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Trinity Term 2013 - Volume 25 No. 2

Lady Thatcher

The decision by the University in 1985 not to award Lady Thatcher an honorary degree now looks even poorer, in the light of the generous tributes that have been paid to her, from all over the world and including many from political opponents. The University’s decision stands in marked contrast to the attitude of Lady Thatcher's old college, which appointed her an honorary fellow. In an interview with the Times on 13th April, its Principal, Dr Prochaska, commented that Lady Thatcher "will come to be seen as one of Oxford's greatest alumni".

Rather than displaying the detachment that one would expect of it, the University seemed concerned mainly about its own interests. According to the Guardian (30 January 1985), “The scale of the Prime Minister's defeat was due to a huge turnout by scientific and medical dons, who rarely take part in academic debates but have been roused by the effects of government economic cuts on their research.”

So what were these “cuts” in research funding? Between 1978-79 and 1984-85, the grants-in-aid provided by Lady Thatcher’s governments to the five Research Councils increased by 93 per cent in cash terms, and by nine per cent in real terms (reply to a Parliamentary question by Mr Brooke, Secretary of State for Education and Science, on 26 February 1985 (Hansard Volume 74, columns 106-107).

Then, as now, alleged “cuts” did not always refer to reductions in funding, but to smaller increases than the recipients hoped for, or felt they deserved.

Having failed to honour Lady Thatcher with an honorary degree, does the University now have any plans to honour her in some other way?
Nicholas Owen
University College, 1961

Michael Moritz

Mr Garth writes that Mr. Moritz’s parents “were welcomed into England as Jewish refugees in the 1930's”. Mr Moritz's father lectured at Cardiff University and Mr Moritz himself was born in Cardiff, attending a state comprehensive school in the city. Mr Garth makes the erroneous, prevalent assumption that England is synonymous with, sometimes, Great Britain and, at other times, with United Kingdom. I can recall Jewish refugees, and indeed other child refugees from the Spanish civil war, arriving in South Wales in between 1936 and 1938. It was not England alone who opposed the Nazis: it was the UK, including Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. All four constituent parts of the UK have their own identity. Each part carries this distinct identity proudly.
Howard Williams

Thank you for your latest copy of Oxford Today which my husband David and I find so absorbing. Particularly, I am interested in the article on Michael Moritz, as I knew his father, Alfred, very well when he was in Oxford in the late forties of the last century.

He had digs in Divinity Road at the house of my friend Margaret Hornsey. We spent many happy evenings together, and I remember what an interesting man he was and what a wonderful sense of humour he had. We spent most of the time laughing at his wisecracks. I met Doris once, but then I moved away to Norfolk having married in 1950.

I regretted losing touch with them and often wondered where Alfred was and what he had made of his life. Now I know. Beryl Rees

John Garth’s piece about Michael Moritz’s gift began with a quotation from the donor: “I would not be here today were it not for the generosity of strangers.” I can say the same. In my case those strangers were the ratepayers and the taxpayers of my country, whose contributions enabled me, a boy from a low-income, working class household, to enjoy a university education. I applaud Moritz’s generosity, but I would rather be part of a society in which students from poorer families are supported by the consenting, collective actions of their better-off fellow citizens than one in which they are dependent upon the fortuitous and random philanthropy of super-rich individuals.
John Weeks
Brasenose, 1967

Indian Oxonians

I realise that any list will be incomplete, biased or simply not have the necessary information – but I noted the absence from the list of famous Indian oxonians of my father, Prof. Samuel Mathai, who was a distinguished academic, Secretary of the UGC & Visiting Distinguished Professor at London University & Kansas, USA, ending his career as the Vice-Chancellor of Kerala University. He was at Hertford College from 1937 to 1939.
Manorama Mathai Moss
St Hugh's 1958

It was very disappointing that the list of Famous Indian Oxonians made no mention of Professor Bal D. Tilak (1918-1999), who obtained his DPhil via Queen’s and 20 months in the Dyson Perrins Laboratory in 1946. He was a great patriot, and his father – of whom there is a statute in Pune (Poona) – was one of the early founders and organisers of the independence movement which was continued and later led by Ghandi. He stayed in India despite very attractive offers abroad, and was Director of the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune from 1965-74. He completely changed the emphasis of that laboratory from 100 percent academic research, encouraging his staff to take consultancies and do contract research for industry. This was very successful, enabling the country to be less reliant on chemicals from abroad, and led to a number of valuable patents. He led Government delegations to some countries, and was a member of others. On retirement he founded the Centre for the Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development, which led to the production of cooking stoves which were very economic in fuel use, and water purification methods for rural inhabitants. He received many honours, including the third highest civil honour in India, the Padma Bhusan (which can only be held by one person at a time), for his services to India and his achievements in chemical research. R M Acheson
Magdalen 1942

