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02nd April 2024 Rector Professor Sir Rick Trainor

Rector Trainor looks back at events of Hilary Term 2024

Hilary Term was very sociable at Exeter, especially once the Hall reopened in mid-February, after a project which has dramatically improved the Hall’s lighting without sacrificing the historic atmosphere.  The renewed availability of the Hall led to the sale and dismantling of the Marquee in Front Quad.  So the traditional view of the Front Quad from the Turl Street entrance has, at last, been restored.

Many of the term’s events were part of what is now the regular College calendar: Burns Night, Families Dinner, Shrove Tuesday pancake party, Lunar New Year, Scholars’ Dinner, Halfway Hall, and Graduate High Table.  There were also the seventh staging of the visit by some undergraduates to Williams College, a Graduation ceremony, and the open day for Offer Holders and family members.  In addition, a number of special events occurred, including visits by the Ambassadors of Spain, the EU and Honduras, the College’s first Bike Day (offering free repairs as a contribution to sustainability), a Middle Common Room organ and wine-and-cheese evening in the Chapel, and, above all, the induction of Exeter Fellow Professor Conall MacNiocaill (Earth Sciences) as the University’s Junior Proctor for 2024/25, including a festive lunch in Hall.

The induction of Professor Conall MacNiocaill (Earth Sciences) as the University’s Junior Proctor

However, one communal observance was very sad indeed:  the funeral (conducted by the Chaplain at the North Oxfordshire Crematorium, followed by refreshments at Exeter) of Exeter Lecturer Dr Jenni Nuttall, a long-standing, greatly respected and much loved Lecturer in Old and Middle English, who died on 19 January.  A memorial service will be held at Exeter in Trinity Term.

Hilary Term featured many special achievements by Exeter students.  Among postgraduates, Jack Nunn (2022, DPhil candidate Medieval and Modern Languages) received a Princeton University Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship;  Zakariye Ashkir (2021, DPhil Medical Science), having secured an academic grant from the College to participate in the Cardiac Magnetic Resonance (CMR) 2024 Conference in London, won there the Early Career Award for Translational Research;  Connie  Sjödin (2021, DPhil History of Art) was awarded the 2024 Rhonda Saad Prize for her article, ‘Baya in Vogue: From Oriental Textile to Transcultural Tissage’; and Gayatri Sundar Rajan (2022, DPhil in Engineering) won the Worshipful Company of Engineers and Tech4All Innovation4All Research Award.

L to R: Warren East - former CEO of Rolls-Royce (who presented the Award), Giles Keating - Chair of Tech4All (Award co-sponsor), Gayatri Sundar Rajan, Raymond Joyce - Master of the Worshipful Company of Engineers (Award co-sponsor)

Gayatri Sundar Rajan winning the Innovation4All Research Award

Several postgraduates – but also one undergraduate – gave presentations at Hilary Term’s Subject Family Dinners – for Mathematical & Physical Sciences (at which Fellow Professor Michael Bronstein [Artificial Intelligence] gave the concluding talk), and for Medical & Life Sciences (at which Fellow Dr Sarah Howles rounded off the evening).  Meanwhile, a large group of undergraduates accompanied Fellows Dr Nicole King, Professor Nandini Das, and Dr Caroline Ritchie (all Fellows in English) to a performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ in London.

Undergraduates were prominent in Hilary Term’s Exeter sport.  The very high level of the Isis prevented the rowing of Torpids, but Exeter fared very well in the substitute competition which included ergonomics and a tug of war!  Soon thereafter, Exeter had an unprecedented number of participants in Oxford vessels on Boat Race day (see the accompanying article), including a sister rowing against a sister from our sister college, Emmanuel Cambridge!  The Boat Club Association cheered on the Exeter students from a spectacular vantage point in the function room of the Blue Anchor at Hammersmith, a perch secured by Matt Holyoak (2015, History) and Georgina Lee (2012, French and Russian).

