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SENIOR PROCTOR: Insignissime Vice-Cancellarie, licetne anglice loqui?
SENIOR PROCTOR: Mr Vice-Chancellor, it is said that when, on his death-bed, he was asked whether or not he renounced the devil and all his works, Voltaire replied: `surely this is no time to be making new enemies.'
The Proctors and the Assessor for 2001--2 are now, Sir, on their metaphorical death-beds, andin a spirit of charity still greater than Voltaire'swould not wish in these closing moments to part on bad terms with even the University's old enemies. But perhaps forbearance may come more easily to us than it did to our predecessors, since during our year of office those enemies have been surprisingly subdued. When I recall the oration delivered here a year ago by former Senior Proctor Slater, what I remember most vividly is the expression he gave to his sense that (as he put it) `we are living in an institution under siege'. His Proctorship, of course, coincided with the War of Laura Spence, that most extraordinary of clashes between the University and government. Little wonder, then, that his oration read at moments like a despatch sent back from a forward and exposed position which was suddenly coming under heavy fire. But when this year's Proctors had been given watch and ward and tremblingly ascended the battlements, they rubbed their eyes in surprise, because it seemed that overnight (or perhaps that should read, over lunch) the besieging forces had folded up their tents and departed. During the past twelve months a General Election, and then momentous international events, have distracted our political paymasters, and given the current ProctorsI can still refer to them as such for ten minutes or soa quieter watch than their predecessors. Of course, we have not been left entirely to ourselves. As was acutely pointed out some weeks ago in a seminar on the legal aspects of the work of the Proctors' Office organised for the benefit of the Senior and Junior Proctors-elect, the public culture of our time views the principle of self-regulation with suspicion. In this respect the universities are no more picked upon than the legal and medical professions. Increasing external regulation, whether in the form of the QAA or the various Acts which hold implications for the activities of the University, such as the Human Rights Act, or recent legislation on disability and discrimination, or impending legislation concerning police forces, will for the foreseeable future constrain the University's ability to chart its own course.
Nevertheless, in the past twelve months the University has been able to focus inwards, and for the outgoing Proctors and Assessor this has meant that we have been able without too many external distractions to scrutinise the bedding down of the new governance procedures. Overall it is our perception that these changes are, as you yourself have put it, Sir, releasing energy within the University. But there is still some scope for fine-tuning. Council has sometimes put us in mind of the early Tudor House of Commons, whose Members would occasionally stare at one another in silence for want of a clear idea of what should happen next. Perhaps more lay-members would improve things. But an even larger Council would bring only one advantage, that it would in future be impossible to meet in the Van Houten Room. So there would have to be a cull of the internal membership. The nature of the problem suggests that perhaps a mobility scheme restricted to members of Council would be the answer, though we shrink from making so bold a recommendation. The Proctors and Assessor have also tried, in so far as we could, to keep the sub-committees of Council on an even footing of importance. The uncorrected tendency seems to be for PRAC to assume pre-eminence amongst these committees. It has therefore been a satisfaction for us to observe that over the year the other sub-committees (including particularly EPSC) have developed a sharper sense of what their business is, and of how it should be pursued.
I was asked recently by a classically-educated friend about the etymology of the word `Proctor'. Was it, he wondered, derived from the Greek word `[proktos]', meaning (as he translated it, in fact not altogether accurately) `a buttock'? No, I assured him, it was in fact a contraction of the Latin word `procurator', meaning a manager. Or, so I thought. But the experience of office has suggested to meif I can rise for one last time into the idiom of so many of the letters which have gone out over my signature during the past twelve monthsthat the case for a Greek etymology for the word `Proctor' deserves to be reopened. We might begin with the question of number. The Roman procurator tended to work alone. The History of the University, however, instructs us that there have always and ever been two Proctorsa striking circumstance which naturally reinforces the claims of the Greek derivation. But it is when we turn our attention to the question of function that the case for the Greek etymology becomes, I think, unanswerable. When we consider what the Proctors do and how they spend their days, we can truly see why they may, without any undue imaginative strain, be thought of as the buttocks of the University.
As soon as the Proctors arrive in office, they are plied with food and drink. Coffee and biscuits are the perpetual accompaniment to their working day, and when in the evening the last file has been closed, and the last crumbs of biscuit eaten, more often than not there will be a feast or a dinner to make sure that the pangs of hunger remain firmly banished. Not only do they consume more. They also move less. Their dignity demands that they should be more visited than visiting, but whenever they do have to stir outside Wellington Square, they can summon a car. So, over time, the lean academic is metamorphosed into the plump Proctor. But this is a strictly functional process. For the Proctorsas the Greek etymology instructs usare best thought of as two adjacent parts of the body of the University which, on account of their positioning and their steadily greater fleshiness, are over the year increasingly well-adapted to the absorption of impacts which might otherwise do widespread damage. You will have sensed, Sir, that my attention is swivelling towards the subject of complaints.
