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18th December 2023 Rector Professor Sir Rick Trainor

Rector Trainor reviews events of Michaelmas Term 2023

The start of Michaelmas Term almost exactly coincided with the onset of the terrible recent events in Israel and Gaza which have dominated world news for many weeks. These events deeply affected many people in College, prompting focused activity by Exeter’s Welfare Team.

Within the College the outstanding event of the autumn was the reopening of Exeter’s Library on 16 October, only a week late and essentially on budget despite the rapid inflation of our times. Students queued up for the reopening! The reaction of the Library’s users to the restored and renovated version of this much cherished building has been overwhelmingly positive. The days of the marquee in Front Quad – the College’s reading room during last academic year – are consequentially numbered, though it will remain until February, when current work to renew a lift in the kitchen and to improve the lighting in Hall has been completed. Meantime, the western half (i.e. where the builders’ yard was) of the Fellows’ Garden, and the Rector’s Garden, have been re-turfed and look much better for it.

Students using refurbished Exeter College Library

The response to the refurbished Library has been overwhelmingly positive

The beginning of Michaelmas Term brought the usual round of College activities: the culmination of the annual Exeter Plus transition programme; Freshers’ week (with family teas, introductory briefings and formal dinners etc.) for new undergraduates and postgraduates alike; and the induction of new Fellows and Lecturers. Similarly, the ensuing two months featured 2023’s versions of a number of Exeter’s observance of festivals: Diwali, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (two carol services, five special dinners, and a pageant and lunch for the very young, including Marguerite’s and my grandchildren). Innovations this autumn were special introductory lunches given by the Senior Tutor and myself for groups of new postgraduates and on-course support from postgraduate study mentors for first-year undergraduates. Their work is complementary to that of the externally funded Royal Literary Fund Fellow – currently the novelist Amanda Smyth – who is available to help any Exeter student with academic writing.

Student achievement during Michaelmas Term, unusually, did not feature competitive rowing: the height of the river made impossible the annual regatta for novices. However, morale is high for Torpids and Eights, and preparations continue for the 200th anniversary dinner of the Exeter College Boat Club on 25 May.

High waters could not prevent graduation on 3 November. Nor did they prevent undergraduate Kristy Huang (2021, Music) from forming part of the winning teams for the StEP Ignite student entrepreneurship competition organised by Oxford University Innovation; Kristy’s team devised SoulChord, an AI-based music generation platform which targets music therapy applications. Meanwhile, two Exeter postgraduates brought out significant publications: Jose Parra Zeltzer (2022, Medieval and Modern Languages) produced Un acto de plena escritura: Crítica de cine y la inscripción de lo nuevo en Chile (A Complete Act of Writing: Film Criticism and the Inscription of the New in Chile, published by Editorial Cuarto Propio), and Clementine Collett (2020, Information, Communication & Social Sciences), under the nom de plume Clementine Taylor, produced a novel, Something About Her (Putnam).

Team SoulChord at the StEP Ignite Entrepreneurship Programme

The SoulChord team are named winners of the StEP Ignite Entrepreneurship Programme

Exeter’s Fellows attracted many marks of distinction during the Term. Professor Nandini Das (English) won the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding for her Courting India; England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire; Professor Cornelia Drutu (Mathematics) was named the Emmy Noether Guest Professor at the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science in Göttingen; Professor Kejia Hu (Management Science) jointly won the inaugural Mary Jo Bitner “Rising Star in Services” Award at the 18th International Research Symposium on Service Excellence in Management; and Professor Kerry Walker (Pre-Clinical Medicine) received an Excellent Teacher award from the Medical Sciences Division. Among notable publications by Fellows were: Faiths Lost and Found: Understanding Apostasy (co-edited by Professor Charles Foster [Law]), The Recognition of Global Higher Education Qualifications in International Law by Kenneth Mwenda (Honorary Fellow), and Legal Capacity, Disability and Human Rights (co-edited by Visiting Fellow Nicolas Espejo Yaksic [Law]).

Rector Trainor and Kenneth Mwenda at the World Bank

Rector Trainor met with Honorary Fellow Kenneth Mwenda during a recent trip to New York

A spectacular Fellow-related publishing event was a book launch, held at Exeter on 4 December, for an impressive festschrift for John Maddicott FBA, Emeritus Fellow in History. The book, edited by Nigel Saul and Nicholas Vincent, is English Medieval Government and Administration: Essays in Honour of J. R. Maddicott (Boydell Press, for the Pipe Roll Society). As John Maddicott has done a huge amount of research using Exeter’s archives, it is especially appropriate to note here that the College’s archives catalogue is now available online.

