With Christmas Greetings
and all Good Wishes
for the New Year
Rhodes House, Oxford
PRIVATE ♦ NOT FOR PUBLICATION
Oxford OX1 3RG
Dear fellow Rhodes Scholar
You will, I suspect, not be surprised that I am writing to you from an extremely and unusually snowy Oxford. Despite the disruption caused by the current big freeze, Oxford itself looks even more beautiful than usual now that it is blanketed in snow. The Rhodes House garden, which won a silver medal in the ‘Oxford in Bloom’ competition earlier this year, has today been an ocean of white, and fresh snow is falling as I write.
Monday of this week was an inspiring day of contrasts – of looking forward with hope and confidence, and looking back with gratitude and pride. For me at least, these form motifs for the year now drawing to a close.
On Monday night, nearly 100 current Scholars and staff, joined by my distinguished predecessor Sir Colin Lucas and his wife Mary Louise Hume, enjoyed a delightful Christmas dinner in Milner Hall – and only the terrible weather kept Lady (Gill) Williams and Sir Anthony and Nancy Kenny from joining us. The quality of our current Scholars, apparent to anyone who meets them at social activities here at Rhodes House, was again evident.
That quality can be seen in the details we circulated in September about the Scholars going down and in the details we have been putting on the website about the Scholars-elect for 2011. I know that I am far from alone in being delighted at the first-ever election of an Indigenous Australian as a Rhodes Scholar – Rebecca Richards, elected for Australia-at-Large.
The calibre of current Rhodes Scholars is evident to me every day I meet with them individually to discuss their plans and progress and, yes, of course, also their problems. It is reflected in the academic success of Scholars in Oxford; for example, again this summer some 45% of Scholars completing taught Masters degrees secured Distinctions. It is apparent in the participation and achievements of Scholars in sport (most recently in the contribution of two Rhodes Scholars to Oxford’s 21-10 victory in the Varsity match at Twickenham), and in debating, music, theatre, and much else. It is evident in the leadership roles which Scholars play around the University – including as Middle Common Room office-holders and as Junior Deans in many colleges – and in the contributions they make to debate and action on issues both global and local. It is obvious in the way they engage with visiting speakers here at Rhodes House, as well as in their fundraising activities for Southern Africa and for relief and reconstruction after the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistani floods, and swimming the Channel for children’s hospitals – and so much more.
Many aspects of this were captured in a video of ‘glimpses’ of life in the Rhodes community during the last academic year. The video was prepared by a recent Scholar, Salih Solomon (South African College School & Oriel 2004), and you may already have seen it circulated in the October ‘Rhodes e-News’. The new academic year has started even better than one could hope, with the Rhodes class of 2010 settling well into Oxford, and morale amongst Scholars seeming high.
So, as I sat in Milner Hall on Monday night enjoying the turkey and slightly too much Christmas pudding, I could not help but think with confidence and hope of the remarkable calibre of our current Scholars, and of the great promise they hold for the future. It is a privilege to work with them.
Earlier on Monday, in a small church in an equally snowy village in West Sussex, I spoke at the funeral of one of the most remarkable of Rhodes alumni, Professor Sir Fritz Caspari (Germany & St John’s 1933) , who died on 1 December at the age of 96. Fritz – a historian of Renaissance humanism who became a post-war German diplomat - was born before the outbreak of the First World War, and elected as a Rhodes Scholar before Hitler came to power. Irreconcilably opposed to the Nazis, he lived in the US from 1939 to 1954, teaching and working as a librarian, and was twice interned during the war. Fritz returned to Germany in 1954 to join the foreign service of the fledgling Federal Republic. He did much to promote Anglo-German friendship; served as the principal foreign affairs adviser to the President of West Germany from 1969 to 1974; and, as German Ambassador to Portugal from 1974 to 1979, contributed to the democratisation of Portugal after its ‘carnation revolution’.
A friend in the 1930s of Albrecht von Bernstorff (Germany & Trinity 1909) and of Adam von Trott (Germany & Balliol 1931), both of whom were executed in 1944-45 for their roles in the resistance to Hitler, Fritz believed that the Rhodes Scholarship not only shaped his life but saved his life: that had he not been able, through friendships made in Oxford, to emigrate to the United States in 1939 and to stay there, he would have joined those German friends as a victim of the Nazi tyranny. You may be interested to read about this inspiring Rhodes Scholar on our website , and to watch a video there which captures aspects of his extraordinary life. It is a reminder, not only of the impact of the Scholarship on individuals, but of the impact of Scholars - of some of the innumerable ways in which Rhodes Scholars for more than a century have fought ‘the world’s fight’, sometimes in dangerous and difficult circumstances.
