat may look at a king; and a camel may look at a Vice- Chancellor in a way that no one else would dare. Cameras did appear later in the year when the Square saw the erection of a guillotine, complete with headman and tricoteuses. This was nothing to do with the Proctors' disciplinary function; enquiries should be addressed to the Bursar of Brasenose.
I had not realised either that the University Police are a true police force constituted by Act of Parliament, and a few years older than the Metropolitan Police. It has been odd to appear, in the minds of a few students, as Baron Scarpia; patrolling outside the Schools it has felt more like Dixon of Dock Green. But since a few students claim that the existence of the University Police is a source of grievance, we want to say, with emphasis, that on the contrary, it is a lucky privilege. It is fortunate for some minor miscreants that they can be shielded from the full brunt of the civil power; and it is useful for the Thames Valley Police that opportunities for friction between them and the student body are minimised. Our police had a particularly trying time during the occupation of Oxenford House, borne with admirable patience.
This was an unwelcome episode. It should be said, though, that 99 per cent of our students had nothing to do with it. We have also demonstrated that the University will be resolute in dealing with such things: once it became clear that the protesters would not leave quickly, we got a court order and the bailiffs escorted them out. Since then, we have devised a means by which future occupiers can be swiftly and condignly punished, but though we had it ready to use on a couple of occasions, the campaign fizzled out. It remains a mystery why people who say that they want the University's support against the government should seek to damage it. The non-payment of tuition fees is not a disciplinary offence, and so has not fallen under the Proctors' jurisdiction, but it is satisfactory to note that this year, as last, the University has achieved 100 per cent compliance. From now on non- paymentthat is to say, delayed paymentwill be for exhibitionists only.
Student protest has had its lighter side. During the Prime Minister's Romanes Lecture, a handful of the audience removed their jumpers to reveal teeshirts bearing an obscene slogan; but with a nice sense of the proprieties they put their gowns back on, obscuring half their message, so that their chests now read CU EE. I leave this fragmentary inscription for future epigraphers to puzzle over.
I was also charmed to find that one of our present enragés used the e-mail name spiritof68. I am reminded of finding in the Children's Bookshop a series called How They Lived Then: cA Roman Soldier\, A Medieval Peasant, An Aztec Warrior, and A Teenager in the Sixties. `So,' I told myself, ` you're history.' As a member of that heroic generation, I am bound to feel that the agitators of today need advice on tactics. Here is some for free. Don't choose an obscene sloganthat is not the way to get Middle England on your side. Don't attack your natural allies. Don't hang out a banner saying `Blair could you afford to study here today?', since the answer is obviously yes. Do use the power of language: remember how the community charge was damned by the label `poll tax', and call the tuition fee a study tax. Don't ask the University to give up £7 million or more a year, because however feeble it may be, it cannot comply. Instead, give your adversary a chance to allow you one or two small victories to keep the momentum going: demand student representation on the committee administering the Prendergast Bequest; insist that tea is served at Council. And if you occupy a building, don't pinch things.
The Assessor has reviewed the University and colleges' very extensive provisions for health, welfare, and financial aid, and his report should form a basis for further co-ordination and development. Together the three of us have substantially revised the contents and appearance of PAM, the Proctors' and Assessor's Memorandum. PAM had grown flabby over the years and needed to slim. We have pruned and clarified, cutting out confusions and repetitions; we have also renamed the book Essential Information for Students, and produced it in a more compact format with a smart laminated cover; `Please keep this book' its cover pleads, and we hope that it does now look worth keeping. It is much improved, though more could still be done.
One pleasure of a Proctor's life is the experience it affords of the immense and diverse vitality of this place. I cannot describe and celebrate all the corners into which we have put our noses, but something might be said of the museums, parks, and gardens, which have given us especial enjoyment. We have added the word `perlustrate' to our vocabulary. We perlustrated the magnificent new Eastern print room in the Ashmolean; and our perlustration of the Botanical Gardens on a fine afternoon in June must be reckoned the least exacting of all the year's duties. The museums are loud with activity. The Pitt Rivers Museum's main building will reopen in a few days' time. The Museum of the History of Science, for the past year Oxford's most exciting hole, will reopen rather later. The University Museum of Natural History has had great success with school visits and in attracting new sources of funds. We were taken behind the scenes and shown the Hope Collection of Entomology, where the main problem (we were told) was to prevent any insects getting in; we also saw an office adorned with two enormous Pre-Raphaelitish wall paintings by the Revd Richard St John Tyrwhitt, Vicar of St Mary's and author of the uplifting novel Hugh Heron, Christ Church, a work designed to counteract the deleterious influence of Mr Pater of Brasenose.
The Ashmolean has been full of life. The display of Dutch genre paintings from the Mauritshuis was the most spectacular loan exhibition here that I can remember. The Gino Severini exhibition, lately ended, was also exceptionally interesting. The Chinese paintings gallery is under construction, and there are rumours of yet greater things. And since it is so hard to publicise things in this complex place, let me put in an advertisement for the evening opening of the museum one day a week in Trinity Term, a happy experiment which is to be repeated this summer.
