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11th July 2022 Professor Sir Rick Trainor

Rector Trainor reviews events of Trinity Term 2022

Rector Trainor looks back at a very busy term at Exeter College and beyond.

Exeter, I suspect, was as busy during Trinity Term 2022 as it has ever been. Hoping that the world is beginning to escape the worst aspects of Covid-19, Exeter Fellows, staff, students, and alumni continued to make up for the time ‘lost’ during the heart of the pandemic.

The opening weekend of term featured the Ball, the first since 2019. As ever, as it was still April it was cold, but dry weather helped a crowd mainly composed of Exeter students and alumni, plus a slightly conspicuous Rector and spouse, to enjoy themselves. There was a loss of continuity from previous balls, with lessons learned for 2023. But no one could doubt, as they indulged in dodgems and freshly made doughnuts, that the social side of Exeter had acquired considerable post-Covid momentum.

Out of deference to the many Exeter students facing examinations, the rest of Trinity Term in College was fairly quiet overall, with few outdoor entertainments. However, indoors there were record attendances at formal Halls. Postgraduates may have surpassed undergraduates in this enthusiasm, supplementing the usual Trinity ‘graduate high table’ with a novel (or is it? – reader observations welcome!) end-of-academic year MCR black tie dinner in late June. High Table itself proved more popular than usual, assisted by the visit, on the day of the annual Commemoration of Benefactors, by the Master of sister college Emmanuel, Doug Chalmers, and his wife Helen. Other encouragement came from the celebrations in Hall of the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi (possibly a first among Oxford colleges) and Eid (a first for Exeter).

Alumni loomed large in Exeter life during Trinity. The College trip to the US in late March had to cope with my testing positive for Covid and having to isolate in suburban Washington. Marguerite gave ‘my’ speech at alumni events in DC and in New York; she assures me that she was ‘on message’! Once I had completed my isolation period and recovered, and Marguerite had returned to the UK for a conference, Yvonne Rainey (Director of Development and Alumni Relations) and I continued the trip to Columbus Ohio, Saskatchewan (now as in the past a focal point for enthusiastic Exonians), and Toronto. More in-person visits are planned for the new academic year, when alumni events in London will also resume.

A positive alumni response to enthusiastic student callers allowed the telethon in March to raise nearly £150,000, receiving donations from two-thirds of the alumni contacted, to the benefit of the Alumni Fund, which (among other important functions) helps to provide the support that Exeter students need. Another influentially positive alumni reaction – in combination with sponsored participation by Exeter Fellows, staff and students in Oxford’s May 10k Town and Gown run – allowed the College’s special appeal for a Ukrainian master’s degree studentship to reach its goal.

Meanwhile a splendid alumni event occurred near Edinburgh in early May: a visit to Hopetoun House, home of Andrew Hope (1987, Physics & Earl of Hopetoun) and his wife Skye, who proved the most gracious of hosts. Andrew provided a personal guided tour for the assembled Scottish-based Exonians, some 30 of whom sat down to a magnificent dinner. This event, postponed for two years by Covid-19, clearly was well worth the wait. I hope that the many alumni who attended the Gaudies in late June (for those who matriculated 1995-9) and early July (for the parallel group from 2000-4) came to the same conclusion. We’ll have had five Gaudies in 13 months by the end of September (when the 1975-78 event will be held), so we’re catching up!

Alumni were also well represented at a number of other events in College during the term: the Amelia Jackson Society’s visit to the History of Science Museum in April, the first ever Friends of the Chapel Evensong and reception in May, and – later that month – the 1314 Society garden party and the annual Boat Club Association dinner (record alumni attendance at which owed much to the efforts of Matt Holyoak [2015, History]). Most spectacularly, dozens of alumni joined many current students, Fellows and staff on 18 June in a marquee in the Fellows’ Garden for a spirited celebration of the 31 years of devoted and distinguished service that English Fellow (and former Sub-Rector and Senior Tutor) Jeri Johnson will have completed by the end of September.

Prominent among recent alumni achievements has been the appointment of Richard Meddings (1977, Modern History) to the important position of Chair of NHS England. I also note with admiration that Dr Leah Reynolds (2006, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History) recently published Roman Rural Settlement in Wales and the Marches – Approaches to settlement and material culture through big data (BAR Publishing).

Two events during Trinity Term provided memorials to academics associated with Exeter. On 7 May a well attended gathering in the Chapel, in connection with Lincoln and St Catherine’s, explored the life and legacy of an innovative bioscientist and influential leader of medical research, Professor Sir James Gowans FRS, Honorary Fellow of Exeter and former Staines Medical Research Fellow here. Five weeks later a service in the University Church for Professor Sir John Elliott FBA, the great historian of Spain and its empire, made explicit reference to the positive impact Sir John had in recent years on the flourishing field of Hispanic Studies at Exeter, where the subject has been taught and researched since the 1920s. The College’s prominence in this arena gave Exeter a central role in the visit to Oxford, in late April, of the Spanish Ambassador; relevant academics from Exeter and beyond turned out for the two-day occasion, as did graduate students.

