Sunday, September 26, 2010

Presentation to the Visitor

Last Saturday, Somerville College officially inaugurated its new Principal, Dr. Alice Prochaska. The ceremony is actually known as “Presentation to the Visitor” with “Visitor” here not meaning something out of star trek, but rather meaning the Chancellor of the University – the Lord Patten of Barnes.

[The person with the real power at the top of the administration is actually the Vice-Chancellor. The Chancellor is mainly a figure head, but does preside at formal occasions such as this one.]

During the ceremony of “Presentation,” the Fellows of the College gather, in academic gowns, in the Senior Common Room. Many were dressed in Black and Red, the Somerville colors. (I was happy just to have found a clean shirt and did not think much about the color). Then the senior fellow of the College, Mrs Lesley Brown, presents the principal-elect to the visitor.

[Mrs Lesley Brown has been a distinguished scholar of Ancient Philosophy at Oxford for many many years – having been elected fellow at Somerville College in 1970, and even having chaired the Philosophy department for several years since then. However, having been elected fellow so young, she actually never bothered to obtain her DPhil or PhD, and is thus listed as Mrs rather than Dr or Professor]

Mrs Brown then did the “presentation”, reading the officially prescribed text, in English (Of all the times when Latin might have been appropriate, this might have been one – being that Mrs Brown is a Latin expert).
I, Mrs Lesley Brown, Fellow of Somerville College, in the University of Oxford hereby declare the Dr Alice Prochaska was formally elected Principal of said College, in Succession to Dame Fiona Caldicott at the stated meeting of the Governing Body held on the 17th June 2009.

Then the Principal Elect makes her declaration:
I, Alice Prochaska, hereby declare that I will faithfully perform the duties of my office as Principal of Somerville College, and will observe the Statutes and By-laws of the College in force for the time being

People were a little puzzled by the phrase “for the time being” that occurs in this declaration, but that is what is officially prescribed in our statutes (although no one could quite explain why this phrase is inserted).

And finally the Visitor confirms that this has been witnessed
I, the Right Honourable Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and Visitor of Somerville College in the University of Oxford, hereby declare that Mrs Lesley Brown, Fellow of Somerville College, having announced to me on this twenty-fifth day of September 2010 that Dr Alice Prochaska had been duly elected Principal of Somerville College, presented to me Dr. Prochaska as said Principal. The said Dr Prochaska declared before me that she would faithfully perform the duties of the office of Principal of Somerville College and would observe the Statutes and By-laws of the College in force for the time being.

That first sentence is a bit hard to Parse, huh?

After the ceremony, toasts were made to Somerville and to our new Principal, and we all adjourned to the Margaret Thatcher Centre (the Iron Lady was a Somervillian) for lunch. This gave the fellows a chance to catch up with each other after their respective summers away.

At one point (after only about four champagnes) I found myself sitting next to the Visitor, the Lord Patten. I should have done my research about him in advance so that I could have intelligently argued with his disparaging remarks about the Black-Scholes equation -- although if his remarks were focused entirely on the excesses of the system and rather than on the wisdom of the Nobel prize, we might have agreed entirely.

Incidentally, you can also read the new principal's view on this event on her blog.

1 comment:

Tony said...

You can't argue with his use of the word gimcrack though. Awesome.