We have a special affection for the Botanical Gardens. The enthusiasm and the joie de vivre of the Horti Praefectus and his deputy the Procuratrix (one of us) have enchanted us; both the gardens themselves and the educational programme (the main problem of which is its excessive popularity) have seemed to us a model of how to make a real contribution both to the university and the community around us on a very modest budget.
We have watched the University getting a great deal of publicity, not all of it favourable. There was much fuss when a particularly ill-designed league table put Oxford in third place. Some of the factors on which we were marked down are ones on which we might take positive pride: the provision of facilities through colleges, the large proportion of undergraduate teaching undertaken by established and sometimes very distinguished academics, our refusal to bump up the numbers of Firsts. The whole thing was a bit of a joke, really; but you have to see the serious side. Against all probability, people do sometimes believe what they read in the papers, and a constant drizzle of carping comment could be damaging.
But on the whole I take a bullish view of all this nonsense, for a reason brought home to me in the summer. The Senior Proctor's oration would presumably be incomplete if it did not include an essay on what he did in the holidays; so let me reveal that I went walking in Colorado, where the highest mountains are mostly named, with striking lack of romance, after top universities. There are Mount Harvard, Mount Yale, Mount Columbia, Mount Princeton, anda gracious gestureMount Oxford. Mount Oxford is not quite as lofty as the others. Still, one is pleased to have been included. Perhaps one is no less gratified to see who has been left out. The moral, I suggest, is that we have, in vulgar terms, the best brand name of all. It is not news that we top the table for research income, because it is expected of us; it is not news that another university comes third. It is a nuisance that we need to devote more thought and resources to publicising ourselves, but we should not lack confidence in the product. But I add one reflection: we think a great deal about the competition from the United States, and sometimes we may even overestimate the power and magnetism of American universities, but we do much less thinking about Europe: we believe that we are way ahead of Continental universities, at least in the education of students, and there seems to be an assumption around that this will always be the case. That might be unwise.
This has been a fascinating time at which to be a Proctor, thanks in part to the coincidence of governance reform with the change in the relation between colleges and central University caused by the disappearance of the undergraduate college fee. Tennyson had the words for it: `All ages are ages of transition,' he said; `but this is an awful moment of transition.' Our successors will see the new system in; our year has been dominated by preparations for the change. Soa valediction to the Hebdomadal Council. Those who think of it as the Abdominal Council may not be entirely wrong: its style has perhaps been not so much strategic as digestive. Soon its augustly senatorial, post-prandial ruminations will be no more. The new Council will surely be less of a senate and more of a cabinet, stocked with Secretaries of State from the big spending ministries.
Custom does not provide for the Chairman of the General Board to deliver an orationin this year, a funeral orationso perhaps I should say a few words at these obsequies too. I believe that the General Board has served the University well: it has brought together dons from diverse disciplines to arbitrate the claims of the various facultiesif I may judge from brief experiencefairly and without partisanship. I have greatly admired the command of complex business shown first by Dr Black and then by Dr Walker, who nobly took up the office for a last, transitional yearthe Kerensky of our revolution, but a Kerensky who has turned into a commissar.
Becoming a Proctor in mid-year is like entering the cinema twenty minutes before the end of the film: it is hard to pick up the plot. Nor is it always easy to grasp the committee process by which business is digested by being passed like the cud from one stomach to another (I am not sure why these metaphors keep recurringperhaps it says something about the Proctorial lifestyle). The University has been busy abolishing old committees and inventing new ones. I am not totally convinced that the Divisions will be as streamlined as is intended. I hope that there will be enough scope for executive decision on lesser matters; perhaps the divisional boards and their committees might start by planning how to meet less often.
For me at least it has been hard, under our old system, to identify opportunity cost. The divisions will be able to see with greater clarity that if they spend their money on one thing, they cannot spend it on another. One reason for pleasure in seeing the Press's profits rising again is the opportunities that it gives us. The £60 million transfer from reserves is a unique event, but vital in underwriting our future; and the enhanced revenue transfers guaranteed for the next three years make new initiatives possible. The very idea of merit payments is unwelcome to some, but whatever one's views on their intrinsic desirability, they have now become a necessity. The retention policy adopted by the University of Bologna in the Middle Ages was to threaten any professor over fifty who accepted a job elsewhere with death. It didn't work even then, and anyway the scheme wouldn't get past HEFCE. For the sake of recruitment and retention we have to introduce merit payments if we are to remain among the world's best universities. And another thing: we shall need to accept, almost all of us, that other people will be paid more than ourselves. There, maybe, is the rub.
The use of Press revenues to support overseas graduates is more obviously appealing. The last year has taught me how much the provision for graduate students has improved in recent years, but also how much more will have to be done. Colleges, faculties, and administration will all need to work on this. The allocation of applicants to colleges, for instance, needs to be speeded up; there may be some tough choices required here.