Just days before his death, Fritz had been remembered admiringly at the largest ever gathering of German Rhodes Scholars – a dinner in Munich which marked the 40th anniversary of the post-war reinstatement in 1969-70 of the Rhodes Scholarships for Germany, and which thanked Thomas Böcking (Germany & University College 1970) and Silvia Böcking for their outstanding service to the Scholarships during Thomas’s tenure as German National Secretary (1979-2010). The theme of that evening was gratitude: gratitude to Thomas and Silvia, and gratitude to the Scholarship which all of us had found life-transforming. There is no doubt also that Fritz Caspari felt profound gratitude for the impact of the Scholarship on his life, and sought over subsequent decades to manifest his deep appreciation in many ways, not least to help secure (in the case of Germany, restore) the Scholarship for the future.
This year we have also looked back with gratitude and pride on the contributions which others who have died have made to the Rhodes community – most notably but far from solely, to the warm hospitality and understanding which Mrs Jinny Fletcher offered so generously to Scholars during the years that she and Dr Fletcher (my Warden) were at Rhodes House (1980-89); to the outstanding service which David Alexander (Tennessee & Christ Church 1954)
gave as US National Secretary to the Trust from 1981 to 1998, as well as his leadership in liberal arts college education; and to the inspiration which Rex Nettleford (Jamaica & Oriel 1957) gave to Jamaican and Commonwealth Caribbean Scholars and others, not least through his leadership in higher education, cultural awakening, and active citizenship in the Caribbean.
There are tributes on the Rhodes House website to these much-missed members of our community, and tributes also to all other Scholars of whose deaths this year we have become aware. These tributes – like the new and growing lists on the website of 'recent appointments of Rhodes Scholars' and ‘recent books by Rhodes Scholars’ – reflect the extraordinary contributions of Rhodes Scholars in so many fields around the globe. As Warden, meeting alumni in and from many countries, I am deeply conscious of this: of good people doing good in so many corners of the world.
I was reminded of this again, for example, when we hosted a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Rhodes class of 1960. I was reminded of it also when, waiting at Cape Town airport in August, I spotted that the most prominent books on Nelson Mandela were by Rhodes Scholars – Mandela’s Way: lessons on life by Richard Stengel (New York & Christ Church 1977), and Nelson Mandela by Elleke Boehmer (South Africa-at-Large & St John’s 1985). Rick Stengel had collaborated with Mr Mandela on his 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and in his latest book underlines the lessons we can learn from him. Another close collaborator of Mr Mandela’s, of course, is Shaun Johnson (South Africa-at-Large & St Catherine’s 1982), whose 1993 book Strange Days Indeed was described by Mr Mandela as ‘a unique, vivid, eyewitness diary’ of the end of apartheid. Shaun (as chief executive) and his team are doing excellent work at the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, which supports African students undertaking postgraduate study in South Africa: the Mandela Rhodes Scholars who come on to Oxford as Rhodes Scholars (typically now about two a year) are outstanding.
Fritz Caspari was very conscious that, when Cecil Rhodes created the German Rhodes Scholarships in a codicil to his will in 1901, he wrote: ‘The object is that an understanding between the three great powers [the British Empire, as it then was, the United States, and Germany] will render war impossible and educational relations make the strongest tie.’ It became clear to me from my disparate reading during the year that, in the early decades of the Scholarship, this goal of encouraging international understanding and peace was very prominent among Rhodes Scholars. It was at least as prominent in the minds of many as the goal which Fritz Caspari’s exact contemporary, Justus Carl von Ruperti (Germany & University College 1933), in a letter to Warden C K Allen in 1935, called ‘public service to the common good’. Perhaps in recent decades we have given more weight to this notion of public service and less to the promotion of international understanding.
As, over the last 18 months, Scholars around the world have been increasingly engaged in helping to debate, shape, and secure the future of our Scholarship, questions posed in our ‘strategic dialogue’ about ‘The Rhodes Scholarships for the 21st century’ have included: From what countries should Rhodes Scholars be drawn over the decades ahead? How should we think today about Rhodes’s vision for promoting international understanding?
These and other questions have been vigorously and constructively debated in forums of nearly 200 Scholars in New York in April during the University’s North American Reunion, and of over 120 Scholars in Oxford during the Oxford University Alumni Weekend in September; and very many other Scholars have contributed ideas in smaller groups and individually, in person and in writing. Although not always able to acknowledge every contribution individually, I am extremely grateful for this important input and involvement. I hope you won't mind if I briefly review here where we have reached.
As you may know, our consultation process has already produced many significant outcomes. The desire of current Scholars for more opportunities for mixing between Scholars of different countries has helped shape our social activities at Rhodes House. The widespread desire for greater interaction between current Scholars and alumni, including during the transition of Scholars at the end of their time in Oxford, has led to our sending out the details of Scholars going down, and to including current Scholars in the increased alumni activities (such as during the University Alumni Weekend, and in the ten Rhodes countries which I have visited this year) and our increased communications (such as ‘Rhodes e-News’). A taskforce of Scholars from several countries has been making progress on proposals for an online Rhodes community which will enable greater interaction and involvement of us all in the global community of Rhodes Scholars.
