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PRIVATE ♦ NOT FOR PUBLICATION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
When he was retiring in 1980 after 28 years as Warden, Sir Edgar (Bill) Williams concluded his last Christmas letter to Scholars with a quote from one of them: ‘Easter will never be the same without the Christmas Letter.’ The Warden today has the great (if sometimes doubtful) advantage of email - but even so I make no promises that the Christmas letter will always arrive much before Easter!
In that Christmas letter, Bill Williams (whom I came to know and admire in his retirement in the 1980s) also paid tribute to the support of his wife, Gill Williams. I am delighted to say that Gill has been my guest at Rhodes House several times over the nearly six months that I have been Warden, most recently – along with my distinguished predecessor, Sir Colin Lucas, and around 120 Scholars and staff – at our Rhodes House Christmas dinner on Monday night. Sir Anthony and Nancy Kenny had unfortunately to cancel at the last moment – as did several others caught by heavy snow outside Oxford.
The Christmas dinner has been one of many opportunities this term for current Scholars from the 16 countries from which they come to engage with each other, and with staff and with me. I think it is fair to say that current Scholars appreciate these opportunities, such as parties in Milner Hall, and lunches and dinners upstairs in the Warden’s home. As well as Gill Williams’s wise comment that ‘Above all, Rhodes House must be welcoming’, I have had very much in mind the Sunday lunches that my Warden, Robin Fletcher, and Jinny Fletcher hosted for Scholars in my day: generous hospitality which I know is remembered warmly by many Scholars of the Fletcher years.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to report to you that, beyond doubt, the current Scholars are of extremely high calibre – in academic performance, in character, in extra-curricular participation and achievement, in leadership, and in evident commitment to ‘fighting the world’s fight’. Fully 45% of Scholars who completed taught postgraduate courses this summer secured Distinctions. All three Scholars reading for second BAs secured Firsts (yes, with the strong growth in Masters degrees, there were only three Scholars reading for second BAs; there are six in the just-arrived Rhodes class of 2009, and two in the Rhodes class of 2008). Another Rhodes Scholar – Amia Srinivasan (Connecticut and Christ Church 2007) – has secured the high distinction of being elected a Prize Fellow of All Souls.
While we have Scholars reading degrees that span all (or nearly all) discipline areas across the University, it is clear that there are concentrations of focus on particular topics, approached from diverse disciplinary backgrounds – topics such as post-conflict reconstruction (including its legal, economic, political, strategic, and other dimensions), the environment and climate change, international development, HIV/AIDS and other global health issues, and human rights. In their courses and in their extra-curricular activities, very many of our current Scholars – like so many Rhodes alumni – are engaging deeply with current world problems.
Rhodes Scholars are also representing their colleges and the University in a wide variety of sports. Over the last couple of years, Blues and Half Blues have been won by Rhodes Scholars in athletics, badminton, basketball, cricket, cross-country, dancesport, golf, hockey, ice hockey, netball, rugby, squash, and swimming, and Scholars have competed nationally and internationally in some of these and other sports (such as cycling). Scholars are currently training for such competitions as the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010, and the US National Football League draft. As well, of course, Scholars have taken active roles in music, theatre, and debating, and in many political, religious, and community service activities, as well as in leadership within their colleges and beyond. Discussion groups among the Scholars are active. It is no wonder that so many colleges are keen to attract Rhodes Scholars. I think you will also understand why I find engaging with our current Scholars so inspiring and energising.
Colin Lucas, for whose service to the Scholarships we should all be immensely grateful, gave high priority to engaging with the global community of Scholars, and I am naturally keen to continue this work. So far in my time, we have had 20 alumni events in seven countries, and I am planning to visit all Rhodes countries by the end of 2010. It is a great pleasure to see Rhodes Scholars at Rhodes House when you are visiting Oxford (always best to be in touch in advance, if at all possible). We are continuing to upgrade the website, have introduced an e-newsletter, and are preparing for a searchable password-protected database to help Rhodes Scholars around the world connect with each other more readily than ever before (we had been planning to enclose an update form with this Christmas letter, but it would be better to iron out some technical glitches here first, so we will get back to you later with that).
