WAIS Thanks Anthony Smith

WAIS thanks Anthony Smith, president of Magdalen College, Oxford, for his contribution to its survival and development fund.  I got sidetracked by the history of banking, but here is what I wanted to say about Magdalen College, Oxford, to which I moved after a seven years affiliation with Christ Church,  The view of Magdalen Tower is world-famous, and I was appalled some years ago when students at Stanford in Oxford went to the top and hung a big "BEAT CAL" sign over the side.    I have over my desk a beautiful little mouth painting of Magdalen Tower by Trevor Wells.  It is called a mouth painting because, having no arms, he held the brush between his teeth. It was an incredible feat and, like Helen Keller, Trevor Wells displayed exemplary fortitude.

Oxford University owes a lot to the medieval bishops of Winchester, where I grew up. William of Wykeham founded not only Winchester College but also New College, Oxford. Magdalen College was founded in  1458 by  by William Wayneflete, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor of England. Oxford is quite unlike American universities. The university is the sum of the independent colleges. One result of the different foundations is the confusing nomenclature. Dons (i.e. faculty members) are called Students at Christ Church, while Magdalen uses the more common term Fellows.  On the other hand, Scholars are called Demis at Magdalen, with stress on the final i.  I was a Senior Demi, half way between a Fellow and a Demi. Professorships, although university appointments, are usually attached to a college,  Five Wayneflete Professors are Fellows of Magdalen,

Oxford has nothing like the American Board of Trustees.  The colleges maintain their medieval democracy, and in most cases the head of college is elected.  Christ Church is the exception; it has Oxford cathedral as its center, and the Dean is ex-officio head of the college. At Magdalen he is called President. which means that he presides over the meetings of Fellows.  Anthony Smith tells me that he will soon have to retire, sad news indeed, but also surprising.  One eminent president, Martin Joseph Routh, was elected in 1791 and remained president until his death at age 100 in 1854.  That was too much of a good thing.  Here again my guess is that each college  had a different rule, but that government legislation imposed retirement at a certain age, at a time when the US government was dropping required retirement.  I do not know if this will give President Routh competition in American universities. Knowledge is changing so rapidly that a centenarian would be out of touch with things.  Which brings us to the strange situation in Rome, where the Cardinals are required to retire at age 85, but the Pope is not. The spectacle of  the Catholic Church headed by a man of failing intellectual powers is not an encouraging one.  The Chancellor of Oxford University is a public figure whose role is largely ceremonial. The Vice-Chancellor, corresponding to the president of an American university, was until recently elected from among the heads of college, but the system has been changed;  Anthony Smith may tell us how.

Magdalen has had many illustrious alumni, although I think that word is an Americanism not commonly used in England. The most famous is probably the historian Gibbon. The Stanford historian Robert Conquest is also a product ot Magdalen. I was surprised that Cardinal Wolsey and I have something in common: we were both affiliated with Christ Church and Magdalen.  He was a Fellow at Magdalen when he founded Christ Church. Believe it or not, that was before my time. Although I have no hope of becoming a cardinal, WAIS carries on with modern technology the scholarly tradition of the foundations of Wayneflete and Wolsey. These musings on Magdalen College are not just a tribute to Anthony Smith.  They reflect my belief that, just as churches once formed the intellectual network which held Western civilization together, universities perform that role for the world today.  I hope Anthony Smith will be moved to make some comments on this posting.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:   http://wais.stanford.edu/ Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 10, 2004