The role of the Proctors in adjudicating complaints belongs to the nobler part of their office, in which they act the part of tribunes or ombudsmen. Our impression has been that, when one takes account of the scale of the University's activities, the incidence of complaint is pleasingly small. Of course, much that could ripen into serious grievance is dealt with effectively at a local level, without ever coming officially to the notice of the Proctors. For this reason the Junior Proctor and I have welcomed EPSC's recent initiatives to regularise and codify these local instruments of resolution.
Of the complaints which did reach us, it is even more gratifying to be able to report that in almost all cases they seemed to have arisen as a result of what one might call untreated misunderstanding, rather than any serious error or wrongdoing. There is no reason for complacency on this score; complaints were upheld in the course of the year. But, in general, we demit office having witnessed that the University is overwhelmingly staffed by intelligent and responsible people, honestly striving by their own best lights to pursue the ideals for which the University stands. This fact does not receive wide coverage in the newspapers. All the more reason to proclaim it today.
The march of humanity towards freedom can, we know, only rarely take the high road. Too often it must double back, win its way by stealth and sidle down the alleys of obliquity. Let us celebrate, then, the astonishingly direct bound towards liberty which the University is just on the point of making. Unless the Privy Council rejects the legislation which the University has placed before it, a despotism under which the University has silently suffered from its earliest years will soon be utterly destroyed. I refer to the disciplinary powers of the Proctors themselves, that awesome instrument of oppression which Proctors Slater and Sharpe handed on to us with its edge still intact, but which has slipped from our grasp, and shivered into fragments against the Human Rights Act.
This trimming of the Proctors' powers has come about as a result of the redrafting of the University's Statutes, a work of great labour carried out with efficiency and good humour by the Principal of St Hugh's, the Master of St Cross, and Professor Freedland, assisted by Miss Noon, Mrs Barnwell, and Mr Hall. For the most part, this has involved the rationalising and pruning of a body of legislation which threatened to choke itself in the luxuriance of its waste fertility. But it was also necessary to bring the University's legislation into line with the law of the land, where that had overtaken it, and so the power of the Proctors to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate a case was done away with on the grounds of its incompatibility with the Human Rights Act. A new structure of University Courts has been created, in which the Proctors will appear as prosecutors, but not as judges.
And yet, on close inspection, the redrafting has not in every detail tended towards greater liberation for the downtrodden multitudes of the University. The Senior Proctor-elect pointed out at the recent meeting of the Rules Committee that under the new Statutes the representation of junior members on the Disciplinary Court had been done away with. A regrettable development, no doubt: and especially regrettable from my standpoint, since I had just assured the junior members on that committee that their rights of representation in the University's disciplinary procedures had been meticulously preserved in the new Statutes.
It could be that I fell into that oversight because I have relaxed too much in the delightful company of the Junior Proctor and the Assessor. In one of his works, Burke talks about the solemnity with which the Romans regarded the bonds forged in professional life: `Even the holding of offices together, the disposition of which arose from chance not selection, gave rise to a relation, which continued for life ... [and] was looked upon with a sacred reverence.' `Sacred reverence' might be pitching it a little high, even for this year's Proctors and Assessor, although we have rubbed along together extremely well, and one of the year's pleasures has been the gradual revelation of character in one's colleagues. For instance, the Junior Proctor has so impressed the Assessor and myself with his scrupulous fairness of mind that we have rechristened him `Equity' Walford. Time and time again, when to our jaded tutor's eye nothing more was needed than the firm application of authority, he has persuaded us that a milder course was the one to take. For his part, the Assessor has been remarkable for his time-keeping. At not just the eleventh hour, but frequently the fifty-ninth second of the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour, and when the pathetically risk-averse Proctors have been hanging about for five minutes or so, the Assessor has arrived for a meeting, his cheek alight with the healthy glow of high-speed cycling. And what of the Senior Proctor? More inclined to slap than the Junior Proctor, less prepared to dash than the Assessor, he finds himself somewhere betwixt and between; which, as our positioning before you today suggests, is probably where he should be.
One reason why we have been so contented in each other's company is certainly that, like all our predecessors, we have been looked after exceedingly well. The support which we have received from the Clerk to the Proctors, from the Assistant Clerk, from the constables, and from the secretaries in the Proctors' Office has been quite first-rate. And when we have set foot outside the Proctors' corridor and entered the wider world of Wellington Square, we have been deeply impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the University's civil service. We end our year of office convinced that the University is exceptionally well-run.
