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Get It Right
I wish you'd learn to punctuate. Oxford Today is getting as bad as the Daily Telegraph or the BBC web site. You should also be aware that the word ‘likely’, in spite of its ending, is an adjective. Just stop trying to be so American, will you?
Balliol College, 1966
I have a particularly clear memory of the evening of 22nd November 1963, when the news of the assassination of President Kennedy reached Oxford. We were about to attend a club dinner — Keble’s now sadly defunct Mitre Club. We did not allow the news to dissuade us from holding the dinner, but towards its end the President of the JCR came into the room and whispered a message to the Warden, the saintly Austen Farrer, who then told us that, sadly, he would have to leave, having received the news of the death of a very dear friend. I found myself wondering how he might have been a friend of JFK and why the news had reached him much later than the rest of us. It was not until the next day that we learned that his very dear friend was C S Lewis.
Keble College, 1962
Get It Right
I look forward to seeing the new clock tower and gate at Harris Manchester College, but will be surprised if I find a weathervane depicting a member of the College trying to sell a bicycle (Michaelmas issue, p55). I suspect said vane actually shows someone pedalling, rather than peddling.
Brasenose College, 1981
I am sure the debate over architecture in Oxford has been on-going, perennial, continuous and even endless… but surely not eternal, as your cover suggests?
Mansfield College, 1963
Your interesting articles on Margaret Thatcher and the importance of science in politics did not mention the 1987 Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer — a treaty that she was able to push for in a knowledgeable way. Implementation of the Montreal Protocol is the only conscious and successful action that we know of taken by an organism to protect its planet.
Worcester College, 1961
Get It Right
A mis-spelling in a prominent place at the top of page 5 of Oxford Today (Ed: ‘councellor’ as opposed to ‘counsellor’). What’s worse, it’s the sort of mis-spelling that excites a suspicion that one doesn’t know any better — but of course you do, and all is put right on page 66. Please don’t let it happen again!
Queen’s College, 1944
The Class of 2012
I don’t usually read whole pieces in Oxford Today, but was fascinated by The Class of 2012 (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013). Mr Eliot Ball, in particular, describes lectures as ‘almost universally very poor’. This was also my experience between 1971 and 1974. However, despite being rather a sluggish student, I did put myself out to attend the – purely optional – seminars given by the excellent Peter Gantz.
I remember another student attempting to correct Peter Gantz on an issue of pronunciation. ‘Nobody knows how it was pronounced’, he simply replied. On a further occasion someone suggested he was prejudiced. ‘Life would be impossible without prejudice,’ he said. He was a ‘vague’ academic of the best kind.
Perhaps it’s not the format but the personal chemistry, as always, which counts at this level.
Jesus College, 1971
Master and Commander
Hilary Bichovsky quite rightly regrets the Oxbridge 'discretionary' Master's degrees. Yes, of course they devalue the real ones — but, as one of the great cold and hungry 1950's brain drain to the American job market, I certainly found my (very cheaply) bought Master's invaluable.
Without it, my Oxford undivided 2nd class chemistry degree was rated as only suitable for employment as a very junior laboratory technician. I wonder if the same now applies to the UK job market?
Somerville College, 1951
I am surprised none of your correspondents confessed to being arrested and fined as a result of the Khrushchev-Bulganin demonstartion in 1956 (Michaelmas issue, 2013). Scores were, including a schoolboy friend of mine. It marked the beginning of a postwar police crackdown on students who, unlike the Bullingdon Club members, did not pay handsomely for the damage they caused.
A few years later there was a similar crackdown on Bonfire Night revellers. Colleges gated their students, and members of gown who did manage to join town in the traditional assault on the Randolph Hotel, Super Cinema and Taj Mahal Restaurant received swift retribution. They were kettled in Turl Street, whisked down the Crown passage, and charged in a temporary police station at the back of Oxford Town Hall.
Next year November 5th passed peacefully for the first time in living memory.
St Catherine’s College, 1952
So, we are now informed that Henry VIII was a psychopath (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013), a fact self-evident to anyone with any acquaintance with the life of this thoroughly unpleasant monarch. Does it really require an academically funded exercise to establish the obvious?
The arrogant, egocentric and repressive character of this king — disturbingly portrayed in the thin-lipped and cruel likenesses by Holbein and his circle and manifested by his callous treatment of his wives — is surely evidence enough. Even if his preoccupations to produce a male heir were one of the mainsprings of Henry’s actions, his brutalities were inexcusable even by the standards of his own age and least of all by ours.