One recent opportunity for Rhodes Scholars of all countries and generations to mix was the Brunch and Open House held at Rhodes House on the Sunday of the Oxford University Alumni Weekend on the last weekend of September. Nearly 300 people created a magical day of great goodwill and camaraderie. So we will be having a Brunch and Open House again on the Sunday of next year’s University Alumni Weekend in Oxford – Sunday, September 26, 2010.
The weekend will also include:
• a lunch or dinner for Scholars marking the 50th anniversary of coming up for the Rhodes class of 1960,
• an event to mark the 40th anniversary of the reinstatement of the German Scholarships in 1970, and
• a forum on ‘The Rhodes Scholarships for the 21st century’.
I very much hope that you will consider coming to Oxford for the whole weekend, and spending most of Sunday back at Rhodes House. You will be extremely welcome. Further details will follow.
On my first day as Warden (July 1), I emailed all current Scholars and asked their thoughts on the future of the Scholarship, and received many helpful replies – for example, highlighting the importance of mixing between Scholars of different countries, and the desire of many current Scholars to have more interaction with Rhodes alumni, from whom they hope to learn a great deal (as, to be frank, we Rhodes alumni have much to learn from them).
A month later, I emailed all members of the global community of Scholars and also asked for thoughts on the impact and future of the Scholarship. The virtual tsunami of replies and feedback from Scholars in other forms, for which I am extremely grateful, has been enormously helpful. It reflects an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the profound impact of the Scholarship on our lives, and our determination to do all we can to safeguard and enhance it for the future. Many Scholars have expressed the hope that Rhodes Scholars could assume greater responsibility for the future of the Scholarships.
As a direct outcome of this feedback, you should have received a recent email letter from the Chairman of the Trustees, Lord Waldegrave, and me, seeking your views on the governance protocols which the Trustees propose to adopt as amended in the light of comments from Rhodes Scholars. As you will have read, it is proposed to increase the number of Trustees from 10 (four of whom are Rhodes Scholars) to between 12 and 15, as least half of whom will be Scholars (and at least a third non-Scholars). Scholars have been invited to nominate other Scholars or non-Scholars for the three to five new Trustee positions it is proposed to appoint in the next two years. The current Trustees strongly support the proposed governance changes, and warmly encourage the input of the Rhodes Scholar community. Please do be in touch with us (at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com) by January 31.
In this second century of the Rhodes Scholarships – with at least half of the Trustees being Scholars, opportunities for engagement and consultation and Scholar participation in the future of the Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Scholarship, and with a Rhodes Scholar as Warden – we Rhodes Scholars must increasingly take responsibility for the future of our Scholarship. As we do this, it will be very helpful if we can engage in strategic dialogue on key issues. Above all: what do we want the Rhodes Scholarship to look like over the course of this century? How do we ensure that the Rhodes Scholarship remains the world’s pre-eminent scholarship forever?
Both now and in the future, I would greatly value your thoughts on these, and on such other questions as:
• What does ‘fighting the world’s fight’ (Cecil Rhodes’s famous phrase) mean for Rhodes Scholars in the 21st century, and how should we encourage it?
• More broadly, how do we identify and encourage those attributes of intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service which should characterise the Rhodes Scholarships?
• How can we improve the promotion of the Scholarships, selection, transition to Oxford, support in Oxford, and transition from Oxford, for all our Scholars?
• How do we make the Scholarship equally attractive to outstanding young women as to outstanding young men, and to outstanding young people from all parts of the community in all our countries?
• From what countries should Rhodes Scholars be drawn over the decades ahead? Cecil Rhodes himself gave Scholarships to what he described as ‘the three great powers’ – the US, parts of the British Empire (now the Commonwealth), and Germany. How should we think about this today?
