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11th December 2017 Rector Professor Sir Rick Trainor

Reflections on Michaelmas Term 2017 from Rector Trainor

As 2017 draws to a close, Rector Trainor reflects on the past term at Exeter College and wishes Exonians a very happy Christmas.

The windows designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones recently installed at Cohen Quad

Michaelmas Term is always busy at Exeter – somehow this has been especially true in 2017.

Cohen Quad has started its first full academic year of operation. That beautiful building, now enhanced by the installation of the Burne-Jones windows just outside the Neil Blair Special Collections Reading Room, continues to attract praise from all who visit. These admirers include fellow Oxonians such as the Heads of House who gathered in early November for a plenary meeting of the Conference of Colleges (which I now chair). Likewise the Quad drew intense praise from those attending the College’s annual Symposium, which met there on 25 November. Among the speakers, on the theme of ‘Education and Equality’, were alumni Sir David Norgrove (1967, Modern History), Chair of the UK Statistics Agency, and Fiona Boulton (1985, PGCE), Head of Guildford School, and Fellows Professor Christina de Bellaigue (History) and Dr Chris Ballinger (Academic Dean).

David Norgrove talks about the future of Higher Education at the Education and Equality Symposium

Another symposium, on 29 October, provided Exeter’s academic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s dramatic initiation of the Reformation. Organised by Chaplain Andrew Allen (who also presented at the occasion, as did Emeritus Fellow in History Dr John Maddicott), the stimulating afternoon culminated in a spectacular, very well attended evensong featuring Reformation-era music sung by Exeter’s superb choir. Indeed, the choir has had a great many listeners at Sunday evensong this term, during which they also sang on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship. Radio 4 featured again when Professor Mike Osborne (Engineering) discussed the future of jobs and automation with Exonian Matt Hancock MP (1996, PPE), the digital minister.

There have also been five rector’s seminars. Professor Christopher Rea (British Columbia), expert on the College’s famous Chinese novelist Qian Zhongshu (1935, B.Litt.), discussed the motif of the swindler in the literature of China and other countries. Professor Rain Newton Smith (Chief Economist of the Confederation of British Industry) kept a stiff upper lip while trenchantly analysing ‘Brexit: A View from Business’. Visiting Fellow and former Chaplain Reverend Canon Dr Alvyn Pettersen (Worcester Cathedral) struck a highly appropriate note for early November when he provided an innovative comparative perspective in discussing ‘The Glorious Dead – reflections on First World War portrayals of glory in Worcester and Magdeburg Cathedrals’. Professor Frank Close (Emeritus Fellow in Physics) fascinated his audience with a scientific and social analysis of ‘Eclipse – Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon’, focusing on this summer’s total solar eclipse in parts of North America. Finally, former Visiting Fellow Professor Dennis Ahlburg (Trinity University, Texas) bravely spoke on “‘Skimming the Cream’: The Impact of Coresidence at Oxford”.

Professor Frank Close discusses eclipses at a rector’s seminar

There have been numerous special dinners this term, many of which featured guest speakers, including: dinners for alumni and students in Chemistry, Engineering and Medicine; the annual subject family dinners for Social Sciences (addressed by Dr Marie Tidball of Wadham) and for Language and Literature (addressed by Visiting Fellow Professor Claudia Olk, from the Free University of Berlin); the repasts for graduate freshers, undergraduate freshers and Scholars; the termly Boat Club dinner (which followed an especially strong Exeter presence in the Christ Church Regatta); Diwali (which was addressed by recent Exeter student, Dr Mahima Mitra (2008, Social Policy) and Thanksgiving (accompanied, as usual, by square dancing and, unusually, by ‘themed cocktails’!). In addition, we staged a dinner for the Friends of St Mary’s Kidlington, with which Exeter has been closely associated since Sir William Petre’s great gift to the College in the 1560s. I also note a highly stimulating tea party welcoming the new students from Williams College, featuring Sir Roger Bannister (1946, Physiological Sciences) and Philip Pullman (1965, English), who later in the term published massively, with strong Exeter echoes. This January, for the second year in succession, six Exeter students will be studying alongside their Williams counterparts during ‘Winter Study’ in Williamstown.

In October the College welcomed six new Fellows: one man (Dr Giuseppe Marcocci, Iberian History) plus five women: Professor Cath Green (the Monsanto Senior Research Fellow, Biochemistry), Dr Asli Niyazioğlu (Ottoman History), Dr Natasha Simonova (the Boskey Fellow, English), Dr Imogen Choi (the Queen Sofía Fellow, Spanish) and Oreet Ashery (Fine Art). The latter won the Jarman Film Award during her first term at Exeter. Another artistic event featuring the College was the opening of the University’s Diversifying Portraiture exhibition, which included a striking photo – in the cloisters of Cohen Quad – of BBC journalist and broadcaster Reeta Chakrabarti (1984, English and French).

Part of the award-winning film project, Revisiting Genesis, by Oreet Ashery (

The Strategic Planning Drafting Group made substantial progress during Michaelmas Term, as did discussions in College concerning a major focus of the emerging plan, the much-needed renovation of the Gilbert Scott Library at Turl Street. In due course alumni and friends will learn more about this Library project, as they will about other, people-centred initiatives such as additional graduate scholarships and more competitive packages for Fellows.

Speaking of alumni, in November I met some both in Miami and in London, where City Drinks featured a new format, including stimulating short talks by three early career researchers associated with the College (Rahul Nath, Lecturer in Economics; Mark Chonofsky, Biochemistry and Junior Dean; and Marlena Valles, Law and former Junior Dean). Initial feedback was very positive. There was also widespread enjoyment, of a less cerebral kind, in mid-October when Exeter’s Hall provided the venue for the breaking of the world record for the most people dipping egg ‘soldiers’ simultaneously! Here is proof that at least one part of the UK university system remained cheerful despite the currently hyper-critical national press.

So Exeter is in good heart, and in that spirit Marguerite and I wish the best of the forthcoming festive season to all Exonians, near and far.

Rick Trainor

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