Visit of president of Sierra Leone:
On 7 June, the Amersi Foundation Lecture Room was packed for the visit of the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, which we co-hosted with the African Studies Centre. He brought with him the Attorney General and the Ministers of Finance, Agriculture and Tourism. They were in the UK for an Economic meeting on the previous day in London and the Trooping of the Colour on the following day. He has been President of Sierra Leone since 4 April 2018. He is a retired Brigadier General in the Sierra Leone Army and he was the military Head of State of Sierra Leone from 16 January 1996 to 29 March 1996 under a military Junta government. The President is part way through a PhD in International Relations in Bradford University but probably has little time for that now!
He first addressed a lunch for Fellows where he answered questions. At 2pm he spoke to about 130 about the challenges faced by his country, which is one of the world’s poorest but is keen to develop. A consistent strand of the speech was that the West (in particular its media) did not understand Africa. The President also emphasised his desire to stamp out corruption (which he said had been rampant under the predecessor regime) and to extend free education to all. He has set up an independent commission of inquiry focused on corrupt officials from past administrations, with the aim of recovering money that was pilfered from public funds, and using it toward the new development goals.
He stressed that he wanted trade rather than aid. There was a lively Q&A and many members of the Sierra Leonian diaspora asked questions. He spoke about his decision during the civil war to meet the rebel leader.
It was a great opportunity to hear about a fascinating country.
Blurbs and sleep:
Our latest blurbs was on 14 June with the SCR speaker, the redoubtable Professor Russell Foster, who is Supernumerary Fellow and Professor in Circadian Neuroscience. The title of his talk was 'Light, Body Clocks and Sleep: Biology to Health'. He spoke entertainingly of the role of light and suprachronatic nuclei and what happens to the sleeping brain in terms of developing memories, emotional processing of information and emotional responses. Minas Salib spoke for the HCR as a DPhil student in Pharmacology. The title of his talk was 'Your brain has got rhythm even if you don't - the rhythmic brain: how we remember and find our way in the world'. He concentrated on spatial navigation. As usual it was a fascinating evening.
Joint Service with Lincoln:
On 9 June, we held the Sung Eucharist for Pentecost with Baptism and Confirmation as a Joint Service with Lincoln College, which we do annually. We welcomed 38 students from Lincoln and the joint choirs performed brilliantly. The Sermon was given by the Rt Rev Dr Nick Chamberlain, Bishop of Grantham, in my part of the world. We also had with us the Rector of Lincoln College, Professor Henry Woudhuysen. The following were confirmed during the service: Dominic Wilks from Lincoln; Francesca Peacock from Lincoln and Max-Sebastian Dovi’, a Brasenose final year student in MPhil Economics.
The Bishop in his sermon spoke of the two rather different patron saints of the College Chapel, Chad who was an Anglo-Saxon monk who lived on Lindisfarne and Hugh, a diplomat who served Plantagenet Kings such as Henry II and King John. He was amongst other things a protector of the Jews and started the St Giles' Fair. Both saints held special memories for the Bishop, who had studied at St Chad’s College, Durham, and worships now and was ordained to be a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Lincoln, where St Hugh was bishop in the 12th century.
A Special Friday:
Friday 14 June was busy even by the usual standards of Brasenose. At lunch Sir Ivor Crewe (Master of University College), a member of the Augar Review team on the Funding of Post-16 Education, spoke to the Fellowship about the reasoning behind the report. This was on Chatham House terms, so I will not go further into the fascinating insight he gave of the reasoning behind the recommendations (tempting though it is).
I then went to the Sportsground with my tennis racquet to participate in what was billed as a Brasenose – Lincoln contest (no jokes about dual loyalties please!). The Sports Day was organised by the JCR. No-one from Lincoln in fact turned up to play tennis (chicken!) so we played doubles amongst Brasenose, as the Brazen Racquets Duo of the Bursar and myself. I must admit to not having realised the talent we have in the College in tennis. Suffice it to say that we got thumped by one pair, and then I engineered a change in teams! It was a great if windy afternoon and there were several other sports too (and free ice cream).
At 5.15pm, Prof Sir Mike Stratton spoke in the Amersi Foundation Lecture Room. He was appointed Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in 2010 and was knighted in 2013 for services to medical science. His most famous discovery was the identification of the BRCA2 breast cancer gene, which is now used in predictive tests in women with a family history of the disease.
Mehroz Ehsan, our former President of the HCR (who has just finished his DPhil) discussed Sir Michael’s time at Brasenose, his research career and the future of genetic research in the era of big data, and artificial intelligence.
He spoke of the enormous amount of genome data which can now be processed, even compared to a few years ago, and the future which may be synthetic genomics. He also touched on some of the sensitive ethical issues which arise if there is a right of everyone to have their data. There was a very lively question and answers session. I want to thank Mehroz for taking the initiative in asking a great friend of the College and of mine.
I arrived slightly late for the “Music at Brasenose” concert in the Antechapel which was billed as “including classical works, jazz standards and songs from musicals”. This rather underplayed the many different genres on display from our extraordinarily talented musicians. I particularly enjoyed the rendition by the Brasenose Jazz Band of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Joe Zawinul.
We then moved on to a massive High Table of 44 to cap a terrific day.
We congratulate these alumni who received an honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List: Graeme Henderson Biggar, lately Director, Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, Home Office: a CBE for services to National Security; Charles Francis Houghton Beckford, Director, Foreign and Commonwealth Office: OBE (Diplomatic and Overseas List) for services to National Security; Richard Jay: BEM for services to Young People and Music in Northern Ireland; and Brig. Michael Charles Reade: Member (AM) in the Military Division – Australia for exceptional performance of duty as the Director of Clinical Services of the 2nd General Health Battalion and Professor for Military Medicine and Surgery.
We are very sad to note the passing of our Honorary Fellow Martin Feldstein. He was a most remarkable economist. I enjoyed the conversations I had with him in college. He had a long and careful stewardship of the National Bureau of Economic Research which celebrates its centenary next year. It is based between Harvard and MIT, and draws on not just both of those august institutions, but nowadays a vast international network. They mount workshops and conferences, and publish books and working papers. The working paper series is now 26,000 strong.
We congratulate Prof Elspeth Garman, one of our Kurti Senior Fellows, on her Receipt of the Eleventh Max Perutz Prize of the European Crystallographic Association.
I hope you are enjoying Killing Eve, part of which was shot in Brasenose Lane just below the Lodgings.
I have been reading Siege the second book by Michael Wolff about the Trump White House.