India’s first woman barrister was, in fact, Miss Mithan Ardeshir Tata and not Miss Cornelia Sorabji, as mentioned in the Michaelmas Term 2012 issue of Oxford Today. Miss Tata was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in February 1923 and Miss Sorabji was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in June 1923. However, Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman ever to practice law, as a pleader, in a court in India. This was long before women in Britain were allowed to do so practice – a precedent set by Ivy Williams, the first British woman called to the Bar in 1922.
Kusoom Vadgama

Great Dons

Reading Noel Annan's The Dons (1999) recently made me reflect on what a plethora of great dons were around when I was a student, many of them household names: A J Ayer, Dacre Balsdon, Max Beloff, Isaiah Berlin, Maurice Bowra, Alan Bullock, Lord David Cecil, Richard Cobb, Lord Franks, Helen Gardner, Christopher Hill, Iris Murdoch, Christopher Ricks, A L Rowse, John Sparrow, Enid Starkie, A J P Taylor, J R R Tolkien, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Francis Warner, R C Zaehner, Theodore Zeldin – to name just a selection.

Charismatic, inspirational, often eccentric and larger than life, their presence gave the university a tremendous sense of vitality and prestige. I remember as a fresher walking up Parks Road behind Balsdon, Bowra and Berlin – all armed with shooting-sticks and talking brilliantly – and feeling I was at the centre of the intellectual universe. Where are their like today? I can scarcely name any current Oxford dons. Will anyone in fifty years' time think to write a book about the dons of today?
Graham Chainey
Exeter, 1965

Michael Korda

It was interesting to read of Michael's memories of Magdalen. I would guess most of his contemporaries would remember how his facility in Russian gave him a leading role in welcoming Bulganin and Krushchev to the college in April 1956. Stalin was dead but the Cold War was well under way and the visit of Bulganin and Krushchev aroused curiosity rather than any enthusiasm. I remember we politely clapped as they went by.

The duo had arrived on a Russian warship which docked in Portsmouth harbour. The mysterious disappearance of Commander Crabbe, while apparently investigating the hull of the ship, was perhaps the public's main memory of the visit. A headless body was found a year later and the coroner said he was satisfied it was him.

It was a couple of months after the visit that the Observer published Krushchev's denunciation of Stalin. I remember my initial disappointment that Sunday morning in the JCR to find the paper had omitted all their usual articles to make way for the speech.
Keith Tunstall
Magdalen, 1953

Conscientiously Objecting

I went to Oxford in October 1939 just after war had been declared. In my first week I set out, with some friends, to a meeting, when suddenly the air raid alarm sounded, a new and frightening noise. We hurried back to college thinking there would be a devastating raid, but nothing happened and we got to our meeting. Oxford was never bombed, because we were told German air crews often included Oxford graduates who would not damage their alma mater.

I was called up with the first recruitment summons, but we were allowed to stay and continue our courses. As a lifelong member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) I had registered as a Conscientious Objector. Tribunals were very fair to Quakers COs, respecting their peace testimony and refusal to take part in all outward wars and strife but, understandably, we were open to the accusation of cowardice at times. At one of our college JCR meetings a third-year student stood up and inveighed furiously against COs as “lilylivered cowards who ought to be reviled and punished”. At a church service I attended the preacher exhorted all young people in the congregation to join up and fight for King and country. But the college, the University and people as a whole were outstandingly tolerant and even sympathetic.

All I could do to reconcile my pacifist convictions with my desire to remove Hitler was to work in hospitals and homes for the elderly during vacation and during the blitz. Not very glorious – but marginally useful, I hope. And now, aged nearly 92, I am very grateful to receive the help and affection of my family and of friends – one or two of whom came up with me in October 1939!
Edray Allott
St Hugh’s College, 1939


Your correspondent Harry Quick  completely misses the point I made regarding elitism and the disruption of the boat race. His confusion seems to lie between academic and financial elitism.

