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09th July 2024 Rector Professor Sir Rick Trainor

Rector Trainor looks back at events of Trinity Term 2024

Trinity Term 2024 was exceptionally busy at Exeter. Many of the occasions were part of the annual cycle, notably the garden party and buffet lunch for donors in late May and the Fellows Farewell Dinner a few weeks later. But there were also a number of major one-off events, ranging from a hugely festive dinner marking the 70th anniversary of the breaking of the 4-minute mile by Roger Bannister (1946, Physiological Sciences) to the 200th anniversary dinner of the Exeter College Boat Club (when massive alumni attendance produced a full Hall of diners). At these meals those attending were delighted by the recent completion of the Hall lighting project. The latter, while preserving the historic atmosphere, has – for the first time – illuminated the stone tracery and made clearly visible the portraits in the gallery.

Dinner to mark 70th anniversary of Roger Bannister's record-breaking mile

A dinner marking the 70th anniversary of Roger Bannister (1946, Physiological Sciences) breaking the 4-minute mile

Trinity Term also saw rapidly increasing concern, within Exeter as elsewhere in Oxford and well beyond, about the very distressing crisis in the Middle East. Exeter, which has backed tolerant free speech within the College on these issues, has provided – through its welfare team – conversations with individual students particularly affected by the crisis. Also, the Governing Body has endorsed in principle the College’s participation in an intercollegiate scholarship scheme for people who reside in Gaza. This decision parallels the existing scheme for Ukraine, recognises the widespread destruction of Gazan universities, and reflects the College’s charitable objects for the promotion of higher education.

Turning to other aspects of student life, the University’s annual admissions report revealed further progress by Exeter in diversifying its undergraduate student intake, indicating substantial positive change in the College during the last several years. At the start of the term, as usual, we had the annual College Ball, at which I was induced, for the second year running, to compose and deliver a DJ ‘set’! Subsequently students participated in the College’s observance of the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi on 28 April and in Exeter’s celebration of Passover the following day. Final year undergraduates had their leavers’ family lunch and Evensong on 16 June, and the MCR staged its now traditional end-of-academic-year dinner five days later.

There were substantial sporting achievements, not least the participation in Oxford’s annual Town and Gown 10k race of many people associated with the College, including those who ran to raise money for Exeter’s student-run ExVac charity. The College won Sailing Cuppers. Also, the Governing Body approved the next stage of preparation for the redevelopment, with Hertford College and local residents, of the much vandalised adjacent sports grounds at New Marston. Another cause for optimism regarding the future of Exeter sport is that money is being raised for imminent improvements to the College’s 1960s boathouse. Auspiciously, a crucial bump for Exeter’s first women’s boat occurred directly in front of that venerable structure on the final day of Summer Eights.

The term also saw a rich variety of musical performances at Exeter, including original pieces of postlude organ music performed in the Chapel. Meanwhile, the lunchtime organ recital series flourished, encouraged by end-of-term cake and drinks for loyal attenders. There was also a spectacular concert of sacred music, performed by Visiting Fellows Delvyn Case (Wheaton College) and John Pfumojena (actor, composer, theatre director, and researcher).

The College’s staff had a very active term. Many attended the termly all-staff meeting on 16 May, which featured introductory remarks by my designated successor, Dr Andrew Roe. There was also a staff group photo: like the parallel photograph of Fellows, this exercise was timed to coincide with my final term as Rector. More generally, the Kitchen and Hall staff rose to the challenges of an exceptionally busy period of special lunches and dinners, as did colleagues from the Academic Office to the demanding annual routine of staging very many University examinations in College and colleagues in Development and Alumni Relations to a series of special occasions.

Regarding Fellows, early in term many brought their children, as did many postgraduates, to the annual family dinner in Hall: there was a special menu adapted to young tastes, and some of the children enlivened the atmosphere with impromptu foot races! A similarly joyous occasion of a different kind occurred on 13 May when the College inaugurated the portrait of Dr Cath Green, Fellow by Special Election, who played a key role in the development of the pandemic’s Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and who co-authored the best-selling book Vaxxers. Another major accolade was the announcement that Professorial Fellow Dame Carol Robinson (Chemistry) is to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for her pioneering work in blood analysis, drug development and biochemical research during the European Investor Award 2024 ceremony. In a very different sphere, Honorary Fellow Sir Antonio Pappano conducted his last opera at the Royal Opera House as he takes up the role of Chief Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Cath Green at her portrait unveiling

Professor Cath Green at her portrait unveiling in the College Library

Two Exeter Fellows – Professors Yang Shi (Supernumerary Fellow, Epigenetics) and Jo Dunkley (Honorary Fellow, Astrophysics) were elected Fellows of the Royal Society. Tutorial Fellow Agni Orfanoudaki (Management Studies) was named one of the 40 Best MBA Professors under 40. Professorial Fellow Christoph Tang (Cellular Pathology & Medicine) is leading a team on the development of the Meningitis-B vaccine. And Professor Keith Channon (Cardiovascular Medicine) helped the University secure a £5 million British Heart Foundation Research Excellence Award.

In terms of external engagement by Fellows, I note that Charles Foster, Supernumerary Fellow in Law, has recently published (with Andrew McGee) Intuitively Rational: How We Think and How We Should (Springer Link). With regard to academic events in College, on 18 May Professor Nandini Das (English) was in conversation with celebrated historian William Dalrymple (Visiting Fellow at All Souls) on ‘The Anarchy: the relentless rise of the East India Company’. Earlier the same week Dr Rachel Fraser (Philosophy) hosted a book symposium with author Anastasia Berg on ‘What are Children For’. Also, in early June I was in conversation with Tom Scholar GCB, former Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, on the topic ‘Reflections on Public Service’.

