The last 100 days have been some of the most exhausting but also most rewarding of my professional career.
I have spent much of the time simply getting to know the Wolfson Community – students, Fellows, College Research Associates, academic visitors and staff as well as the many, many supporters – Emeritus Fellows, alumni, Senior Members and donors. Everywhere I have been welcomed, and people have shared their experiences with me – what they value about Wolfson. The message always seems to be the same – a place of warmth, of support and, for many, a place that changed their lives.
I have met alumni, not just here in Cambridge and in London, but also in Canada and Israel, when I was on scientific trips abroad (and I will be in San Francisco in February). These have been important meetings. What is clear is that once a member of Wolfson College, you are a member of a worldwide network of interesting and influential people, a network on which, to date, we have perhaps failed to capitalise.
I have been learning how the College works – the mysterious ways of decision making, understanding the important roles of all the different college departments – finding out where the wisdom lies, sometimes struggling to do the simplest of tasks. Of course, the easiest way is to ask the Porters (who have lived up to their reputation of being the most helpful Porters in town) but that would just be cheating.
My husband Chris and I have wined and dined for Wolfson too! Formal Halls, invitation to dinner with other Heads of House and their partners, lunches and dinners with students, senior members and donors – a night at home with a simple supper (in our newly painted Lodge) is a luxury.
But the most important task I have is to look ahead. Our institution - any institution - must adapt to changes in the world outside and strive to become more successful at what we do. I am challenging the entire Wolfson family to ask the question: what do we want to look like at our 75th anniversary? Where do we want to be in 10 years’ time? And this at a time when we, above all an international community, face particular problems that are not of our making: the dramatic fall in over-21 year old applicants to higher education, bought about by rising costs of attending university; the change in the balance between 3-year and 1-year graduate students, meaning that we have more students coming for shorter periods; Brexit and the concern that an apparent climate of hostility here in the UK could deter outstanding international students and scholars. How do we manage all this?
My focus is on the key business and principles of Wolfson College: the business of teaching, learning and research – and our core principles of equality and desire to celebrate diversity.
We must attract the best students and scholars to Wolfson and ensure that we can offer all who deserve it the opportunity to come to Cambridge and find the support and resources they need when they get here.
We need to develop Wolfson as a more vibrant and diverse centre of learning and culture, a place where the finest research is aired, a place where the most important ideas are debated and shared. This will enhance the appeal and profile of Wolfson not just to students and academic visitors but to wider constituencies at home and abroad.
We need to build stronger relationships with the world outside; not simply within the University but with local and international industries and corporations; with places of learning within the UK and abroad. These relationships can both support our current students and help us build a secure future. Here our fellowship and alumni can play a very important role. And I would like to acknowledge the generosity of our donors and supporters as well as the commitment and achievements of our Development Office in securing and managing gifts, bequests and pledges - in excess of £1million in recent months - which make a considerable contribution to Wolfson and the support we are able to offer students.
We are just beginning the conversation that will help us move forward together – the process of discussion with Fellows, of welcoming insights from the wider College community and beyond, of exploring issues and options and sharing ideas, and of distilling all this into a set of clear objectives that will inform our strategic plan for Wolfson’s future. Thank you for all your contributions thus far and please do keep the dialogue going.
A challenging yet exciting journey lies ahead. I look forward to sharing this with you as together we work to develop and achieve our vision for the Wolfson of tomorrow.