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13th December 2022 Rector Professor Sir Rick Trainor

Rector Trainor reviews events of Michaelmas Term 2022

Michaelmas Term at Exeter has been especially sociable. Post-pandemic demand for group occasions evidently explains particularly full attendances at a wide range of College events – ‘formal Halls’, special festivals such as Diwali, Thanksgiving, and Exeter’s early Christmas, webinars, and even Chapel! The latter has had a very full programme, including occasions such as the Service of Remembrance held on 11 November outside adjacent to the Second World War memorial, a Sunday Evensong of Remembrance, and the usual carol services for Advent and Christmas. Everyone connected with Exeter in Oxford seems delighted to be having an academic year free of Covid restrictions.

Students at Diwali dinner

Students at Diwali dinner in the Exeter College Hall.

As noted in my last report, Exeter began the academic year in October with the traditional round of welcoming events, including both undergraduate and postgraduate freshers’ dinners. We also held the now customary tea party for our new visiting students from Williams College, addressed as usual by Philip Pullman (1965, English), who always brings a fresh perspective to the occasion. Among the students we welcomed in October were our first Academic Futures Scholar and our first Ukrainian Refugee Scholar. Also included were the first alumni of the Exeter College Summer Programme to enrol at Exeter as matriculated students.

Exeter’s Fellows, as usual, have been very active. The President of Italy awarded Luciano Floridi (Philosophy of Information) the high honour of Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit. Neil Herring (Pre-Clinical Medicine) has received the Physiological Society’s Baylis-Starling Prize for cardiovascular research. In August Jane Hiddleston (French) published Frantz Fanon: Literature and Invention (Legenda), which adopts an unusual literary angle on the writings of this influential post-colonial philosopher. Earlier in the year Imogen Choi (Spanish) published with Boydell and Brewer The Epic Mirror: Poetry, Conflict Ethics and Political Community in Colonial Peru, which analyses how Spanish-American writers and veterans at the turn of the seventeenth century used epic poetry to search for ethical solutions to the violent conflicts of their age. Meanwhile, Nicole King (English) and Charles Foster (Law and Medicine) delighted their audiences at special seminars for the Senior Common Room.

Luciano Floridi recieving the Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic

Luciano Floridi recieving the Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit.

Other noteworthy activities involving current and former Fellows included the award from Oxford Preservation Trust for the recent renovation of the Lodge, a project superintended by Domestic Bursar Babis Karakoulas. Among Emeritus Fellows, Frank Close’s (Physics) book Elusive, a biography of the Nobel prize winner Peter Higgs, was named one of The Guardian’s best science books of 2022; Helen Spencer (English) staged a major exhibition of her paintings at Wolfson College; and newly Emerita Jeri Johnson (English) began a part-time post as Academic Director of the highly successful Exeter College Summer Programme (ECSP), which she has served since its inception in 2017.

With final reference to Fellows, I note the Governing Body’s important agreement to appoint (subject to University approval of posts jointly held with the College) an additional Tutorial Fellow in Pre-Clinical Medicine and a first-ever Tutorial Fellow in Computing Science. The latter, in combination with a number of existing and pending posts in Artificial Intelligence, Operations Research, and related fields reinforces a cluster of excellence at Exeter in this ever more important part of the University’s teaching, research and industrial links.

Exeter’s students, too, had a successful Michaelmas Term. The Scholars’ Dinner on 11 November was crowded, reflecting the large number of recent postgraduate and undergraduate winners of prizes for academic excellence and for distinguished service to the College. Speaking of postgraduates, Gabriela Minden, who also served as a Junior Dean at Exeter and is now a Lecturer at Cardiff University, won the Oxford English Faculty’s Swapna Dev Memorial Book Prize, awarded annually for the Faculty’s best doctoral thesis in English literature, for her study of ‘After the Ballets Russes: Movement and Modernism in British Theatre, 1914-1935’. I also draw attention to the splendid presentations, at the subject family dinner for Languages and Literature, by Exeter postgraduates Rowena Gutsell (English), Emma Luca Mazzocchi (Medieval and Modern Languages) and Emma Slater (English), who were joined by Lecturer Luisa Ostacchini (Medieval Literature) and Visiting Fellow Professor Farah Karim-Cooper (English). Likewise, in mid-November the dinner for Social Sciences featured Exeter graduate students Jessica Morley (Oxford Internet Institute), Amirah Sumarto (Public Policy), and Emma Rowland (Law), alongside Lecturer Natasha Bailey (History) and Management Studies Tutorial Fellow Agni Orfanoudaki.

Gabriela Minden

Gabriela Minden was granted the Swapna Dev Memorial Book Prize.

An excellent undergraduate achievement of the Term was the second place, in the University-wide All-Innovate competition (under the auspices of the Said Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre) attained by Wanlin Xiao (2019, PPE), Kezia Susanto (2019, Engineering) and Zheqing Zhang (2020, Medicine). They combined their varied academic expertise to devise ‘i-Opto’, the first ever digital app optometry solution, a quick and low-cost alternative to traditional eye exams. The Choir, which is both a postgraduate and an undergraduate activity, appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week programme. Meanwhile, both undergraduates and postgraduates rowed, with success especially by the women, in the Christ Church regatta for novices. Student rowers are working closely with alumni led by Matt Holyoak (2015, History), who are organising activities in 2023 to celebrate the bicentenary of Exeter College Boat Club.