During Trinity Term Exeter announced the election of nine new Honorary Fellows. They are all drawn from the natural sciences, reflecting the long-standing importance of such subjects both in Exeter’s Fellowship and in its student body. The new Honorary Fellows are: Professors Andrew Blake FRS FREng (Engineering), Sir Rory Collins FRS FMedSci (Epidemiology), Jo Dunkley OBE FRS (Astrophysics), Anthony Galione FRS FMedSci (Pharmacology), Guy Goodwin (1965, Animal Physiology) FRCPsych FMed Sci (Psychiatry), Gillian Griffiths FRS FMedSci (Immunology), Jane Mellor EMBO (Biochemistry), Anant Parekh FRS FMedSci MAE (Physiology), and Clare Stanford (Exeter’s first woman Fellow, Neuropharmacology). All are either former fellows or alumni of Exeter.

Speaking of alumni, Sir Philip Pullman (1965, English; Honorary Fellow) presided at the formal reopening of the College’s newly renamed Jackson Library on 18 May. That festive event, followed by a buffet lunch in Hall, was attended by my successor and by dozens of the many donors to the restoration and renovation of this beloved but previously long-neglected Exeter building. Sir Philip, famously a passionate advocate of reading and libraries, delighted the audience with an eloquent and witty speech that argued persuasively for the book, rather than printing, as the key forward step in the development of civilisation. Attendees who participated in informal tours of the library that day were uniformly complimentary about the enhanced amenity – much lighter and airier than in recent decades – of Gilbert Scott’s structure. So has been the architectural press.

Sir Philip Pullman formally opens Exeter College's restored library

Sir Philip Pullman (1965, English; Honorary Fellow) formally opens Exeter College’s restored library

In terms of other recent achievements by alumni, I mention the OBE for services to British foreign policy conferred in June on Giles Montagnon (1996, Modern Languages), formerly Minister Counsellor, British Embassy Beijing. In addition, the College hugely enjoyed two alumni webinars during the term. On 22 May Professor Joseph Nye (1958, PPE; Honorary Fellow) generalised about changes in American diplomacy when speaking about his career under the title ‘A Life in the American Century’, which is also the title of his recent autobiography, published by Polity. (Other recent publications by alumni are noted elsewhere in the Trinity Term edition of E-news.) Equally absorbing, albeit with a very different focus, was the talk on 29 May by Patric Dickinson CVO (1969, Modern History), formerly Clarenceux King of Arms at the College of Arms, on ‘Exeter’s Heraldry’, a topic on which he is undertaking a research project.

There were also a number of specifically alumni occasions during Trinity Term. In April Marguerite and I, accompanied by Yvonne Rainey, visited Exonians in Singapore and Hong Kong. In addition to many individual meetings and social occasions, there was a well-attended Exeter dinner in Singapore and a well-subscribed Exeter tour (arranged by Alan Lau [1993, Engineering Science]) of the spectacular M+ modern art museum in Hong Kong. While there, at the invitation of David Ching (2005, Engineering, Economics & Management) I addressed the local branch of the Oxford and Cambridge Society, an event where discussion focused on the topic of the moment, Artificial Intelligence (admittedly not within my usual sphere of competence!). Back in Oxford, the Amelia Jackson Society, the College’s society for legators, had a fascinating tour of the Ashmolean before their annual lunch in Cohen Quad. An enthusiastic group of alumni gathered for City Drinks in London on 4 June, and later in the month there was a congenial Gaudy for those who matriculated 2010-14; it was wittily addressed by former JCR President Ed Nickell (2011, PPE). June’s final weekend featured not only a young alumni barbecue in the Fellows’ Garden but also a farewell dinner, well attended by former students, for Politics tutor Dr Michael Hart, Senior Fellow, who is completing no fewer than 42 years of service to Exeter!

The Chapel also loomed large in Trinity Term. The Acting Bishop of Exeter – and therefore the College’s Visitor – Jackie Searle visited the College and spoke to various Exeter members on 17 May, when she read a lesson at Evensong; on the following day she attended the Library reopening. The Dean of Westminster, Dr David Hoyle – a frequent visitor to Exeter in the 1990s – was the eloquent preacher at the Commemoration of Benefactors service three weeks later. That event, and the annual Higgs Night which followed, were also attended by the Head of Exeter’s sister college (Emmanuel), Doug Chalmers, and his wife Helen. On Chapel occasions throughout the term the College Choir, which undertook a European tour in late June, was in excellent voice.

For Marguerite and myself Trinity Term had the piquancy of our last in College, the culmination of ten happy years at Exeter. But, as the number of College occasions mentioned above suggests, we have been too busy to brood! We were highly gratified by the College’s farewell dinner on 25 May, when Dr Barney Taylor, Sub-Rector, gave a very generous speech. The following week also brought a very pleasant occasion: the conferment on me of an honorary degree by Williams College, Exeter’s partner in the Williams at Exeter Programme at Oxford (WEPO) for the past thirty-nine years. Marguerite’s and my visit to Williamstown, like the subsequent annual departure dinner for WEPO students, symbolised the vibrant nature of that partnership.

This is not farewell from me to readers of E-News: one more report, on Long Vacation 2024, is to come, in September!

Rick Trainor


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