As usual, undergraduates were also prominent in the annual ExVac holiday for local disadvantaged children and in the superb singing of the Choir.  The latter’s outreach to schools enriched the Term’s programme, as did a visit from Emmanuel College’s choir.  Also, the weekly organ recitals – organised by graduate organ scholar Michael Koenig, with support from the patron, my spouse Marguerite – attracted record audiences.  The latter enjoyed refreshments after each recital and, more substantively, programmes which featured all female organists in Michaelmas and, in Hilary, women performers during four of the eight weeks. Meanwhile the Exonian Choir (led by a former Exeter Organ Scholar and featuring numerous former Exeter Choir members) performed in the City of London in January and has forthcoming appearances at St Paul’s, Canterbury, and Bristol Cathedrals.  Toward the end of term actor Shaun Evans, star of ‘Endeavour’, gave a dramatic reading in Exeter Chapel’s observance of Christ’s Passion.

Shaun Evans visits Exeter College Chapel

Shaun Evans, star of ‘Endeavour’, in the Exeter College Chapel

Turning to Fellows, three were recognised in the New Year Honours. Supernumerary Fellow Professor Molly Stevens FRS (John Black Professor of Bionanoscience) was appointed a Dame (DBE) for services to medicine;  alumnus and recent Visiting Fellow Patric Dickinson (1969, Modern History), secretary of the Order of the Garter and former Clarenceux King of Arms, received a CVO (which recognises distinguished personal service to the monarch or members of the Royal Family), as did Honorary Fellow Sir Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera House and Chief Conductor Designate of the London Symphony Orchestra.  Congratulations are also due to former Exeter Staines Medical Research Fellow Professor Kiaran Kirk, Dean of the Australian National University’s College of Science, who was appointed Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2023 Australia Day Honours for his significant service to science education and research, and to professional organisations.

Other recent recognitions for Exeter Fellows have included Molly Stevens being appointed Oxford’s new Academic Champion for Women and Diversity in Entrepreneurship and Professor Cornelia Drutu (Mathematics) being named a Visiting Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn for summer 2024.  Meanwhile, Supernumerary Fellow Kathy Noren, Head of the University’s Disability Advisory Service, was appointed Co-Director of the University’s Student Welfare and Support Services.

In terms of scholarly achievements, former Visiting Fellows Anna Alsina Naudi (Princeton) and Nicolas Espejo-Yaksic (Centre for Constitutional Studies, Supreme Court of Mexico) produced a book, El acceso a una justicia adaptada, which uses an internationally comparative framework to examine the access to justice systems of especially vulnerable individuals and groups.  Former Boskey Fellow in History Christopher Markiewicz, now Associate Professor in Ottoman & Islamic Studies at the University of Ghent, has won a European Research Council Starting Grant.  Frantz Fanon: Literature and Invention (2022) by Professor Jane Hiddleston (French) has been shortlisted for the Gapper Prize, and Courting India: England, Mughal India, and the Origins of Empire (2023) by Professor Nandini Das (English) has been nominated for the Duff Cooper Prize for non-fiction.  Meanwhile, Professor Elizabeth Leach (Fellow of St Hugh’s and Lecturer in Music at Exeter) has produced Medieval Sex Lives: The Sounds of Courtly Intimacy on the Francophone Borders (Cornell).

In terms of research discoveries, Professor Neil Herring (Medicine) and his team have developed a blood test which will assist in identifying those at highest risk of dying from heart failure, and Professor Marian Knight (Maternal and Child Population Health) has revealed that deaths by women during pregnancy or soon after childbirth are at their highest level for 20 years, with black women and those from deprived areas especially likely to die.  That research attracted considerable media attention.  Other media appearances involving Exeter Fellows included Professor Nandini Das (hosting a programme about Margaret Cavendish), Professor Frank Close FRS (Emeritus, Physics) participating in ‘In our Time’, and Professor Charles Foster (Law) taking part in a documentary on ‘Life and Other Problems’.

