Principal's Blog: 27th March 2024


JB stock photo to use Sept 2021This term has sped by with lots of College events and celebrations as well as our “core business” of academic achievement. It has been a few weeks since my last blog simply because of the pressure of events.

The pace continued after term as Suzanne and I visited alumni in Hong Kong between 11 and 17 April. As always we received a warm welcome, visited several people on a one to one basis and held a superb reception in a club kindly sponsored by Nick Ho. It was interesting to hear rather different views expressed by different alumni as to the situation of Hong Kong vis a vis China.

We congratulate Prof. Perla Maiolino and Prof. Jeremy Robertson who have both won MPLS awards for Outstanding Research Supervision.

We were favoured with a visit by our Visitor the Bishop of Lincoln on 18 February. The newly installed Bishop is the Right Rev Stephen Conway whose inauguration I attended on behalf of the College in the incomparable Lincoln Cathedral. He preached in chapel and the following day met a cross section of our College community.

Frankland Visitor and other events

Our Frankland Visitor Joanna Kavenna has put on a couple of fascinating panel sessions. The first on 5th March 530pm tackled the subject ‘What the hell is going on with the AI Apocalypse?’ The A list panel consisted of Eliane Glaser, David Malone and Laurence Scott as well as Joanna. The panel discussed whether we are heading for an AI apocalypse or whether Terminator-style prophecies were overblown. Along the way they talked of major aspects of democracy, transparency, ethics and freedom. The overall tone was somewhat pessimistic I would say. On the following night there was a podcast recording and informal panel discussion consisting of Sally Bayley, Aida Edemariam and Joanna Kavenna on 'A Reading Life, a Writing Life’. This considered life writing, memoir and writing fiction about real people.

Our alum James Johnson took part in a fascinating joint meeting on 27 February between the Principals Conversation series and the PPE Society. James was a pollster for Theresa May’s Number 10 and then set up a successful polling organisation with one of his PPE tutors, Tom Lubbock. James now lives in the USA so was able to give a great conspectus of politics on both sides of the Atlantic, including very perceptive comments on Trump’s quest for another term of office.

Music; Platnauer Concert

In the Platnauer Concert on Friday 2nd February, Jenny Bliss Bennett, Yair Avidor and David Gordon performed a programme of 17th century music for baroque violin, theorbo and chamber organ. The programme showcased three sonatas by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, which were paired with pieces for solo theorbo and solo organ and interspersed with improvisations.

The following Friday two of our instrumental scholars, Maia Broughton (trombone) and Holly Bartlett (bagpipes) presented an eclectic programme of music for trombone and piano, ranging from Saint-Saëns to music from Broadway, and traditional Scottish music for bagpipes.

Ale Verses was I think the best since I arrived. As most readers will know, the evening consists of often raucous ditties to the tune of popular songs many of which even I know. A general theme this year was a film of which I watched only the first 29 minutes called Saltburn part of which was filmed in college. I congratulate all who provided the songs and those playing them. The composers remain anonymous save for the winners who were [      ]

‘Debating the Difficult’

We are part of a consortium of colleges putting on events entitled ‘Debating the Difficult’. This term we considered the issue of assisted dying at Brasenose. The Colleges involved are Balliol, Brasenose, Mansfield, Regents Park, Somerville and Worcester.

The debates use a series of tips developed by students and academics (and approved by the Free Speech Union) which are designed to facilitate respectful debate while protecting everyone’s right to freedom of speech. They were launched in a pilot in November 2023 on the topic of migration.

The arguments for legalising assisted dying were led by former Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer, and Ilora Finlay, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Professor of Palliative Medicine at Cardiff University. They were seconded respectively by our own PPE student James Forsdyke and Yuan Yi Zhu, Assistant Professor of International Relations and International Law at Leiden University.


L-R: Lord Falconer, James Forsdyke, Baroness Finlay, Yuan Yi Zhu

A poll taken before the event showed a slight majority in favour of assisted dying. Audience members of all views listened attentively to the arguments on both sides during a debate which was civil and respectful. A concluding poll showed a reduced majority in favour of assisted dying.

Next term’s debate – the subject of which is yet to be agreed – will be held at Balliol College.

The Bursar represented the College at the funeral of Nat Fiennes. This was a magnificent yet personal event at Broughton Castle, and a celebration of the incredible range of interests that Nat Fiennes supported over his long life. He was 103 and was Land Agent for the College for many years.


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