Writing about the English constitution, Bagehot drew a famous distinction between what he called its `dignified' and its `efficient' parts. In the constitution of the University, it is the Proctors' privilege to have a foot on both sides of that divide, and so, having spoken for a while about the way the University is administered, I should reflect for a moment on what we have experienced of its dignity. In recent orations the ceremonial aspects of the Proctorship have not received much attention. This is surprising, since the Junior Proctor and I have found that our ceremonial duties have added colour and interest to our time in office. We have been present at a number of openings of buildings, and so have had the opportunity to be impressed, Sir, by your ability to clothe unchanging sentiment in varied language. Encaenia was a high spot of our summer, graced as it was by glorious weather and a bumper crop of dignitaries. For the Proctors it was enlivened, too, by mild anxieties. Would the honorands come forward in the right order? Would we give them the right scroll? Would they then sit in the right place? Would the Chancellor have admitted them to the right degree? Uncertainties which, in 2001, it would not in every instance have been possible to resolve with a simple answer of `yes'.
But on the ceremonial side it is the Degree Days which most occupy the Proctors. The Degree Ceremony might (perhaps unkindly) be described as an occasion on which something which nobody understands happens twice. If so, then, this proves only that understanding is no necessary condition of pleasure. From the Proctors' seats it is clear from the expressions on the faces of the graduands as they are acclaimed on re-entering the Sheldonian that great goodwill towards the University is generated by this ceremony. The University therefore owes a debt of gratitude to all those who deal so impeccably with the clerical and choreographical aspects of the Degree Days: to the Bedels, to the staff of the Sheldonian, to those in the Registry and Proctors' Office, as well as to the Deans of Degrees.
Perhaps at this point I could also add my own personal expression of gratitude to the Bedel of Divinity, Mr Holman, for the unexpected medical examination he administered to me in the middle of a degree ceremony, when he calmly handed me the wrong list of supplicats. This, I can assure Congregation, is a much more searching test of cardiac function than anything currently available from BUPA. With collaboration from the Medical Sciences Division it might even be developed into a useful source of additional income for the University.
Just before taking up office, Sir, I read the following shocking sentiment: `Throughout all this business, the Senior Proctor has acted a part of the utmost villainy. Indeed, he embodies in his own person all that is most defective in the University.' There are a number of former Senior Proctors present here today, Sir; and you will have noted, as have I, those whose complexion has risen by a shade or two in the past few moments. Alas, they have incriminated themselves unnecessarily. My quotation was in fact written two hundred and seventy years ago, as part of the pamphlet war which followed the disputed election to the Keepership of the Ashmolean in 1732. At those words, `disputed election to the Keepership of the Ashmolean in 1732', I seem to see a ripple of recognition run through the room. Nevertheless, let me quickly rehearse this famous chapter in the history of the University.
On 14 April 1731, John Andrews, a Fellow of Magdalen, was elected Keeper of the Ashmolean, and was duly installed three days later. But his appointment was not universally popular. In particular, the President of Trinity College, George Huddesford, resented Andrews's election. Huddesford had run Andrews very close: there were six Electors, and three of themDr Shippen of Brasenose, the Bishop of Bristol, Dr Bradshaw, and the Professor of Physick, Dr Woodfordhad supported Huddesford. But a change of Proctors then occurred, and the incoming menOliver Battely of Christ Church and Thomas Foxley of Brasenosethrew in their lot with Huddesford, who suddenly had five of the six electors in his pocket. This apparently so frightened Dr Andrews that on 14 February 1732, accompanied by Dr Shippen, he surrendered the keys of the Ashmolean to Huddesford in exchange for £50, and crept away back down the High Street, a shattered and defeated figure.
But how did it happen that Andrews's election was reopened? Here, Sir, I am afraid it is impossible entirely to shield from blame one of your predecessors in the Vice-Chancellorship: the redoubtable Robert Shippen, Principal of Brasenose. In many ways, Vice-Chancellor Shippen embodied early eighteenth-century Oxford. His political ally, Thomas Hearne, tells us that Shippen was cunning, worldly, and indolent. Others report that he was a heavy and a hardened drinker. And in the controversies which gusted across the University in those tempestuous years, he did not bother to disguise the fact that he was an unflinching Tory zealot.
However, Sir, Dr Shippen also had his weaknesses. Amongst the constellation of his virtues, continence in particular shone with only a faint and a flickering light. For he was, as Hearne also tells us, a `strange lover of women'. Dr Huddesford (whose wife was uncommonly attractive) understood well this aspect of the Vice-Chancellor's character, and he so arranged matters that Dr Shippen was ... well, shall we say, able to see more of Mrs Huddesford, and that more often, than he otherwise might. So, led on by the prospect of access to the pretty wife of the President of Trinity, Dr Shippen prevailed on the new Proctors to transfer their votes to Dr Huddesford, who thereby became Keeper of the Ashmolean, with £50 a year and nothing in the way of duties.