Alumni featured prominently in the College’s life during the recent term. Exeter held a very well attended Winter City Drinks event in Bishopsgate (courtesy of Tracy Coghill [1990, Jurisprudence]) on 28 November, when the President (Rachael Merritt [2022, Social Science of the Internet]) and Vice President (Conrad Hogg [2023, MBA]) of the MCR, and T-RExeter (Exeter’s Giving Day mascot) also attended. There were excellent turnouts, by alumni and students alike, at the Lyell Society Dinner (11 November), addressed by Brendan Cych (2012, Earth Sciences), and the Biochemistry Dinner held on 17 November. Shortly after term ended Development Director Yvonne Rainey, her deputy Adale Bennett, Marguerite and I visited New York, where we met many alumni individually and also held an Exeter dinner. Marguerite and I continued on to Washington DC, where we again saw individual alumni and held an Exeter event. The latter was a superbly hosted reception at the home of Tim (1965, Jurisprudence) and Susan Vanderver in suburban Potomac Maryland. In addition, back in Oxford there was excellent attendance at the annual alumni carol concert on 2 December.

2023 alumni carol service

The alumni carol service was a popular event at the start of December

Autumn 2023 was a season of notable achievements by Exonians. Chief among these was the award to Sir Philip Pullman (1965, English) on 9 November, in the Sheldonian, of the Bodley Medal, the ‘highest honour bestowed by the Bodleian Libraries’, conferred because Sir Philip is ‘one of the most acclaimed and popular writers of our times’, having found ‘passionate audiences from all areas of readership’ and because he is a ‘passionate advocate for the power of reading and writing in making people’s lives better’. Exeter College featured prominently both in the formal ceremony and in the gala dinner in the Divinity School which followed.

In addition to titles noted elsewhere in this edition of E-News, alumni have published a number of recent books: Dr Steve Harris (1988, Chemistry) has translated HG Wells’s classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds into Cornish; Sir Roland Jackson (1976, Molecular Immunology) has produced Scientific Advice to the Nineteenth-Century British State; Ravi Takhar (1984, Jurisprudence) has brought out How to Build a Bank: A Guide to Key Bank Regulations, the Licence Application Process and Bank Risk Management; Matt Tiller (1991, Modern History) has published The Lion Who Never Roared, the story of Jack Leslie, the first Black captain in the Football League; and Richard Sparks (1970, English) has produced the first (New Rock New Role) in a new fantasy series, which depicts what happens when ‘the gaming world meets epic fantasy’.

Another alumnus author in recent months is Paul Tyler (1960, Modern History), former MP and peer, who has written Can Parliament Take Back Control? with former Coalition Government Minister Sir Nick Harvey. On 25 October they were in dialogue with Senior Tutor and political scientist Dr Chris Ballinger at a seminar in Cohen Quad on ‘Britain’s Elective Dictatorship in the Johnson Aftermath’. Other significant Exeter-related public events included the postponed 2023 Marett Memorial Lecture in Anthropology (honouring pioneering anthropologist R R Marett, Rector 1928-43) on 13 October by Professor Yael Navarao (Cambridge) on ‘Catastrophe and More-than-Human Worlds’. Another lecture in memory of a former Rector came four days later when Professor Emma Clery (Uppsala) lectured on ‘Mary Wollstonecraft for the Twenty-First Century’, a Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture, followed by a dinner at Exeter. In addition, on 23 October, Drs Dexnell Peters and Isabel Robinson gave the second of two recent updates on Exeter’s Legacies of Slavery Project. Their webinar, Exeter’s contribution to Black History Month, showed a non-trivial number (albeit only a small percentage) of Exeter students and Fellows in the 18th and 19th centuries with connections to slavery and the slave trade, a pattern found, to various extents, throughout British institutions of the period. I would also note sparkling lectures by Exeter Fellows Charles Foster and Caroline Ritchie at the Subject Family Dinners for Social Sciences and for Languages and Literature, on 20 November and 30 October respectively.

The College’s Giving Day in late November was a major success: interim totals showed that 266 donors had given over £87000. This brings me back to the reopening of the College Library, in all its brightly appealing neo-Gothic splendour. Between now and the ceremonial reopening of the Library in mid-May we are renewing our efforts to raise money for the project in order to reach our goal and avoid depleting College reserves beyond the £3 million already allocated by Exeter to the project. Please give – especially if you have not already done so – to this restorative transformation of a building central to the College and its students. Naming opportunities, great and small, remain available. You can make a gift here. To discuss naming opportunities please contact Yvonne Rainey or Adale Bennett.

With very best wishes from Marguerite and myself to you and your families for the festive season and for 2024.

Rick Trainor

Rector Trainor meets the T-RExeter at Winter City Drinks

Rector Trainor meets the T-RExeter at Winter City Drinks as part of Exeter’s Giving Day celebrations


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