Balliol College Annual Record 2002

The Master’s Letter

Other articles published in the print version of the Balliol College Annual Record 2002.

Visitor, Master, Fellows and Lecturers, Preachers in Chapel
Armin Reichold The Oxford-CDF Story
Fellow and Tutor of Physics and the organisation of the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) group in Oxford.
Sir Peter Morris Can the NHS be Rescued?
President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Nuffield Professor of Surgery Emeritus and Emeritus Fellow of Balliol discusses the foundation and current NHS.
Bill Peters On Changing the World
Article based on the acceptance speech from the Former British High Commissioner in Malawi and co-founder of Jubilee 2000 on receiving the Gandhi Memorial International Peace Prize.
Obituaries: Patrick ‘Paddy’ John Ruthven Phizackerley
Professor Richard Mervyn Hare
Field Marshal Sir Nigel Thomas Bagnall
David Astor
Book Reviews: David Gilmour reviewed by Tapan Raychaudhuri
Nick Couldry reviewed by Roger Silverstone
Griffith Edwards reviewed by Henry McQuay
David Horrobin reviewed by Stephen Bergman
David Satter reviewed by Sudhir Hazareesingh
J D F Jones reviewed by Giles MacDonogh
Adam Swift reviewed by James Purnell
Art Book Tom Henry - Luca Signorelli: The Complete Paintings
Poetry: Ian Blake
Karen Harrison
Patrick Shaw-Stewart
Balliol About: Sasha Abramsky on Crime and Punishment in the USA
Claire Huston on Balliol and the Stepney Children’s Fund
Letter: Dick Wheadon on Balliol Sport
Gazette: First Year Graduates and Undergraduates
The Coolidge Atlantic Crossing Trust
Firsts and Distinctions
University and College Prizes
Doctorates of Philosophy
The Library
The College Archives
The College Staff
Clubs and Societies
Members News: Honours
Births, Marriages and Deaths
News and Notes

The Master’s Letter

As I write, news is coming through of another massive famine in southern Africa. To turn from this to a letter about the events and needs of one small part of the university world may, at first, suggest a lack of perspective.

The disjunction may not, however, be as sharp as it appears. It was, after all, the work of an academic economist, Amartya Sen, which first showed that the Ethiopian famines were not caused by a shortage of food, but by a lack of entitlements. Moreover, last month we saw the publication of Barry Blumberg’s Hepatitis B: The Hunt for a Killer Virus. It has been estimated that Barry’s discovery of a successful vaccine against this virus may well have saved the lives of as many as twenty million people. I have also recently been reading Globalization and its Discontents by the Nobel prize winner, Joe Stiglitz. What leaps out of these pages is not just how much havoc can be created by bad policy, but also the extent to which good policy depends upon careful research and iconoclastic analysis. The ‘obvious’ is often a dreadful mistake.

Of course, the immediate needs in Africa are immense, and we must all respond as best we can immediately, so that food is provided now. But if what we want is a better world in ten or twenty years’ time, then education and research have a massive part to play.

It is against this background that I would like to thank all of you who have continued to give support to Balliol. It has never been more urgently needed. Sir Keith Thomas used to say that there are three reasons for being an academic: July, August and September. Of course, the idea of the extended calm of the long vacation always was something of a myth. Nevertheless, behind the joke was the important point that academics used to have the freedom to think and to reflect and to write when they had worked out something important to say. Today there is a real danger that this is being replaced not just by ‘publish or perish’, but also by the need to account for oneself at every twist and turn, and by the constant search for funds. The incentives that are now built into the system are making all of us far too short-term in our focus.

A Balliol colleague reminds me that in the 1920s many scholars in Germany were so far ahead of work elsewhere that they hardly bothered to read the literature of the UK or the USA. Heine Kuhn (Balliol 1950-71) used to say: “When I was a graduate student in Göttingen, when the American Journal of Physics arrived, we didn’t bother to open it. We knew there was nothing in it.” Hitler put paid to all that. It was therefore chilling to hear recently from a distinguished archaeologist in Paris that, today, he looks less and less at the publications of his British counterparts. Of course they are publishing, indeed far more in quantity than ever, but whether they are engaging in long-run research of high quality, with no thought for the immediate needs of the Research Assessment Exercise or the promotion to a professorship is another matter.

Such thoughts have been on my mind for three reasons. One is that, while the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review has released some money, especially for the sciences, the future funding of British universities remains unresolved and, until it is, death by a thousand cuts is still death. A second is that a great Balliol tutor, Paddy Phizackerley, died a week or so before I was writing this letter. Both the Times obituary and the one published here (page 27) remind us that, while he published little, what he did publish changed the lives of many. A third is that, last January, I held a College Assembly (a meeting to which everyone in Balliol is invited) to discuss the College’s finances and those of the students.

At this Assembly, we discussed the growing burden of debt on students (many of them now leave university owing as much as £15,000), and the difficulties that the long run decline in public funding is causing for all parts of higher education, Balliol included. In addition, I drew attention to three key points: (a) the economic evidence shows that higher education almost always results in higher incomes for those who have received it; (b) the social evidence shows that those who benefit still come predominantly from the top three socio-economic groups; and (c) the system is primarily funded through general taxation. For many of us at Balliol who remain committed to the ideal of social justice these are, or ought to be, uncomfortable facts. In essence, the current system of funding is primarily subsidising the rich to get richer, and those who are poorer, on average, are paying for it!

The right solution must include doing more about access (and, as I show below, we are already making progress) and also a substantial change in the funding so that those who benefit most would support those least able to pay for themselves. It is therefore much to be regretted that the Government is reported to have shelved (again) the possibility of a graduate tax and yet still insists on capping tuition fees. Higher fees, plus scholarships for those in need, would create opportunities for all students that will otherwise soon not be there. The Government is keen on the ends, but it appears unwilling to allow the means.