St Peter’s College, 1974
Get It Right
A spelling error (Ed: ‘extolls’ rather than ‘extols’) on page 54 of the latest Oxford Today! I’m manning the barricades as we speak, as the Philistines are upon us. I hope I am never witness again to such a heinous crime against all decent folk. Yours in shock,
Lincoln College, 1981
Get It Right
Ed: Thank you, all, for pointing out these mistakes. May we point you to a wonderful feature written by Simon Horobin, which questions the importance of adhering to strict rules of our language.
Charles Moore may find puzzlement at the University's refusal of an honorary degree to Mrs Thatcher in 1985 (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013), but many of us remember rejoice among academics that at least Oxford had not sycophantically rewarded the leader of a government that had recently cut the universities’ funding by up to 30 per cent. Some more cynically commented that it was the first time Oxford had been in the forefront of resistance to an authoritarian government since the reign of James II. In any case, I think the fact that she had been educated at Somerville — and even her achievement in overcoming a gender-disadvantage — did not make her a suitable candidate for such an honour.
St Peter's College, 1971
Bulganin, Khrushchev and Gorbachev
I was interested to read the letters in the Trinity and Michaelmas issues regarding the visit of Bulganin and Khrushchev to Oxford in 1956. With Ross Taylor, a very distinguished geochemist from New Zealand — then working in Oxford in the Department of Geology and Mineralogy in Parks Road — I walked down from the Department and we stood together on the steps of the New Bodleian Library opposite the Clarendon Building during the event.
As the motorcade carrying the Russian leaders came along the Broad, an undergraduate managed to arrive at the Clarendon at the same time, parking his bicycle against the kerb. The police promptly whisked it away.
When the Russians came out of the Clarendon after their visit, only the diminutive figure of Krushchev broke into an arm-waving response to the chanting of Poor Old Joe. The tall gaunt figure of Bulganin remained austere. The next day, The Times severely rebuked the students at Oxford for their behaviour.
Years later, when Gorbachev paid his first visit to Britain to see Margaret Thatcher in London, he afterwards came to Edinburgh. I happened to be passing the Caledonian Hotel at the West End when Gorbachev came out after lunch to get into a car. The visit to Edinburgh was abruptly terminated due to the death of Marshall Zhukov in Moscow. As he got into the car, I shouted out ‘Poor Old Joe’. Am I the only person to have been at both events?
Queen’s College, 1954
I very much enjoyed John Garth’s article Rendezvous with Death (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013). In November 1963, my father, Monty Woodhouse (New College, 1935) was MP for Oxford, and he and my mother had been invited by Tom Boase, then President of Magdalen, to stay for the weekend. For some reason, I, aged 9, was included. I vividly remember being put to bed in the President’s lodgings in a room at the end of a dark corridor and feeling just like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. As my mother told the story, a dinner party was well under way downstairs when the butler whispered into Tom’s ear that there was alarming news from the US. A great deal of fluster ensued because the President’s lodgings had neither radio nor a television. College servants were dispatched in all directions to see if an undergraduate might have such a thing as a wireless. In due course one was found and the terrible news was confirmed.
At that point, my father came upstairs and woke me up. ‘I think you should know,’ he said, ‘that President Kennedy has been shot.’ In retrospect, perhaps this seems an odd thing to have done to a child – disturbing in every sense of the word. However, I have always felt immensely pleased and proud that he wanted to share this moment with me. Had I known, however, that the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was also dead, I might not have gone back to sleep quite so quickly
Lady Margaret Hall, 1973
Get It Right
In ‘Time for a Change’ (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2013), I was interested to read that a weather vane atop the new Harris Manchester clock tower ‘shows a member of the college peddling a bicycle’. I had no idea college finances were in quite such a dire state but I suppose, with all the spare bicycles left around the city, stealing them to sell on to needy students must provide easy pickings.
St Edmund Hall, 1970
Why does David Favager wish to consign the buildings he doesn't like to Liverpool John Moores University's Birkenhead Docks Campus? Birkenhead is just as deserving of quality modern architecture as Oxford; isn’t this just another example of Oxford elitism?
Christ Church College, 1965
Jill Rutter's overview of Baroness Thatcher as a scientist reminded me that I once met the man who first gave her employment at BX Plastics. He liked her, even though he claimed that she ‘lacked the common touch’. Given a specific task, he said, she would meticulously see it through to perfection, but was unable to generate ideas in research. This would have borne out her tutors' expectations.
