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18th July 2018

Rector Trainor reflects on events from Trinity Term

Exeter’s Cuppers winning sailing crew, l-r: Gideon Lewis, James Scott, Aniruddha Voruganti, Anuj Doshi

Trinity Term 2018 was a time of achievement by Exonians.

Many of these triumphs came in sport. Exeter won Sailing Cuppers and Badminton Cuppers, had its best performance this century in Summer Eights and reached the finals of the Rugby Cuppers Bowl. Likewise, students had many academic successes, with an unofficial total of 31 Firsts despite a slightly smaller than usual group of Finalists. Exeter postgraduates excelled too: several met the testing demands of Exeter’s inaugural Three Minute Thesis Competition, with two of their number giving a recap at a London reception for alumni shortly thereafter. A major purpose of the college environment is the enrichment of the education of our students: a nice example was provided by the trip in June to London’s Globe Theatre organised by Dr Natasha Simonova (English), supplying many of her Shakespeare tutees with a first experience of a live performance of a play by the Bard.

In terms of other achievements by Fellows, Professor Ervin Fodor (Pathology) was named the 2019 recipient of the Astra Zeneca Award, Christina de Bellaigue (History) was nominated for an Oxford Student-Led Teaching Award, Imogen Choi (Spanish) won her professional association’s annual thesis publication prize and Professor Luciano Floridi (Ethics of Information) secured a number of distinctions, including being named as chair of a board advising the UK Parliamentary Commission on Technology Ethics.

Eight of the College’s nine new honorary fellows are alumni: Pierre Audi (1975, Oriental Studies), longtime Artistic Director of Dutch National Opera; Reeta Chakrabarti (1984, English & French), BBC correspondent and presenter; Timothy Garton Ash CMG (1974, Modern History), Professor of European Studies at Oxford and winner of the 2017 Charlemagne Prize; John Leighfield CBE (1958, Literae Humaniores), pioneering UK business leader in information technology and former Pro-Chancellor of Warwick University; Helen Marten (2005, Fine Art), winner of the 2016 Turner Prize and the 2016 Hepworth Prize for Contemporary Sculpture; Sir David Norgrove (1967, Modern History), Chair of the UK Statistics Agency and former chair of the Pensions Regulator; Christopher Peacocke FBA (1968, PPE), Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University; General Sir Richard Shirreff KCB CBE (1974, Modern History), former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Also named an honorary fellow was an individual who has played an important role in the lives of the College’s recent Williams College alumni – Adam Falk (President of Williams, 2010-2017, now President of the Sloan Foundation).

Our alumni have continued to acquire honours and key appointments. For example, Dr Matthew Preston (1990, Ancient and Modern History) received an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to British foreign policy. Also, Matt Hancock (1996, PPE), Exeter’s first ever Cabinet minister, having been appointed Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in January, was appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in early July.

Our high-achieving alumni deserve regular visits! During the Easter Vacation, Development Director Pamela Stephenson and I met many Exonians at the University’s North American reunion in San Francisco. Not even a tropical storm could ruin the occasion, featuring excerpts from the Bodleian’s Tolkien Exhibition, which in the interim has opened in Oxford with much material on that celebrated author’s years (1911-15) as an Exeter undergraduate. On the same trip to the Bay Area, Exeter friend Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter) generously funded a reception for Exonians at a beautiful resort just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Later in the same trip, Marguerite joined Pamela and me in hosting dinners for Exonians in Washington DC and in New York City. Meanwhile, alumni were the focal point of the Rector’s Garden Party in Oxford on Summer Eights Saturday, at City Drinks at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright (hosted by Ralph Wilkinson [2002, Music]) near London Bridge in June, and later that month at the Grand Gaudy (for those who matriculated between 1985 and 1989). The well attended Gaudy was addressed by Jo Miller (1987, English), who spoke in rhyming couplets – a key product of her firm, Bespoke Verse!

As usual the term brought a number of eminent speakers to Exeter. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave an approachably scholarly lecture on the timely subject of ‘How dangerous are current threats to liberal democracy?. A few weeks later Exeter alumnus Professor Joseph Nye (1958, PPE) presented a penetrating analysis of ‘The Trump Presidency and its impact on relations among the world’s major powers’ on the day after the President roundly criticised the G7 summit in which he had been a prominent participant! Another talk on international affairs came from Dr Herman Salton (2007, International Relations) who launched his Oxford University Press book on ‘Bureaucracy, Power Politics and the Role of the UN Secretariat in Rwanda’. But Exeter covers a very wide range of disciplines, and a number of other subjects featured prominently in talks in College during Trinity 2018. Professor Joel Gelernter (Yale) discussed ‘The Genetics of Psychiatric Illness’, Dr Maroula Perisanidi (Leeds; an Exeter Visiting Fellow earlier in the academic year) gave a riveting talk on ‘The Sex Life of Medieval Clerics’, and Professor Dennis Ahlburg (Trinity University, Texas & former Exeter visiting fellow) provided a nuanced answer to the question of whether there is ‘An International Crisis in the Humanities’. Last but not least, Visiting Fellow Aurora Morcillo (Florida International), a historian, gave a vivid Senior Common Room talk on the plight of female opponents of the regime during the final years of the Franco dictatorship in Spain.

The opportunities and achievements of our potential students are also of great importance to the College. Exonians will know, from the Exeter news update distributed midway through Trinity Term, that the College is determined to make further progress with respect to the diversity of (in particular) its UK/EU undergraduate admissions and has decided to double its spending on outreach in pursuit of that objective. We want to admit those students with the potential to benefit most from the Exeter undergraduate experience, and to that end we wish to encourage applications from as diverse a range of backgrounds as possible.

Oxford continues to swelter in its longest heatwave since 1976. Marguerite and I will soon take our annual family vacation in Maine, which for once will probably have cooler summertime weather than the dreaming spires. Here’s hoping that, wherever you are, you are enjoying the summer too.

Rick Trainor

The former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, speaks at Cohen Quad

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