Embracing change

21st April 2021

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A willingness to accept modernity and embrace change within the context of a grand tradition is how Warden Ken Macdonald QC describes the ethos of Wadham College.

Elite institutions of higher learning have a real role and responsibility to gather people from more marginalised communities and to demonstrate that higher education has a value to everyone who is committed enough and smart enough to take advantage of it

Ken Macdonald QC, Warden

  • Ken Macdonald QC outside the Dr Lee Shau Kee Building

Talking to North American alumni in a discussion hosted by Lissa Muscatine (PPE, 1977) the Warden was reflecting on his Wardenship which started in 2012.

From Nicholas Wadham’s aspirations for the College to the polymaths who went on to found the Royal Society the Warden demonstrated that the future facing ethos of the College has existed since its foundation.

It was under the Wardenship of Maurice Bowra that the College rediscovered its radicalism, providing the foundation for much of the access work that has been carried out since. “The College had an indifferent academic record at the time and Bowra encouraged the Fellows to look further than the young men from public schools who weren’t clever enough to get into Magdalen and ChristChurch”. Bowra encouraged the fellows to take genuinely clever young men from the state schools, leading Wadham to the grammar schools for its students in the post war period.

“The access work that we have been doing since embraces modernity and understanding that things have to change to improve,” said the Warden. “Elite institutions of higher learning have a real role and responsibility to gather people from more marginalised communities and to demonstrate that higher education has a value to everyone who is committed enough and smart enough to take advantage of it,” he added.

Our access work is about fairness and the sheer waste of human potential by elite institutions in previous decades he said.

“The way elite universities recruited over the years you would think it was true that wealthy people had clever children and poorer people didn’t. This was a terrible terrible waste of talent and ability – an extraordinary waste of brilliance. It is easy to recruit from public schools kids who know how to do exams and will come through the system with good degrees. What is much more difficult is to find talent in bad schools and schools which don’t know how to teach children well.”

Oxford has a long way to go in achieving true diversity among its students and academics but the University is moving in the right direction and most colleges are embracing Wadham’s drive towards inclusivity and diversity he said.

“It has been the greatest pleasure of my Wardenship to see this [outreach] work develop, to see the enormous commitment that the fellowship has shown toward it, the great pride the students take in it and the great value it has brought to the College in terms of academic standards and diversity of students.” The generosity of our alumni in funding and supporting our access programmes has been extraordinary he added.

Commenting on the current post-Brexit, mid pandemic climate the Warden foresees many challenges ahead for the University and the College, not least financial. Despite this, “Wadham is feeling confident about its future and optimistic about itself.”

Highlighting the newly opened Dr Lee Shau Kee Building and William Doo Undergraduate Centre in the Back Quad he added: “For us to put these buildings in the centre of our ancient site is a real statement about the College and its confidence in the modern world.” 

After questions from the alumni audience on free speech, Brexit, science and research and international engagement, the Warden concluded: “It has been the greatest pleasure of my professional life serving as Warden at Wadham.”

We normally have the pleasure of hosting an annual reunion for our 800+ alumni in North America as part of the Oxford Meeting Minds events in North America and we very much look forward to returning in person, as soon as circumstances allow. Recorded sessions from this year’s Meeting Minds programme are available here until 23 May. 

We are currently working on our 2021/22 events programme and will let you know as soon as our plans for the coming year are announced. 

 

  • Event screen shot showing new building
  • Event screen shot showing audience

Make your mark - support our Back Quad building project

The Warden was delighted to share hot-off-the-press images of the new buildings at this event, which can be seen in our news story Building for a fairer future.

We are incredibly grateful to our alumni and friends all over the world who have helped secure £16m of our £18m fundraising target for the Back Quad Appeal.  Now in the final phase, you can still make your mark as we prepare for the official opening in Trinity Term 2021.