, Kezia Susanto, and Zheqing Zhang

Exeter undergraduates Wanlin Xiao, Kezia Susanto, and Zheqing Zhang came second in the University-wide All-Innovate competition.

Exeter’s alumni were not forgotten during Michaelmas Term. A Giving Day mainly aimed at them raised £57,000, and the College’s annual magazine, Exon (this year with a timely environmental theme) has landed on doorsteps in customarily substantial and attractive form. Concerning accomplishments by alumni themselves, a well-attended Classics dinner on 21 October featured an appreciative reminiscence of her Exeter education by Philomen Probert (1991, Literae Humaniores), the University’s Professor of Classical Philology and Linguistics. Similarly, the Lyell Society’s (Earth Sciences) mid-November event featured four striking presentations by alumni on how their Exeter education had influenced their varied future careers in the private and public sectors. Also, former Exeter postgraduate William Ghosh (2012, DPhil English) was appointed Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow in English at Christ Church. I would also note that Patric Dickinson (1969, Modern History) is spending two terms as a Visiting Fellow in the College completing a study of Exeter’s rich and complex heraldry. In addition, the Exonian Choir (made up primarily by Exeter choir alumni) sang at Westminster Cathedral. Meanwhile, Yu Ren-Chung (2015, Public Policy), a Jardine Scholar who has returned to Exeter to complete an MSc, won a ‘Jardine Outstanding Leaders Award’ at the Scholarships’ 40th anniversary celebration. Most spectacularly, four Exonians, Reeta Chakrabarti (1984, English & French), Sanchia Berg (1982, English), Andy Anson (1983, Mathematics) and Alexander Watson (1997, Modern History) – have been representing the College in the Christmas celebrity version of University Challenge. Look out for them in forthcoming programming schedules!

Michaelmas Term also included two webinars by alumni. High Court Judge Sir David Holgate (1974, Jurisprudence) spoke on 6 November about ‘The role of the courts in efforts to limit the damaging effects of climate change’. His approach appealed to lawyers and non-lawyers alike. A fortnight later the Chair of NHS England, Richard Meddings (1977, Modern History), on 20 November gave a highly analytical and refreshingly resolute overview of the National Health Service based on his several months in post. Also, many alumni attended the online talk given by the Library Project’s architect, Alan Dempsey (Nex Architects), about the substantial elements both of preservation and innovation in the enterprise.

Alas the Term claimed the lives of several alumni. I note especially the death of Henry Kloppenburg (1968, Civil Law), a delightfully ebullient Rhodes Scholar very generous (with his wife Cheryl) to his alma mater; with Cheryl he forged a highly successful legal and philanthropic career in his native Saskatchewan and was awarded the Order of Canada. We also lost Sir David Butler, the famous elections expert, who as husband to Rector Butler developed a close and lively association with the College and visited it regularly even in recent years. Finally, I note the death of Lady Moyra Bannister, widow of the great Exonian Sir Roger (1946, Physiological Sciences), mother of two Exonians (Clive and Thurstan, 1977 & 1979, PPE, respectively) and of a former Catechist of the College (Charlotte Bannister-Parker). Moyra regularly welcomed our visiting students from Williams, gave her name to the College gym, and remained close to her late husband’s original Oxford college.

The associations with Exeter of another great Exonian, J R R Tolkien (1911, Classics and English), have recently been fortified by the much-updated second edition of John Garth’s Tolkien at Exeter College (published by the College and available to purchase from the Development Office), which includes new images, some never before published, and new insight into Tolkien’s time at Exeter College and beyond. The College’s renown and influence also attracted further renown during the term from two ‘commercial’ bookings of the Hall: the Royal Navy’s Hudson Dinner in mid-November and the post-concert dinner in October by the Oxford Philharmonic in honour of departing Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Louise Richardson. I would also note that the incoming Vice-Chancellor, Professor Irene Tracey CBE, the Warden of Merton, also dined at Exeter not long ago at one of the College’s annual dinners for new Heads of House. Exeter’s excellent cuisine and the warm welcome of our hard-pressed staff continue to win friends, near and far.

Tolkien at Exeter College front cover design

The updated cover of Tolkien at Exeter College.

The Library Project is making good progress; the restoration of the historic bookcases and external stone cleaning are among recent highlights. Student borrowing from the temporary bookstack in the Saskatchewan Room is at normal levels, and – after some teething troubles – the reading room in the Front Quad’s marquee (now enhanced by reproductions of College portraits!) has attracted many users. Since I last wrote there have been very substantial gifts to the Project from the Wolfson Foundation and, in the form of a pledge for a million US dollars, by Bart Holaday (1965, PPE) and his wife Cathy. Gifts continue to come in for this crucial project – so central to the life of the College – and more are needed, with substantial naming opportunities still available.

Keeping in mind both sustainability and rapidly rising fuel prices, during Michaelmas Exeter – fortified by enthusiastic support from students – introduced major economies. The application of modern heating devices and strategies is making Turl Street’s ancient heating apparatus much more efficient. Here’s hoping that you all stay warm – or, in the Southern Hemisphere, cool! – during the festive season that is about to begin.

With best wishes for Christmas and New Year from myself and Marguerite,

Rick Trainor

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