None of the contributors mentioned that the reason for Oxford withholding the customary honorary degree was the damage which Mrs Thatcher had done to education. The only abstention was that of the then-Principal of Somerville, who allegedly said that she knew what would happen to her college if she voted with the rest. Indeed, the Prime Minister was held to have responded swiftly with the £10m cut to Oxford research funding, which alumni helped to make good.
It was she who initiated change requiring substantial maintenance fees from students. As some of us cynically said, having obtained two degrees largely at public expense, when aboard she pulled up the ladder. Tony Blair was also state funded but he completed the process which is leading towards restoring the old system wherein, against university wishes, ability to pay will normally determine entry. This will finally destroy Rab Butler's innovative post-World War 2 work, which has enabled any able student to gain access to the excellence of an Oxford education. Moreover it will mean that the stimulation of a broad social mix will be denied to future generations.
It worries me that the pressing need to raise funds to preserve modern Oxford, and a tutorial system which is of incalculable value to this country and its economy, may encourage selectively favourable representations of the very persons responsible for creating that need.
However, I must declare a personal bias. I read PPP at Jesus College from 1954-56 on a mature student's state scholarship, moving on to teach, before becoming an educational psychologist for state schools and finally a lecturer at Nottingham University. Had present circumstances prevailed in ‘54 I would probably have remained a navvy ganger. Arguably less socially useful, but perhaps rather better paid.
Jesus College, 1954
It is a good job Marcus de Sautoy is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science and not of Architecture if he thinks the new Mathematical Institute (pictured on page 32 of Oxford Today, Trinity 2013) is “beautiful”. Like the new China Centre, it would probably enhance Liverpool John Moores University’s Birkenhead Docks Campus--but in Oxford? The University may have the best academic brains in the country but it clearly does not have the best architects if this sort of instantly forgettable mediocrity is the best that can be done.
Brasenose College, 1979
Cash for Questions
Professors Daniels and James have unenviable tasks (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). Education, as all your readers know, is the most important of all human activities, as most of our behaviour is learned. Medicine may be second, as it maintains the machine that education has built, even though it has so dangerously interfered with natural population control mechanisms. The Home may be the most influential stage in education but the top is what the education practitioners look up to. Professors should be paid very much more in this money oriented society of ours.
In 1964 a Cambridge Colloid Science professor told me that, were it not for his very satisfactory private income, he would be working with ICI for a salary at least twice the size of his university salary. Salary differentials mattered then in 1964; they matter even more now.
Our current politicians seem to have minds so befogged with facts that they have no idea of where they really are nor where they should be trying to go. I hope Professors Daniels and James manage to penetrate these dull minds so that they come to realise how vital is the contribution which Oxford and Cambridge make to our future. These obtuse politicians should appreciate their responsibilities and do something useful for a change.
Balliol College, 1955
Bulganin and Khruschev
Keith Tunstall's comment on the reception given Bulganin and Krushchev when they came to Oxford in April 1956 is interesting. He says their visit to Magdalen “aroused curiosity rather than any enthusiasm”, adding that he “politely clapped as they went by”.
The reception given elsewhere in the city was very different. I was part of a vast throng of students standing outside Blackwell’s, blocking the whole of the Broad. As Bulganin and Krushchev emerged from the Sheldonian opposite, and, surrounded by square-shouldered bodyguards, came down the steps towards us, someone from the back of the crowd lobbed a brown-paper package over everyone’s heads, and it landed near the Russians. Amid jeers from the mass, bodyguards swooped on the apparently dangerous brown object and rushed off with it, while the jeers turned to the raucous singing of ‘Poor Joe is Dead’, in memory of the recent death of Joe Stalin.
Bulganin and Krushchev, I remember, stood there grinning and clapping, their hands high above their heads, presumably thinking that ours was a song of welcome.
After that, the beer in the White Horse nearby tasted especially good!
Trinity College, 1955
I thank Simon Horobin for an intelligent and pleasantly straightforward article on the need or otherwise for standards in spelling. He lists three reasons why he believes people want to maintain these standards. I believe there is also a fourth reason. The vast majority of well educated people have little difficulty spelling accurately, whether it took them years to master the skill or it came easily. For these people, bumping up against an incorrectly spelled word in the course of reading can be jarring, and – however much you want to gloss over it and move on – it interferes with the process of comprehension. If you're reading something long or complex, the last thing you want is to be hijacked by a spelling mistake, or a grammatical error, or any other form of non-standard expression. The basic purpose of all of these standards, however dumb many of them are, is to not get in the way of communication.
