LMH is today announcing a group of 11 visiting fellows to join the community of people who live work and study in Oxford. Nothing much is new in Oxford, and I freely confess I stole the idea from another college – Nuffield.
That college’s funder, Lord Nuffield, was keen that there should be a form of bridge between the academic and non-academic worlds and came up with the idea of temporary fellows drawn from government, politics, trade unions and other public institutions. When editor of the Guardian I was one of them and used to relish occasional trips down the M40 to sit in on (or even give) a seminar in the David Butler Room, followed by dinner in hall.
Some of those dinners were eclectic affairs. Alongside the students and tutors there would be bishops, bankers, spies, journalists and economists. Lord Nuffield, it seemed to me, was on to something: this was a way of enriching the life of a college and its students, and of blowing oxygen through the corridors.
The governing body at LMH was very receptive to the idea and we came up with our own long list of people in public life we admired and could imagine bringing varied and interesting insights and experience to the whole community – students, staff and tutors. A small committee drew up a short-list. Only one person we approached said no – and purely on the grounds of overstretch.
The obvious thing to note is that – deliberately - only one is an academic. The college already has many very distinguished honorary fellows, most of whom have had notable careers of scholarship. Our visiting fellows bring a different kind of experience. Some never went to university. One left school at 16. But they have all, in their different ways, achieved great distinction in their chosen fields, professions or callings. One or two are very well-know, others are on the route to some sort of stardom. Others will never be gene rally recognised, but are deeply admired in their own area.
What will they do? Well, they are appointed for three years. At a minimum we’d like them to drop in occasionally at college, eat with us and meet informally with a variety of the LMH community. We’d like them to do one thing a bit more structured: it could be a conversation or debate, a performance, a lecture or seminar, a form of outreach – or something we haven’t thought of. We can imagine fascinating interactions or collaborations between them.
They are welcome to come and stay in college if they’d like a place temporarily to think or work. And some have already suggested other ways in which they might engage with a body of 700 incredibly smart students and tutors in order to stimulate their own thinking or work in progress.
LMH is already a deeply interesting place. It just got even more interesting.