Thursday, October 29, 2009

The man who saved Oxford University
Justin Cartwright in The Spectator
17 October 2009

As the controversial Dr Hood stands down as vice chancellor, those of us who resented his attempts to modernise should offer him our heartfelt apologies, says Justin Cartwright

The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford is an astonishing building, designed by Christopher Wren. Its painted ceiling has just been restored, so that the darkish miasma that was Robert Streeter’s original allegory of truth and light striking the university, is now bright with playful cherubs and lustrous clouds. Here, bookended by large chunks of Latin, a new vice chancellor is to be admitted to the job. He is Andrew David Hamilton, his name Latinised for the ceremony into Andreas. He is not an Oxford man, having arrived here by way of Exeter, Cambridge and Princeton, where he was Provost. Later you could tell that he was not an Oxford man: he pronounced ‘Cherwell’, in his amusing and rather post-prandial speech, as ‘Churwell’.

Waiting for the procession to enter and looking at the ceiling, this sub-Michelangelo heavenly frolic, I wonder just how much it has cost to restore. This may be a university, but it is also a place stuffed with priceless treasures in astonishing buildings and all these have to be maintained. The Bodleian Library, next to the Sheldonian, is one of the great libraries of the world. As well as holding most of the books printed in England since the first quarter of the 17th century, it houses priceless printed texts, manuscripts and collections. Soon it will have a permanent display centre and a new book depository is being built. Money is the subtext of all these ancient rituals and historic demands. It is also the subtext of the outgoing vice chancellor’s oration. Over the past five years, Hood has divided dons and members of the university with his proposals for reform. This is one of the most charged handovers in the history of Oxford.

Read the full story at The Spectator.

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