A postscript on powers to pre-elect

12th March 2014

Emeritus Fellow, Jeffrey Hackney ponders Wadham College’s power to pre-elect its Warden

  • Stuart Hampshire

    Stuart Hampshire, Wadham's first pre-elected Warden, 1970-84. Painting by Lawrence Gowing.

“In a piece in the 2013 Gazette (p.88) and on the College website on the retirement of our previous Visitor I expressed some bafflement as to why the College seemed to need a power to pre-elect its Warden and why it had allowed itself to get into such a tiz on the retirement of Maurice Bowra"

"This is the relevant bit:
‘We are told that when Warden Bowra announced his future retirement date the Fellows could not begin the process of electing his successor until after he had actually retired, because the College statutes contained no power of pre-election.  This was put right during Warden Hampshire’s time and the College felt able to pre-elect Warden Moser.  Some of us have assumed that this power is needed for Wardens and not Fellows because in some mystical way the existence of one Warden (and we can only have one) precludes the possibility of another, even in suspension.  This moderately unconvincing story becomes even less so when it is realised that the prohibitory rule does not seem to apply to Bursars, and some (including our sister College, Christ’s in Cambridge) seem to think you need power to pre-elect even Fellows if a vacancy has not yet occurred.  Pass.’  

Just in case there is anyone out there remotely interested in this fascinating subject, may I offer a tardy afterthought?

Cliff Davies (our College Archivist) points out to me that of course in the good ole days there would have been no need for a power to pre-elect because pre-elections would have been unknown – the college will simply have elected one of the Fellows to become Warden instantly: there would have been no need for the new Warden to give notice to his previous employer.  The question puzzling me was why, when this had ceased to be the practice, it did not simply elect a stranger, so to speak, from a future date when they had cast off the shackles of their existing job.  Enquiries of other legally qualified persons had elicited looks of bafflement.
Further chewing of this cud has led me to the tentative conclusion that I may have been starting at the wrong end.  It is just possible that, as common sense would suggest, there is no need for a power to pre-elect in the Statutes for Wardens any more than there is for Fellows, which is a virtually universal practice.  The Statute on pre-election may be a hamstringing provision regulating the College’s exercise of powers which it had at common law.  In other words, it is saying ‘if you do decide to elect or pre-elect, this is the way you have to do it’.

This statute is not conferring a power, but circumscribing it. So the College would be free to amend this clause or repeal it if that were thought desirable.”

Jeffrey Hackney, March 2014