St Catherine's Collge, 1963
Graham Chainey mentioned the great names of the necessarily narrow English literary world. In my time I learnt under the greats of the much wider world of Natural Philosophy including Nobel Prize winners and many FRSs’. Oxford in the mid 1950s was indeed world class
Keble College, 1955
Making the British
Many will have read with interest Judith Keeling’s account of the Oxford DNA project which can offer new answers to the question of “what happened to the Romano-British population when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded following the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain?”
Those interested in this question can profitably re-read the books and articles of AW Wade-Evans (Jesus College, 1893), and especially his conclusions in The Emergence of England and Wales (2nd. ed., Cambridge, 1959). Over many years Wade-Evans had maintained that the Brythonic population of what became England was neither extinguished nor driven westwards. He might well feel vindicated if he could read about the “substantial amount of ‘ancient British’ DNA” in the modern population of England.
Wade-Evans wrote as a nationalist who wanted his fellow-Welshmen to see themselves as essentially a political or civic community and not, as the age-old tradition had maintained, a racial group that had been displaced. That tradition has shaped the relationships of the peoples of Britain, and of all its outcomes the most decisive was the Battle of Bosworth.
Reading Wade-Evans we may, at certain important junctures, wish he would present more concrete evidence for what must have been, to him, certainties. But he deserves respect for his independent approach to some fundamental issues.
Linacre College, 1964
Bulganin and Khruschev
I was interested to read Keith Tunstall's memories of Bulganin and Kruschev in Oxford in 1956. He says that Kruschev's denunciation of Joseph Stalin was published two months after their visit; however I remember being in a crowd of undergraduates outside the Sheldonian, serenading them to the strains of Poor Old Joe. Were we prescient, as well as — we thought — extremely witty?
Lady Margaret Hall, 1953
Colonel Raymond Ffennell, who gave Wytham Abbey and estate to the University, would have been pleased to see the notice in Trinity 2013's Oxford Today about the video series on Wytham Woods. He had originally hoped that the Abbey itself would be used for agricultural educational purposes, but would have rejoiced to know that his woods, in which his daughter Hazel had such happy times, are now one of the most researched areas of woodland in the world.
Oriel College, 1965
Take the Power Back
I was intrigued by the item in the Trinity 2013 edition of Oxford Today describing Prof. Trefethern's reconfiguring of the calculation for working out one's BMI. Would you be able to explain to me – I read History – how, with an ordinary calculator, one computes one's “height in metres raised to the power of 2.5”? It is not, I assume, the same as simply multiplying it by 2.5.
Magdalen College, 1981
Ed: You assume correctly. On a scientific calculator this is easy: simply type your height in metres, followed by the 'power' button, usually denoted yx, then 2.5. On a normal calculator, you need to multiply your height in metres by itself, and then once more by the square root of itself – which is exactly the same as raising it to the power of 2.5.
Bulganin and Khruschev
A curious sidelight on the British visit of Bulganin and Khruschev reveals one vast difference between then and now. As they sped out of Portsmouth Dockyard at the start of their journey, the sole security accompaniment for the supreme leaders of Communism was one Riley police car, leading the way. Bulganin, seated on the right in the limousine, peered out at the unappealing vista of the deserted railway station and ferry point, possibly hoping to wave to cheering crowds, but alas all he saw was a single schoolboy with better use for a lunch hour than idling in the school quad. Contrast that with, for instance, the huge security operation in 2010 – complete with a no-fly zone over much of Long Island – for the wedding of the daughter of a president, ten years out of office.
St John’s College, 1958
If the Humanities ever have to be justified on economic grounds, you are reaching the bottom of the moral pit. If governments meddle in university affairs, trying to influence the direction or justification of certain studies, the meddlers should be told in no uncertain terms to get lost, no matter what the consequences. It seems to me, and to some of my fellow-Oxonians in Vancouver, that Oxford is suffering adversely from American influences. Oxford has nothing to learn from Harvard or CalTech – except perhaps in the enterprise of fundraising.
Merton College, 1949
Goin' to the Chapel?
I enjoy reading Oxford Today, but was taken aback by the reference to “Christ Church chapel” on page 27 of the Trinity 2013 issue. Is this a clever new Oxford vernacular way of designating the Cathedral?
Christ Church College, 1962
Making the British
I was particularly interested to read the article ‘What makes the British?' Do you know if the underlying research by Profs Donnelly, Robinson and Sir Walter Bodmer has been published in full yet? If so, where might I look?
