Oxford: Magdalen College

Anthony Smith, President of Magdalen College, Oxford comments on the posting about his college:  I would add that the Oxbridge college is overlooked for its virtues as  an enterprise form. The Fellows, to all intents and purposes, 'own'  their colleges. There is no authority above them, not that of the University, not that of any Board of Trustees; they operate under  statutes which they can amend from time to time, so long as the Privy  Council gives permission. The statutes are fairly detailed but there is  seldom any problem about amending some provision or other as times and  circumstancew change.
 Every College has a 'Visitor' (ours is still the Bishop of Winchester)  who administers the oath of office to each successive President and to  whom we can refer disputes as to the correct interpretation of our statutes, should there be any conflict of view. We have not had to do  this for thirty years (since, in fact, there was an issue connected with  the procedure for starting to admit women as students).
 But the colleges are also significant property owners, mainly in  farmland and urban property. My own College now operates the Oxford  Science Park, a flourishing venture which helps in the development of  intellectual property (Oxford now launches a 'spin-out' company on  average once a month). Colleges also administer ancient 'livings' i.e. they appoint the incumbents to parishes all over the country, parishes  with which they have some historic association, still a very  interesting, outward-looking, and social useful way of helping country communities. One College owns a small public concert hall, another the  local theatre, my own owns the ancient Botanic Garden.
The point is that every college, by reason of the responsibilities held  by the Fellows, is anxious to do the best for itself, to compete  successfully with its neighbours and to cooperate successfully in  operating the affairs of a major world university. Our admissions are  meticulously carried out - in the teeth of endless sniping from our
 Government-- and admission is entirely on merit.  The whole administrative  system of the college is a traditional one, with many modern accretions  and reforms, but it is a very satisfyingly democratic one. Salaries are  low and held within a very narrow band, but all of us take on the many  responsibilities entailed in running our economic as well as academic life - otherwise we would not have the resources to carry on. It turns out not to be true that academics are poor at business or management;  many are extremely good at it and the survival of Oxford for nearly a  thousand years is proof of it.
 Contrary to what members of our own Government sometimes say, Oxford is flourishing as a community of colleges and as a University. It is expanding at an unprecedented rate. The quantity of new building, not to  mention new subjects and courses, is impressive to all who come and  look. There have been periods in Oxford history when things have gone  slowly or even backwards, but this is distinctly not one of them.

RH: Stanford in Oxford is housed in buildings owned by Magdalen.

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 20, 2004