I am not sure that I know a way to make governance seem interesting; but it is very important, indeed crucial. It was striking recently to see that the just-announced governance reforms at Harvard follow very much the same themes as our reforms of the last year. As you know, arising from our consultation and a call for nominations, we have new governance protocols and eight new Rhodes Trustees . The new Trustees mean, not only that we have more Rhodes Scholars serving as Trustees than ever before, but that we have a greater global spread; and this is very healthy. Along with five Rhodes alumni of distinction, energy, and commitment, the new Trustees include the highly respected Indian businessman, Mr Narayana Murthy, who chaired our Indian selection committee for several years; the former President of Botswana, His Excellency Festus Mogae, who is one of only two winners of the Ibrahim Prize for an African leader who governs well and then retires; and Professor Margaret MacMillan, a Canadian, Warden of St Antony’s, and much-acclaimed international historian.
The recent call for nominations for the Chairmanship of the Rhodes Trustees, to succeed Lord Waldegrave when he retires as Chairman in December 2011, is a significant further step in Scholar involvement. Already many thoughtful nominations have been received. Further nominations should be sent to me by 31 January, please. In 2011 we will thank William Waldegrave for his distinguished service to the Trust as Chairman since 2002, and as a Trustee since 1992. In 2010, on their retirements, we have warmly thanked Lord Fellowes, Lord Kerr, and Mr Tom Seaman for their valued contributions as Trustees.
Our governance reforms also mean that we now have four Trustee committees focusing on the Rhodes Scholarship itself and on what is necessary to ensure that it remains in perpetuity a scholarship of the highest quality and standing, and on Finance and Investment, Development, and Governance.
Our consultation process invites suggestions on all aspects of securing and improving the Scholarship. For example, it asks how, in the years ahead, we best identify and encourage those attributes of intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service which should characterise Rhodes Scholars. For what they are worth, I have ventured a few thoughts of my own on leadership (in a speech welcoming the Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellows from Africa to Oxford in early September) and on character (in my speech at the Bon Voyage Weekend in Washington, DC, later in September), and on all of these desired attributes of Rhodes Scholars in welcoming the new Scholars at the start of October.
As has been pointed out by others, there has never been greater opportunity than now for Scholars to participate in shaping the future of the Scholarship which helped to shape our lives; and there has also never been a greater need for us to play our part. In April, as you will recall, I wrote to all Scholars regarding our finances. In that ‘call to action’, I pointed out that, quite extraordinarily, for over a century, the bequest of a single person, Cecil Rhodes, has educated over 7,000 of us in Oxford, but that – following investment volatility in the early 2000s and in the global financial crisis, and with rapidly rising costs in Oxford – this needs now to be supplemented massively if we are to hand on the life-transforming opportunity we had to future generations, secure and indeed improved.
Many Scholars from around the world have stepped forward to help with major gifts, with annual giving, and by remembering the Trust in their estate planning. I for one am enormously grateful for their support for the Scholarship in this way. The inaugural Annual Giving campaign is currently underway in the United States, with an ambitious challenge match for ‘Scholars to Support Scholars’. National fundraising efforts are increasingly being organised by Scholars around the world. We are seeking tax deductibility in additional countries (a protracted business!), and are beginning to attract support from outside the Rhodes community as well.
The participation of each of us, however great or modest our capacity, is important to this crucial effort. Our participation will help to encourage others, both within and beyond the Rhodes community, also to support us. The need is real and pressing.
More opportunities for participation in the Rhodes community should emerge during 2011 as, for example, the recommendations of our taskforce on online community come forward, and as we begin planning for the 110th anniversary reunion in Oxford in 2013.
The activities at Rhodes House during the Oxford University Alumni Weekend this last September attracted over 400 Scholars from seven decades and many countries, and had the same spirit of enthusiasm and goodwill that has characterised alumni events in many countries. I hope that, if you can, you will give serious thought to coming to the Alumni Weekend next September (Friday-Sunday, 16-18 September 2011). This will certainly include our own now-annual Brunch and Open House on Sunday, 18 September, and a celebration for the class of 1961, marking their 50th anniversary. The Alumni Weekend gives you the chance to take part in college and wider University, as well as Rhodes, activities here in Oxford.
We at Rhodes House are grateful to be working closely with colleagues around the collegiate University. I am delighted that the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, and Mrs Jennie Hamilton have come to our Alumni Weekend Brunch at Rhodes House both last year and this, and to the Coming Up Dinner in both years also. By next year’s Alumni Weekend, we should have a much clearer idea than we do now of what British government policy – especially reducing public funding of university education and increasing reliance on student fees (and on philanthropy) – means for Oxford in all its parts, and it should be possible to hear and discuss some of this first-hand. It will certainly be possible to discuss any Rhodes matters which you would like.
This Christmas Day I will again be hosting lunch at Rhodes House for Scholars who are in Oxford over the break. More snow is forecast (along with more Christmas pudding), and a roaring fire in the Beit Room seems in order. I hope that you and your family have a very Merry Christmas, and that 2011 is a great year for you, and for us all.
Please do come and visit us at Rhodes House if you can.
With all good wishes
Dr Donald Markwell
(Queensland and Trinity 1981)
Warden of Rhodes House