In the meantime, the support that so many of you have given to Balliol is ever more important. The Annual Fund, in particular, is now a significant part of the College’s finances. This year, driven by a Gaudy Committee led from the front by John Colenutt (1981), Annual Giving has achieved, so far, a total of over £250,000. Large gifts in support of Fellowships are also of critical importance as other funding for posts declines. My thanks to all of you.

Aided by you, Balliol continues to be innovative, energetic and successful. This year saw the establishment of bursaries to support the children of Balliol’s older students at the Nursery thanks to a generous gift from Nicola Horlick(1979). We are the first college to provide such bursaries. As we were the first college to set up a play-group and the first to establish a nursery, this new development is especially welcome. Another initiative was the inviting of partners to the Gaudy. We should probably have done this years ago. Even so, we are still amongst the very first colleges to make this move.

The Tutor for Undergraduate Admissions, Martin Conway, assisted by Jane Banham, has been doing much to promote access. Martin, supported by Fellows, lecturers and students, has travelled widely to hold Study Days in state schools and sixth form colleges (including Dudley, Gateshead, Pontefract and Wakefield). Knowing how early young people’s views of university are formed, a group of twelve year olds were welcomed from Bishop David Brown School, a comprehensive in Surrey. They thought Balliol Hall was like the Harry Potter movie! We have also substantially revised our website, with a particular emphasis on the Admissions section. There are some signs of success. Following similar initiatives in the last few years, applications last autumn were up from state schools in the West Midlands and South Tyneside and, this June, the numbers coming to the Open Days were up by more than 50 percent.

There is a theme to these activities. Inviting partners to events, supporting children, travelling to schools (rather than always expecting them to visit us) and ensuring that we have an accessible website, are all part of making sure that Balliol is seen as what it really is: not the province of one stratum of society, but a college whose primary aim is to appeal to exceptional people with diverse talents, whatever their background.

Once here, student achievement speaks for itself. Even in a year in which we slipped from first to tenth in the Norrington table, thirty percent of all our undergraduates achieved firsts. Moreover, I estimate that more than half of the fall is the result of the College standing by a handful of students, each of whom had some sort of serious problem. We like doing well in this table, but we will not sacrifice individuals in order to improve our standing. Looking ahead, if we want to widen access and to make sure that all students achieve their potential - as we do - then more academic support will be essential to help those students who have shown potential despite poor schooling.

Alongside this, there is a new poetry magazine Scrawl, a new literary journal and many theatrical productions. One was performed in the Broad (in conjunction with Trinity!); another, Panic, has been written in Balliol, with many graduates involved at all levels, and is now on its way to the Edinburgh Festival. Alongside this, we won cricket cuppers for the first time in many years, were runners up in basketball and had Blues players in rugby, cricket, hockey, football and karate. We did not fare so well in tortoise racing: Rosa Luxembourg failed to win the annual race by not moving an inch from the starting line. A true Stalinist.

It has been an equally busy year, both intellectually and socially, for the SCR and for Old Members. There has been an even larger than normal number of special lectures, including the Fremantle, the Leonard Stein and the Smithies. And, intermingled with these, there was the spring biennial reunion in New York (with by far the largest turnout of any college), the Deans’ Dinner for major benefactors, the Royal Academy reception, the Gaudy, a Family Day, a dinner for Paul Scofield (who was receiving an Honorary Degree), and, in July, a wonderful buffet lunch to mark the 70th Anniversary of the first Balliol students living at Holywell Manor.

Balliol also featured in the Honours Lists. In particular Colin Lucas and Adam Roberts both received knighthoods. A list of the new Fellows who arrived is on page 5. In December we saw the departures of two longstanding Fellows: sadly, Jonathan Powis (Early Modern History) took early retirement on grounds of health and Joe Stoy (Computation) has decided to venture his skills working for the private sector in the Boston area. Both have been elected to Emeritus Fellowships. We have also elected one new Honorary Fellow, Peter Benenson (1939), the founder of Amnesty International.

It has been an important year for Balliol in terms of decisions. Two major building projects have been given the go-ahead. The most significant is the decision to continue the construction of student rooms along Jowett Walk. This will add a further 46 rooms. The other is the rebuilding of 1 St Giles to accommodate the new Oxford Internet Institute. The work on both of these will start in the autumn.

Establishing the OII has also made this a busy year for me, as I have been combining the Mastership with the role of Acting Director of the OII. I am therefore delighted to say that the new Director, Professor Bill Dutton, arrived a fortnight ago and, apart from the launch conference of the OII that I am organising for this September, the handover is virtually complete.

Three other handovers will occur this summer. Martin Conway passes on the post of Tutor for Undergraduate Admissions to Adam Swift, and Keith Hannabuss completes four years as Vice-Master: my warmest thanks to both. Significantly, John Jones is handing on the Deanship to Diego Zancani. Masters and Vice-Masters may come and go, but, in Balliol, we had begun to think the Deanship was Joneship.

However, John has not gone. He returns next term for a four-year stint as Vice-Master, with the responsibilities of the post slightly expanded, and with these responsibilities linked more closely to the name of the post than has sometimes been the case. As many of you will know, he looked after Balliol as Vicegerent while I was on leave for part of last year, and I am especially pleased to be able to record my thanks here, and to say how much I am looking forward to working with him. Between us and with the support of the Fellows, the staff, the students and our Old Members, we shall endeavour to make sure that Balliol continues to be a leading college in Oxford.

A final note of deep sadness: on the day I was passing this letter to the Editor, Bridget Hill died. She and Christopher were part of the Balliol I joined, and her warmth and directness are qualities I shall admire for ever.

Andrew Graham
July 2002