As ever, alumni featured largely in the College’s life during Hilary Term.  For example, more than 500 Exonians spoke to our student telethon callers in March.  Professor John Quelch (1969, Modern History, & Honorary Fellow) was appointed Executive Vice Chancellor at Duke Kunshan University. As reported elsewhere in the Hilary Term 2024 edition of E-news, several alumni have produced significant publications. Also, substantial numbers of alumni attended the Bannister Society (Medicine) dinner in January (at which Professor Kerry Walker [Neuroscience] spoke), the Fortescue Society (Law) dinner in February (addressed by current barrister and former JCR President Tutku Bektas (2013, Jurisprudence), and the football dinner in early March.  Also, three alumni who are Honorary Fellows recently visited the College:  Dick Celeste (1960, Modern History) and Professor Charlotte Watts (1981, Mathematics) in January, and Lord Stephen Green (1966, PPE) the following month as preacher in Chapel.

A notable secular public appearance in College by an alumnus was a talk given by Jonathan Wilkinson (1988, PPE), Minister of Energy and Natural Resources of Canada, a soberly optimistic and engaging presentation jointly sponsored by the Rhodes Trust.  There were also two public seminars given by non-Exonians during the Term.  Former Visiting Fellow Professor Dennis Ahlburg (Trinity University, Texas) teamed up with Professor Brian McCall (University of Michigan) to discuss ‘Is There Grade Inflation at Oxford’;  their systematic statistical analysis demonstrated that the phenomenon is worldwide.  A large crowd, including numerous Exeter Fellows and Soumitra Dutta (Dean of Oxford’s Said Business School), witnessed the scintillating appearance in March by Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Paul Nurse CH OM, Director of the Francis Crick Institute and an influential commentator on UK research policy, on the subject of ‘The Importance of Enhancing Public and Private Support for Research’.

Sir Paul Nurse

Professor Sir Paul Nurse CH OM, Director of the Francis Crick Institute

Hilary Term included several visits to alumni by myself, Marguerite, and either Yvonne Rainey (Director of Development & Alumni Relations) or her deputy, Adale Bennett.  There was a lively reception in Hong Kong in January. Later the same month came occasions in Zurich and Geneva;  in both locations Fellow Michael Bronstein spoke highly approachably about AI. The Swiss occasions were generously engineered by Howard Rosen (1974, Jurisprudence), the founder of Swiss Friends of Oxford.  There were vibrant Exeter occasions, and many individual meetings with Exonians, in March in New York (where a collaborative event with Williams College drew a large crowd), in Toronto (where Philip Slayton [1965, Jurisprudence] and his wife Cynthia were solicitous hosts), and in Saskatoon (where the guest of honour was Cheryl Kloppenburg, widow of Henry [1968, BCL] – joint benefactors, among other important projects, of Exeter’s Fellowship in Politics).   Very sadly, another notable Saskatchewan-born Exonian, the Reverend James McConica (1951, Modern History, & 1958 DPhil in Modern History), one of the great scholars of our time and a very loyal alumnus, died in December.

A large and growing number of alumni have contributed to the restoration and renovation of the College Library, which continues to attract rave reviews from students and visitors alike. The appeal for that project and related naming opportunities remain open.

Looking ahead to the next several months – the final ones before Marguerite and I hand over to Andrew and Pippa Roe at the end of September – there will be many important Exeter events. Among others, I am looking forward to a visit to Singapore and Hong Kong alumni in April, a webinar by Professor Joseph Nye (1958, PPE) on 22 May, the 200th anniversary dinner of the Boat Club on 25 May, the Gaudy for those matriculating between 2010 and 2014 on 22 June, the barbecue for young alumni a week later, and a series of graduations in July and August.

Wishing you a happy spring (or, in the Southern Hemisphere, a cheerful autumn)


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