Much in this episode offers itself for comment in the light of the events of our year in office. What impact, for instance, might the Human Rights Act have had on these eighteenth-century misdemeanours? It certainly seems as if at least Mrs Huddesford's right to privacy was invaded. And what should we make of Dr Shippen's superb completeness of corruption, able in a single titanic act to fuse together adultery, malversation of endowment, intimidation, and maladministration? Had this year's Proctors encountered red-blooded sinners of Principal Shippen's calibre, Sir, instead of the trickle of piecemeal malefactors who actually came our way, you would have found us much more tenacious of the full range of disciplinary powers which the redrafted Statutes have taken from us.
But the real consolation in this episode, for anyone on the verge of taking up the Proctorship, is the example given by Mr Battely and Mr Foxley of weakness and incompetence. Surely, you think, I will be able to do it better than that. But will the incoming Proctors need to go back as far as two hundred and seventy years for their encouraging examples of incompetence? The question will be soon answered. After their celebratory lunches, and as they settle for the first time into the Proctorial chairs, there will come a gentle knock at the door, and Dr Gasser will enter, with a soft tread, bearing many files.
(totals for 20001 given in brackets)
Offence Number of Result cases Breach of University StatutesTotal number of offences: 54 (58)
(Occupation of university property and disruption of university activities) 15 (15) 1 @ £25 1 @ £30 2 @ £35 4 @ £40 6 @ £55 1 `Not Guilty' Breach of Rules Committee Regulations (Misconduct after examinations) 14 (18) 2 @ £30 3 @ £35 4 @ £40 2 @ £45 2 @ £50 1 technically `Guilty', no punishment imposed (Visiting Student) Breach of University Statutes (Misuse of University property computing network) 9 (13) 1 @ £25 2 @ £30 4 @ £35 1 @ £60 1 `Reprimand' Breach of University Statutes (Defacement of University property) 1 (1) 1 @ £20 Breach of Rules Committee Regulations (Fly-posting) 6 (0) 1 @ £20 1 @ £20 2 @ £25 2 @ £30 1 @ £35 Breach of Proctors' Examination Regulations (Conduct at examinations) 6 (1) 1essay ruled inadmissible 1original examination set aside: resubmission of thesis not allowed before November 2001 1two essays submitted to be disregarded: remainder of examination to continue as normal 1requirement to review/revise project-report by 13.08.01, with signed statement as being own work. Reviewed /revised project-report to be `down-marked' by 10. 1expelled 1case referred to University Disciplinary Court Breach of University Statutes (Obstruction of university employees) 1 (4) Found `Guilty'; no separate penalty imposed Breach of University Statutes (Engaging in offensive behaviour/ language) 2 (2) 1reprimand 1 `Not Guilty'
Total taken in fines: £1,600 (£1,715)
Cases dealt with by University Disciplinary Court: 1 (compulsory fail in First Public Examination and expelled)
(undergraduate 58, graduate 16) These included 22 requests for verification of results that did not subsequently develop into substantive complaints. Of the remaining 52 complaints: 41 were dismissed, seven were upheld in whole or in part, and four remain under investigation.
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Congregation: PROFESSOR R. RATCLIFFE (New College), to serve until the last day of Hilary Term 2004, vice Professor H. McQuay.
Junior Members: MR J.-Y. CHEONG (Lady Margaret Hall) and MS B. SAVAGE (Green College), each to serve until the last day of Hilary Term 2003, vice Mr B. Irons and Mr S. Maffei.
From the panel of four names established by the Rules Committee, the Vice-Chancellor has reappointed MR H.W.B. MENDUS (Simms Solicitors) to serve as Clerk of the University Disciplinary Court from the first day of Trinity Term 2002 until the last day of Hilary Term 2003.
In all cases, the appointments will terminate earlier if the amended Statute on Discipline (which will have the effect of reconstituting the Disciplinary Court) comes into force.
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Dr Bowman will be a fellow of Brasenose College.
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Professor Morris will be a fellow of Templeton College.
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A kayaking expedition combining adventure and anthropological and ecological research in Bintuni Bay, Vogelkopf Peninsula, West Papua.
An exploration of deep limestone caves in the north of Yunnan Province, China.
An expedition to explore extremely deep caves in the Picos de Europa mountains of Northern Spain.
An initial feasibility study of micro hydro power in two rural villages in the Arun Valley.
An ecological study of the biodiversity of the Krakataun Islands and their local use and perception.
To journey by bicycle 800 miles along the Bolivian Altiplano, across the Uyini salt flats and to ascend the 20,000ft volcano, Anucanquilcha.
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