St Peter's College, 1967
Ed: The research is indeed available, and you can find out more on the Royal Society's website.
Bulganin and Khruschev
I'm not sure that Keith Tunstall has got quite right the chronological relationship between Bulganin's and Khrushchev's visit to Oxford in 1956 and the denunciation of Stalin.
My one memory of the visit is of the Soviet leaders emerging on to the steps of the Sheldonian and the crowd packing the Broad raising a chorus of ‘Poor old Joe’.
University College, 1952
It was with great interest that I read about the success of the residents of Osney in harnessing the flow of the Thames to provide clean, sustainable energy to dozens of homes nearby. Most satisfying of all is the use of the ancient Archimedes Screw technology, which has provided a reliable, renewable source of power for homes throughout the world for centuries.
Certainly, one influential Oxford man would have been delighted to read how simple, small-scale and sustainable technology is still relevant in modern Britain. Unfortunately, the great EF Schumacher is no longer with us.
But the economic philosophy he developed as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and expounded in his seminal book Small is Beautiful still plays a huge role in the world. It influences politicians – David Cameron has acknowledged its continuing relevance to his thinking – and the work of Practical Action, the International charity he set up nearly 50 years ago.
Practical Action uses very similar technology to that employed by the good people of Osney to provide power to those who are most in need in throughout the world. Happily, Schumacher’s philosophy not only helps 40-odd people in Osney, but a million people throughout the world every year.
St. Hugh’s College, 1973
Graham Chainey lists many of the famous Oxford Dons of his time (Letters, Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). I came up in 1973 and owe my Oxford education, and most memorable experiences, to one individual on his list: Sir Isaiah Berlin.
When my American academic advisor asked with whom I most wanted to study, I replied that I had not really found any theorist that I really wanted to study with, for a variety of reasons. He then prodded me to think harder and I said “Isaiah Berlin”.
He asked where he was based. I responded, “I think Oxford.” He suggested I applied. My response was: “How do I do that?” My advisor suggested I wrote to Berlin, then President of Wolfson College, so I did.
He replied to my letter and told me how to apply. Berlin also advised me that, because of his duties, he could only supervise graduate students. We exchanged letters and I answered his query regarding why I wanted to study with him.
When I got the application materials, Instead of applying for the Dphil – being unsure if I would be accepted – I decided to apply to read PPE as a second degree instead. After reviewing the materials, I really wanted to experience the tutorial-based Oxford education. It was a difficult choice because this meant I wouldn’t have a chance to work with Berlin.
So, imagine my surprise when Berlin reached out after I arrived and invited this young American to meet with him. I was invited to tea and conversation with him in his office; he invited me to meet him in his home in Headington, and then to walk with him, through the University Parks. On the journey he of course spoke in his inimitable way: producing a fast-paced torrent of words and thoughts, sentences as long as paragraphs, packed with observations, analysis, history, paradoxes, and questions – questions surprisingly directed at me! – all of which rolled out in such brilliant fashion that I was spellbound and fascinated each step of the way.
I felt guilty, however, in taking up Berlin’s time and offering him so little in return for what I was receiving. Regrettably, I did not make the most of this opportunity by seeking regular meetings. I was indeed privileged, however, to have this uniquely Oxford experience because of the graciousness of Berlin, who took the initiative and time to tutor this young American. I still read his essays and continue to admire his thought.
Lincoln College, 1973
Would anyone like to join me in creating an effective campaign to stop the granting of discretionary degrees to Oxford and Cambridge graduates? The practice is grossly unfair, (possibly) devalues other genuinely studied-for masters qualifications, and (certainly) devalues the reputations of Oxford and Cambridge.
Ideally, all the essentially bogus degrees granted over the years would be retrospectively removed – but if that proved cumbersome, what would help is a wide information campaign to inform the public at large that an MA from Oxford or Cambridge essentially means nothing, has no extra study or knowledge behind it, and is, essentially, valueless.
So, shall we stop this now? Who will join me?
Somerville College, 1981
A German Legend
Thank you for a most interesting article about Alan Garner (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). The reference to the local legend of sleeping knights in a cave in the Edge, waiting to save Britain from peril, reminds me of a very similar legend I heard as a boy in Germany. In central Germany there is a mountain called the Kyffhaueser in which there is a cave where Frederich Barbarossa and his knights sit around a stone table, through which Barbarossa's beard is growing, waiting for a circling raven to awaken them when they will ride out and save Germany from catastrophe. Somehow, the raven missed 1945!