Oxford, and other high class universities, exist to create an academic elite and a centre of learning. To achieve and maintain standards requires the selection of the very best students. If financial assistance can be given to our brightest young people from poorer backgrounds – how very welcome is the Moritz donation – we will all benefit from fine minds. Certainly, academic standards should never be compromised, but nor should excellent candidates be frightened away by either cost or the thought that it's 'too posh'. I am not interested in making any university an instrument of social policy, but I am very interested in getting the best possible students.

The man who swam across the boat race had a very different agenda. He mistakenly believed that Oxford and Cambridge provide an education for the financial elite. Happily, he is way behind the times. Harriet Wilson
Somerville, 1969

I grew up in a severely cash-limited working class household in Hackney, inner London. My father worked as a ‘packer’ in the East End rag trade. But my parents did not suffer from the worst form of poverty – namely poverty of aspiration – and in 1962 I won an Exhibition to read Modern History at Oxford. Had anyone suggested that the entrance requirements might be lowered simply because of my socio-economic background I would have been deeply insulted and offended.
Geoffrey Alderman
Lincoln, 1962

I had no school qualifications on admission to Oxford University. I had studied two years at Ruskin College for a University Diploma in Social Studies, and before that been a shipbuilding shop steward, a community activist and volunteer over my 15 years since leaving school. One of my tutors at the Institute of Economics came from a similar background in the railway industry. After Oxford I went on to be a College Principal in Manchester.

Harry Quick seems not to understand one of the implications of what being a University means – that it is to do with broadening, widening and deepening; his notion is narrow, shallow even. Quick says he wants nothing to do with “making universities instruments of social policy”; I wonder what the University’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention has to say about that?

Andrew Cole wants to “resist left-wing extremists” and to “not dilute standards of admission'. There is no need to dilute standards. But we did need to change them over the last 30 years, to make them more appropriate for adults with a range of experience in industrial, community, social and family developments.
David Browning
Magdalen, 1973

Like Andrew Cole I came from modest origins to Hertford – but did not then, and do not now, assume that opportunities to reach Oxford are therefore fair and equal for all, regardless of socio-economic and educational background.

It is surely in Oxford's interests, as well as those of able and well motivated pupils, to encourage applications from all backgrounds and schools, and if necessary support financially those who gain entrance.

Beyond that, it seems important to seek out potential for academic success at Oxford by considering applicants in the round, including not just their high A-level achievements but also the road they have trodden to achieve them. His and my College, and doubtless many other colleges, are putting substantial and increasing time and effort into trying to asses such potential. I hope they will be successful.
Gordon Davy
Hertford, 1956

Degrees For Women

Phillida Bunkle may well be right to suggest that many of the discriminations suffered in the past and currently by women are the result of men having power and being reluctant to give it up. Such generalisations are easy to make but difficult to test. Where she is wrong is in at least one of her facts: it is not true that Oxford was the last university in Britain to allow women to be awarded degrees. Women were admitted to full membership of the University in 1920. A year later, Cambridge voted not to follow suit: it was not until 1948 that women were fully admitted there. This detail may be trivial but unless we are precise about the facts our generalisations cannot be taken as sound.
Jeremy Greenwood
St Catherine's, 1961

The Student Press

I enjoyed Chris Baraniuk’s ‘Who Guards the Guardians?’ in your Michaelmas issue, and look forward to his book. Lack of space, I expect, meant he wasn’t able to give full weight to the fundamental change that took place in Hilary term 1953, when two New College undergraduates, Clive Labovitch and Earl White, purchased Cherwell and transformed it from nondescript magazine to tabloid newspaper.

Similarly, although Cherwell journalists’ proposal to survey undergraduate sex in 1956 may, as Baraniuk writes, have tickled Fleet Street’s palate, that ever-interesting topic had been in the public domain since Norman Longmate (Worcester, 1947) in his 1954 book Oxford Triumphant calculated, on what it would be flattering to term flimsy evidence, that one in three female and one in five male Oxford undergraduates were enjoying active sex-lives; one wonders if Fleet Street’s successors would express a flicker of interest today?

2013 will of course mark Cherwell’s Diamond Jubilee as a tabloid: those familiar with student journalists confidently anticipate a party of some sort.
C Sladen
Christ Church, 1953; Cherwell, 1954

Free to a Good Home

There have been enormous improvements in Oxford Today in recent years. From humble beginnings it has become a magazine for which one could expect to pay at least £3 on the market – and I get it free. The only sadness is that I must now wait longer for the next issue. My thanks to you all.
Alan G Draper
The Queens College, 1947