A fond send-off for Wolfson Fellow Duncan Maskell

On Tuesday, Wolfson Fellows Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (left) and Professor Gordon Dougan (right) joined Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope and many friends and colleagues to wish Professor Duncan Maskell well in his new role as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The latest step in a remarkable career

Professor Maskell has served as Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Cambridge for the last three years. He began his association with Cambridge studying Natural Sciences and Pathology, then went on to hold positions at Wellcome Biotech, the University of Oxford, and Imperial College London. In 1996 he returned to Cambridge and became the first Marks and Spencer Professor of Farm Animal Health, Food Science and Food Safety in the Department of Veterinary Medicine, and a Wolfson Fellow in 1998. In 2004, he became Head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and then Head of the School of the Biological Sciences in 2013, before becoming Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor

Sir Leszek said, “It was a pleasure to work with Duncan during my time as Vice-Chancellor, and I greatly appreciated his leadership and advice as Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor, and as Head of the School of Biological Sciences. He was tireless and outstanding in his role as Head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine, and his intellect, hard work and passion for all things Cambridge have benefited the University greatly over many years. 

I know many at the University will be sad to see him leave, but I would also like to congratulate Duncan on his fully deserved appointment as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne."

In addition to his achievements at the University, Professor Maskell has had an active entrepreneurial career as co-founder of four biotech companies, a member of the Cambridge Enterprise Seed Fund investment committee, a Board member of Genus plc, and a Board member of Cambridge Innovation Capital.

Reflections on Wolfson

Professor Maskell gave the keynote speech* at the recent Wolfson Foundation Day Dinner, where he shared his memories of Wolfson and his thoughts on the future not only of the College, but also on higher education in general. He began by pointing out that Wolfson members are "some of the most fortunate people alive", not just for their association with Cambridge University but "because we have managed to become part of this extraordinary community that is Wolfson". As a student from a "relatively humble state-school" background, coming to Cambridge in 1979 was a life-changing experience for Professor Maskell. At that time, Mrs Thatcher had just become Prime Minister, and women had just been admitted as students at his College, Gonville and Caius. It was to be several years before that College admitted women as Fellows.

He continued, "Wolfson is a really special place. During my time here I have been on Council more than once, I have chaired the Bursarial Committee, which became the Finance Committee. I have been involved in appointing a Bursar and two Senior Tutors, and have been privileged to know three fantastic Presidents. I have made many friends and enjoyed enormously hearing about the lives and studies of many students. 

The College has changed a great deal over those twenty or so years. New buildings have been built and opened, the endowment has grown, and Wolfson has become, I would like to think, the College of choice for mature undergraduates and postgraduate students. 

One of the things I have always loved about Wolfson is that it is so international. Our website claims that we currently have 90 different nationalities represented in the College. I have learned so much from talking to our colleagues and friends from overseas. I will never forget a young woman Press Fellow here from Zimbabwe who explained how every story that she published in her newspaper ran the risk of attracting the ire of Mr Mugabe and his thugs. We need to stick closely to the College’s values of openness and honesty, and continue to provide the warmest welcome to our friends from all countries of the world.

As we move onward within a changing higher education landscape, and try to preserve the best bits of our universities against various market-driven challenges, we need to give serious consideration to what our unique College system can contribute, and especially how Wolfson fits in, and indeed can provide a lead.

I am delighted that Professor Jane Clarke has had a very successful first year as President, and I am very sure that she is the right person, with her energy, clear-mindedness, and ability to generate just the right amount of challenge, to take us forward on these many fronts with maximum success. As the College motto says, Ring True, and I am completely confident that this central principle will underpin all that is done here over the next few years."

Best of luck to Professor Maskell and we look forward to welcoming you back to Wolfson in the future.

* A complete version of Professor Maskell's speech can be read on Medium.