St Edmund Hall, 1960
Goin' to the Chapel?
It is surely a little unusual, although technically not incorrect, to refer to the Cathedral as “Christ Church chapel”?
Brasenose College, 1962
Home Fires Burn
I agree with Harriet Wilson ([Letters, Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). I don't think that I missed the point; rather, I think I didn't explain it properly. My observation is that government is increasingly trying to interfere in the administration of UK universities. I sense that many young people share my concern and are increasingly considering going to foreign universities, thus depriving the UK of their talents.
Merton College, 1950
Bulganin and Khruschev
As Keith Tunstall says, it was a couple of months after the visit of Khruschev and Bulganin to Oxford that the text of Khruschev’s speech denouncing Stalin was published in The Observer. However, the general contents and nature of the speech were known in the West well before the time of the visit. When the Soviet leaders were driven along Broad Street some of those watching started chanting ‘Poor Old Joe, Poor Old Joe (in unison, and the chant was quickly taken up by a large part of the crowd, perhaps most of it). The visitors, who presumably had no idea what was being chanted, looked delighted. If my memory isn't at fault, at least one of them waved his clasped hands above his head vigorously in acknowledgement.
Balliol College, 1955
The Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall discriminates against men by insisting they wear a tie, a rule not applied to women. The Club, which sports the coats of arms of both universities, has rebuffed my suggestion that it change its rules by saying it wants to maintain the standard of dress for both sexes. The Club Secretary, Alastair Telfer, does not recognise that the tie is obsolescent and dismisses the fashion sense of the Prime Minister who frequently appears in public without one. The Club does not even acknowledge there is the question of equality for men or that the tie cannot be made a requirement in national or local government.
Where are you Emily Davidson and Sylvia Pankhurst? Tieless men need you at this hour to chain yourselves to the Club rulebook until this symbolic change is affected and men can expose their necks at 71 Pall Mall without shame.
With apologies to both Milton and Samson.
University College, 1954
Graham Chainey may have revelled in the shooting sticks of brilliant talk during his time at Oxford, but his circle was somewhat restricted: nine historians, five philosophers, five dons of literature, two classicists, and an Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps it is just a further illustration of the two cultures that – nearly 50 years on – I recognised only 11 of his “22 household names”, but think that I would, in 1966, have recognised only six, and one of them only because he wrote two best-selling fantasy novels. The world of the science laboratory is a long way from shooting sticks along Parks Road.
Magdalen College, 1966
Making the British
I found the People of the British Isles article (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013) fascinating, but am puzzled how the research by Donnelly, Robinson and Bodmer links to that by Bryan Sykes and his team over many years, to which no reference is made. They all appear to a layman to have been covering the same ground. Is it a case here of academic rivalry over some some issue too arcane for a mere historian to grasp?
The Queen's College, 1951
Bulganin and Khruschev
When the Russian leaders came to Oxford in 1956, as described by Michael Tunstall, (Oxford Today, Trinity 2013) I photographed them on the steps of the Sheldonian from the Blackwell’s side of the Broad.
It only occurred to me later that I could easily have changed the course of history. I was using a telephoto lens on my Leica, with a pistol grip, and could easily have been an assassin as far as their bodyguards had been concerned if they had spotted me. A few months later, and in almost exactly the same location, I photographed the anti-Suez protest march.
Lincoln College, 1954
Your Editorial for the Trinity Term 2013 issue of Oxford Today concludes with reference to something called a “website”. Since it is inaccessible in print, it thus creates an objectionable discrimination between the haves and the have nots, an unacceptable social division. I resent being considered a second-class citizen because I do not have whatever equipment is related thereto. I have raised this issue with others, for on this basis there is being created another class of people in a society riddled already with such divisiveness. Please make available your products to all of your readers, and not limit them to a selected group thereof.
Brasenose College, 1948
Ed: We're sorry not everyone has access to the internet. But with 52,731,209 people in the UK – 84.1% of the population – using the internet in 2012, we hope it won't be a social division that lasts for long.
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.
Somerville College, 1969
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.
Brasenose College, 1967
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.
St Catherine's Collge, 1961
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?
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?
University College, 1961
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.
Lincoln College, 1962
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.
St Hugh's College, 1958
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.
Christ Church College, 1953
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.
Magdalen College, 1953
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.
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.
Magdalen College, 1973
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.
Magdalen College, 1942
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.
The Queen's College, 1947
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!
St. Hugh’s College, 1939
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.
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.
Hertford College, 1956
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.