Several individuals associated with Exeter’s Senior Common Room won special recognition during Trinity Term. Professor Cath Green (Vaccine Development; Human Genetics) – recently seen at Wimbledon in the Royal Box! – was one of four Oxford academics who received trophies in the Sheldonian Theatre from the FT Oxford Literary Festival for their role in the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Professor Luciano Floridi (Philosophy) was named a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna. Professor Nandini Das (English) was appointed to the UK Committee on Research Integrity. Professor Giuseppe Marcocci (History) won a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to study political iconoclasm and visual dissent in the Iberian world, 1550–1700. Professor Neil Herring (Pre-clinical Medicine) was awarded the Bayliss-Starling Prize for cardiovascular research by the Physiological Society. Two former Visiting Fellows also distinguished themselves: Glyn Davis (Public Policy) secured the very senior appointment of Secretary of Australia’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Alexander Bird (Philosophy) was named an honorary fellow of St John’s. Emeritus Fellow Professor Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly (German) received the rare accolade of an honorary doctorate from Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich at an impressive ceremony focused on Helen and her wealth of scholarly achievements. Meanwhile, I shared the limelight with others when I received an honorary doctorate from the University of Greenwich, where I was Vice-Chancellor 2000-04.

In terms of Senior Common Room publications, Emeritus Professor Frank Close (Physics) published Elusive: How Peter Higgs Solved the Mystery of Mass (Allen Lane); Professor Richard Wendorf (former Visiting Fellow) brought out Printing History and Cultural Change: Fashioning the Modern English Text in Eighteenth-Century Britain (OUP); and I co-edited (with Bruce Kinzer and Molly Baer Kramer) Reform and its Complexities in Modern Britain: Essays Inspired by Sir Brian Harrison (OUP), including an essay by me, ‘Another Look at Victorian University Reform: the Case of Exeter College Oxford’.

It should also be noted that the College has welcomed a number of new Fellows during the past few months. Two are Tutorial Fellows: Paula Koelemeijer (Earth Sciences) from 1 May and Nicole King (English Literature) from 1 July. Two supernumerary fellows have also arrived: Guy Thwaites (Infectious Diseases) and Kathy Noren (Head of the University’s Disability Service).

Fellows loomed large in recent talks held at Exeter. Michael Bronstein, DeepMind Professor of Artificial Intelligence, attracted a substantial audience, both online and in person, on a sunny Sunday afternoon for his magisterial discussion of ‘Geometric Deep Learning: from Euclid to Drug Design’. Professor Adam Falk (Honorary Fellow and former President of Williams College – whose current President, Professor Maud Mandel, and colleagues visited Exeter in mid-May for the first time in person since 2019), now President of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation), provided an incisive discussion of ‘Giving Money Away: the Powers and Perils of Philanthropy in our Time’. A very different approach characterised the 2022 Marett Memorial Lecture in Anthropology: Professor Penelope Harvey (University of Manchester) discussed ‘Thinking “In Time” about the Deep Future – Nuclear Waste and the Possibilities of Ethnography’. Finally, the celebrated actor Adjoa Andoh reflected – in conversation with Professor Das, and interacting with a packed audience in Cohen Quad – on a number of themes relevant to Exeter’s Black Lives Matter Working Group, which sponsored the event.

Exeter students had an active Trinity Term, beyond as well as within the formal curriculum. Saba Qizilbash (2021, Master of Fine Art) scored a spectacular double by receiving both the Emery Prize and the Ruddock Prize from the Ruskin School of Fine Art. A number of Exeter students made major contributions, at the Playhouse, to a production of ‘Carrie: The Musical’. Jack Klein (2020, Philosophy & Modern Languages) and Anna Gilchrist (2019, Earth Sciences) received Oxford Students’ Union awards. Exeter students also participated, alongside staff and Fellows, in choosing, for the second year, carbon offsetting projects to purchase as part of a philanthropically financed initiative complementing the College’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. And many Exeter finalists took part in the leavers’ parents’ lunch and Evensong in June.

Exeter had a number of student sporting successes in Trinity Term. The College featured prominently in the Women’s Varsity Rugby Match: Megan Isaac (2019, PPE) scored a try, and Jessica Abele (2019, Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics) was captain. Exeter was represented both in the winning Oxford men’s boat (Tobias Schröder [2021, History of Science, Medicine & Technology]) and the victorious inaugural women’s veterans’ boat (Lebby Eyres [1990, Literae Humaniores]). The College also won Golf Cuppers. Not least, Summer Eights featured progress for both men’s and women’s boats, building on their successes in Torpids.

Diversity and access form increasingly important dimensions to student life at Exeter. A new expression of Exeter’s drive for increased diversity will be, in 2023/24, Exeter’s participation in the University’s new philanthropically funded Foundation Year programme; students from non-traditional backgrounds with strong academic potential but middling predicted A-level grades will undergo a rigorous preliminary year in which success will gain them admission to a degree programme. Also, during 2022/23 the College’s own ‘bridging’ programme (Exeter Plus), with its September residential fortnight, will be extended into on-course support and made available to all Exeter undergraduates. Paving the way for further successes in access and diversity was the College’s vigorous participation, in late June, in Oxford’s first in-person Open Days since 2019.

At a time when the vital restoration and renovation of the College Library is about to begin, it’s especially encouraging that Cohen Quad, which had won three architectural prizes in 2021, won recognition during Trinity Term 2022 in the RIBA South competition. Likewise the building recently had its first private viewing, which assembled architectural journalists and other opinion formers in the field. Further encouragement regarding Exeter’s buildings came from the opening in April of the handsomely refurbished Lodge. So far only Walter, the College cat, has been upset, preferring (as no other creature in College seems to do) his old quarters!

The Exeter College Summer Programme is flourishing, with record in-person numbers and a new online tutorial option. Graduations will soon be upon us. Here’s hoping that you are enjoying the summer, which as I write is in full throttle mode in Oxford.

Rick Trainor


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