These problems can be solved. I leave office with the strong conviction that except on the shortest term the interests of the University and the colleges are the same. This may seem a statement of the glaringly obvious; if so, well and good. Perhaps it may seem a little less banal if put like this: in negotiations between the colleges and the central university, the aim should be to identify where the common interest lies. Here the omens appear good. Fund-raising by colleges and University seems set to go forward in a spirit of harmony. This should not be a difficult matter: all that we really need is trust and the open exchange of information. The General Board's proposals to colleges may provoke much disagreement at least over detail, but what no one can deny is that there has been more movement in the last few months than in as many years before; and there appears to be a widespread recognition that in broad terms the Board's initiative is in everybody's interest. As a former Senior Tutor, I certainly welcome the establishment of the relationship between colleges and faculties and between colleges and the University on a clearer, firmer basis.
A less encouraging experience has been to see the full extent to which decisions are influenced by the need to look good in the eyes of outside bodies. It is right that we should be accountable; but the inadequacies of the present arrangements are too familiar to need rehearsal. It is hard to be sanguine, but there have been a few signs that regulatory bodies may yield to firm and reasoned argument. We need to form alliances, for this and many other reasons. The most effective alliance, I suspect, would be a very small oneperhaps just two or three of the London colleges, Cambridge, and ourselves.
One thing which we have not done much is to attend Congregation; this event has been recorded regularly in our diaries, and as regularly been cancelled. The debate on governance was a big event: only about 96 per cent of Congregation stayed away. On the one other occasion when a Congregation had to be held, for procedural reasons, no one came, except for extras brought in from the University Offices. But this does not mean that Congregation is insignificant. Like the Roman republic, we boast a mixed constitution. It used to be presumed that the democratic element in the Roman constitution was a sham, but our Camden Professor has cogently argued that it did really matter that Roman magistrates had to seek popular election (though one might also bear in mind the dark saying of an earlier Camden Professor, that behind the façade of every constitution there lurks an oligarchy). In comparable terms, it is important that Congregation exists. The debate did take place and was reported in the Gazette; and the postal vote is a very potent instrument. The University will need to adapt continuously in the years to come, and it will not be able to do so unless the public opinion of the academic body as a whole supports these changes. In a significant sense, it really is up to us all.
The Proctorship is one of rather few jobs to which one's successor is appointed before one takes up office. The life of a Proctor is as the life of a mayfly, and our evening is now drawing on. What happens to Proctors after their demise? A glance at the membership of the new Council, as of the list of past Chairmen of the General Board, confirms that past Junior Proctors are the hard men who rule our world. They may enter office quiet and amiable, but after a term of final honour schools they are as blades of tempered steel. I had supposed, for my own part, that once my year was up, I should be a free man, but I am now more conscious of the risk of being called back to chair the Paperclips Subcommittee of the Working Party on Stationery Resource Allocation. The ghosts of Proctors past haunt the corridors of Wellington Square; and once a year, around the middle of March, more of these spirits emerge from their collegiate obscurities to inhabit for an hour the crepuscular spaces of the Convocation House. In a few moments we too shall be among them. Like all Proctors, we hand on to our successors a few pieces of unfinished business; we wish them well, as we wash our own hands of the cares and charms of office. That may be a fitting metaphor with which to end; for the Latin for `proctor' is `procurator', and had I continued this oration in the learned language with which I began, I should the more easily have been able to observe that the most famous person to bear our title, the most egregious procurator of them all, was Pontius Pilate.
1 Examiners to disregard essay in Part 1 of examination, and in that section award a mark which is average of remaining 2 essays submitted for assessment. Examiners also to reduce eventual degree classification by 1 class when Part 2 of examination taken.
1 Examiners to disregard plagiarised essay and award mark which is average of mark for 2 remaining essays. Assuming requirements of Part 1 of examination have been fulfilled, may proceed to Part 2. Examiners also to reduce by 1 class eventual degree classification, if successful in Part 2.*
1 Examiners to award no marks for all practical work submitted during MT 1999, but award marks for HT and TT 2000 work in usual way, so enabling maximum of 40 marks for practical instead of 60.
1 To fail in graduate taught-course examination and expelled from membership of the University.
39 fines @ £35
4 fines @ £50 (+ in 1 case `damages' of £10)
3 not guilty
1 fine @ £40
2 Charge withdrawn
1 reprimand and warning re future conduct
4 fines @ £50
1 fine @ £40 (+ `damages' of £16)
1 fine @ £10 (+ `damages' of £10)
1 fine @ £500
Total Number of Offences: 71 (111) *Verdict overturned on appeal to the University Disciplinary Court, September 1999.
Arising from an offence of Breach of Examination Regulations dealt with in the Proctorial Year 1998--9, a member of the University was deprived of the degree of M.Phil. by Congregation in Trinity Term 1999.
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