President Post: Happy New Year 2016

5 January 2016

Writing a blog over the festive season gives a welcome opportunity to reflect – and to do so whilst enjoying the usual rituals, such as listening to John Lennon’s ‘And so this is Christmas (war is over)’, although unfortunately the accompanying video with the song was rather depressing, dwelling on the horrors of war, past and present, around the globe, without the offsetting optimism that the classic song includes (‘…And a Happy New Year, Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any tears’).

But to start with where we are – a war-torn globe – at least the Oxford colleges are seeking to provide places and scholarships for academics seeking asylum, and for students from beleaguered areas without the means to pay for themselves to study with us.

And here it is a genuine pleasure to be able to acknowledge the fantastic support that the College’s donors give to such students, not only at this time of year but throughout their studies.  Seeing such scholarship students matriculate, then study and play a full part in the life of the College and University – social, cultural, sporting and artistic, and finally graduate, often with family and loved ones from across the globe joining them for the Degree Day Ceremony at the Sheldonian Theatre and then back at Kellogg, is always tremendous.  That is what the College is, fundamentally, for.

Equally, delivering that ‘Oxford experience’ for our students is my primary role – although of course that cannot happen without outstanding and well-motivated staff, inspirational and engaged fellows, a supportive University, and a network of alumni, friends, donors and volunteers who can ensure that Kellogg has the capacity and capabilities to deliver for our students.

Jonathan Michie with graduating students Susan Njambi-Szlapka (left) & Gayathri Balan, in November 2015

Jonathan Michie with graduating students Susan Njambi-Szlapka (left) & Gayathri Balan, in November 2015

That might sound like a challenging list of requirements to be responsible for, but at Kellogg it is the easiest job in the world. Firstly, it is a genuine pleasure to work with our students, staff, fellows and others. Secondly, the whole process is self-reinforcing. The greatest possible feedback our staff and fellows can receive is from our students excelling.  And this is often reinforced by the family and friends of our students reporting at Degree Days great stories of Kellogg they’d been told as ‘their’ student (partner, child, parent, or other loved one) had been progressing through on their Oxford journey with us.

Indeed, one of the University’s leading figures told me recently that in his view, the reason that Kellogg does well in student feedback surveys is that unlike the other colleges – where, he said, fellows tend to see the College as being for their benefit – at Kellogg the fellows as well as the staff and all other College members see the purpose and aim of the College as being to support our students.

I hadn’t thought of it in this way previously – apart from anything else, not wishing to think ill of the other colleges!  But certainly as far as Kellogg goes, this is I think absolutely right.  I think we do all see our purpose and goal as being to support our students, and to ensure they enjoy and appreciate the very best ‘Oxford experience’.  And from this, all else follows: appreciative, enthusiastic and successful students; a tremendous programme of activities in College, led and supported by the student body – of academic, cultural, artistic, sporting and social events; and an environment where our fellows, Common Room Members, Research Members of Common Room, and other friends of the College genuinely feel welcomed, interested and enthused.

Long may it continue!  And certainly into 2016, when amongst other things we will be welcoming our new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, who has accepted an Honorary Fellowship of Kellogg College; and, we trust, we will receive planning permission to proceed with the building of our proposed new café and Common Room at the heart of the College site, creating an accessible and welcoming meeting space for all our College members and friends.  Here’s to another happy and successful year, throughout 2016!

Jonathan Michie