07th August 2018 Thomas Hunt

Exeter appoints nine new honorary fellows


Last autumn, Exeter’s Governing Body elected nine new honorary fellows. In accordance with the prescription in the College statutes that honorary fellowship is ‘tenable by any distinguished person,’ those elected were all accomplished figures. Also, each has a strong connection to Exeter.

Helen Marten (2005, Fine Art) is an acclaimed artist who, in 2016, received both the famous Turner Prize and the new Hepworth Prize for Contemporary Sculpture. Her work typically consists of meticulously arranged objects – many of which she crafts herself by hand – that force us to revise our preconceptions of what sculpture is. Counterintuitively, Miss Marten is hesitant to define herself as a sculptor, noting how her work has become bound up with ‘other forms of creative making,’ such as writing and screen printing. Writing in particular plays a role in the genesis of her works: before commencing work on a piece, she spends months reading – often without a predetermined focus in mind – before settling on a concept she would like to bring to life.

2018 is proving to be another busy year for Helen Marten: her work will be exhibited in Oslo, New York and Zurich; she has received a major commission from the Hepworth Wakefield; and she will contribute a piece to a sale in aid of the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. She is joined as a new honorary fellow by a key figure in the performing arts, Pierre Audi (1975, Oriental Studies) who has, for the past 30 years, been Artistic Director of the Dutch National Opera. Once described by the New York Times as ‘a legend of the international culture scene,’ Pierre Audi’s career can be traced back to his time in Oxford, where he directed a student production of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. During his time at the Dutch National Opera he has presided over productions of the works of Mozart, Monteverdi and Wagner to critical acclaim. In September Mr Audi will move onto a new challenge when he becomes general director of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, France.

A familiar face as a presenter of the BBC News, Reeta Chakrabarti came up to Exeter to read English and French in 1984. After graduating she began her journalism career on radio, reporting for BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5 Live. Her career has seen her cover some of the biggest and most challenging stories of recent decades, from the Dunblane massacre, to the Damilola Taylor murder trial, to the Stephen Lawrence inquest. Between 1999 and 2011 she was a BBC political correspondent, covering a tumultuous period at Westminster which saw three elections, the Iraq War, and the MPs’ expenses scandal. After a spell as the BBC’s education correspondent, she was appointed UK affairs correspondent for the Corporation, and now frequently presents BBC One’s News at One, News at Six and News at Ten.

For Professor Christopher Peacocke (1968, PPE), Exeter is the fifth Oxford college where he has been a fellow in some capacity. An expert on metaphysics, a branch of philosophy dealing with fundamental questions concerning knowledge and reality, he has had a long and distinguished academic career culminating in his appointment as Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University. Professor Peacocke is also a Fellow of the British Academy.

Among Exeter’s many business leaders, John Leighfield CBE (1958, Literae Humaniores) is among the most distinguished. After graduating, Mr Leighfield worked for Ford and then British Leyland, exploring the applications of the then novel technology of computers in business. Later he was Chairman of Research Machines. He also served as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council at Warwick University from 2002 to 2011.

There is also a strong contingent of Modern History alumni amongst the new honorary fellows. Sir David Norgrove (1967, Modern History) currently chairs the UK Statistics Authority, the body responsible for supervising government statistics across the UK. This is the latest posting in an illustrious career for Sir David, which has seen him chair the UK’s Pensions Regulator and the Low Pay Commission. He also is completing a term as an external member of the Council of the University of Oxford.

Another Exeter history graduate to be made an honorary fellow is Professor Timothy Garton Ash (1974, Modern History), Professor of European Studies and Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford. He has spent the last three decades chronicling the transformation of Europe. After graduating he conducted research into German resistance to Hitler, often working in East Germany, where the Stasi identified him as a possible British agent. During the 1980s and 1990s he reported on the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, a region he continues to follow closely. Professor Garton Ash, a passionate believer in a united Europe, was awarded the 2017 Charlemagne Prize for services to European unity in recognition of his writing. More recently his writing has called for the defence of liberal values in the face of a revanchist Russian state under President Putin’s leadership and the emergence of authoritarian leaders, such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in Eastern Europe.

In doing so, Professor Garton Ash’s writing mirrors a newly published novel by another honorary fellow appointed last autumn. General Sir Richard Shirreff KCB (1974, Modern History) is former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Upon his retirement, he also became a novelist, publishing War With Russia: an urgent warning from senior military command. Part novel, part war-game write-up, General Shirreff’s book is a story of the horrendous consequences that ensue when war breaks out between Russia and NATO.

Finally, Exeter’s long-standing links with Williams College, Massachusetts were strengthened by the appointment to honorary fellow of Professor Adam Falk, Director of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, who was President of Williams College from 2010 to 2017. As President he was a strong advocate of the Williams Exeter Programme at Oxford, welcoming the first cohort of Exeter students to Winter Study in Williamstown. Professor Falk is a physicist whose research focuses on elementary particle physics and quantum field theory. Of the nine new honorary fellows, he is the only one who did not attend Exeter as a student yet, unquestionably, he too has distinguished himself, as required by the College’s statutes. He and his fellow cohort of new honorary fellows join an already illustrious group which includes Her Majesty Queen Sofía of Spain, Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner (1952, Biochemistry), Professor Joseph Nye (1958, PPE; former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government), and the celebrated literary figures JK Rowling and Alan Bennett (1954, Modern History).

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