• What form of global community of Scholars, including what online community, would be most valuable?
• How do we respond best to the massive challenge of reduced resources and increased costs? This is, of course, a topic to which the Trustees and I have been giving close attention, and on which I will get back to you in the new year.
Thank you in anticipation of your thoughts on these and other topics at any time (and for your understanding if I am slow to respond).
As we focus on what we want the Scholarship to be over the decades ahead, we will of course need to engage with the financial challenge. I am sure that all of us, being grateful for the life-transforming opportunity we have had, will want to do all we can to secure and improve the Scholarship for the future.
In September at Rhodes House we thanked a Rhodes Scholar, John Hood (New Zealand and Worcester 1976), on his retirement as Vice-Chancellor, and in October, we welcomed the new Vice-Chancellor, Andrew Hamilton, a British academic leader who comes to Oxford from service as Provost of Yale. Vice-Chancellor Hamilton’s view is the same as mine – Oxford without Rhodes is inconceivable; Rhodes without Oxford is inconceivable. We are working in close partnership with colleagues across the University, not least because the standing of Rhodes Scholars within and beyond the University is so high. (So, for example, gifts to support the Rhodes Scholarships count as gifts to the Campaign for the University of Oxford.)
For me personally, it has been immensely rewarding being able, over the last six months, to see so many old friends in the Rhodes community, and to meet so many other Scholars, both current Scholars and Rhodes alumni, in Oxford and elsewhere. It has been a particular privilege to serve with Scholars and others on Rhodes selection committees in Nairobi, New York, and Vancouver, and I have greatly appreciated the work of selection committees and of our national secretaries. It is remarkable how many times I have felt, within minutes of meeting a Scholar, that I have known them forever. This says something about the extraordinary quality of Rhodes Scholars, of the experience and values we share, and of the presumption of trust and goodwill between us. I hope we can build further on these bonds, or potential bonds, over the years ahead.
One Scholar I met in September was Burke Knapp (Oregon and St John’s 1933). Burke had a distinguished career in international economic affairs and banking, including 25 years in senior leadership of the World Bank. Knowing that he had been at Bretton Woods in 1944 where the economist John Maynard Keynes helped to create the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, I said to Burke that I had written a book on Keynes. ‘Keynes’, he said, ‘yes, Keynes. I knew Keynes.’ There were not many people alive in 2009 who could say that of a famous economist who died in 1946, and reminisce so vividly about their interactions over sixty years ago. Burke had booked to come to our Rhodes dinner in San Francisco in November, but had a fall and, sadly, passed away two days before the dinner. As with other Rhodes Scholars who have died this year, I know that he is remembered fondly and with gratitude (certainly by me) for his important contribution to ‘fighting the world’s fight’.
There is news of other deaths in the Rhodes community on our website here, other news of Scholars here, and of recent books here. Complete lists of Rhodes Scholars since 1903, including the recently-selected class of 2010, can be found here.
2009 saw the retirement of two Trustees – Lord Butler, and Professor Elizabeth Fallaize – and the appointment of Professor Ngaire Woods (New Zealand and Balliol 1987) as a Trustee. Earlier this month, we were deeply saddened by the death of Elizabeth Fallaize, who had been suffering from a degenerative illness. She is affectionately remembered in the Rhodes community in Oxford most especially for her warm encouragement of women Scholars.
As perhaps you know, 2009 has also seen the centenary of the birth of a German Rhodes Scholar, Adam von Trott (Germany and Balliol 1931), and of the election of another, Albrecht Bernstorff (Germany and Trinity 1909), both of whom were executed late in World War II for their roles in resistance to Hitler. In 1946, two years after her husband’s execution, Clarita von Trott wrote to the Warden of Rhodes House, C K Allen, that his time as a Rhodes Scholar was ‘the time of his life which has determined the course of his later life’. (A tribute to Albrecht Bernstorff and Adam von Trott can be found here) I have reflected often that, in different ways – most, fortunately, very different from Adam von Trott and Albrecht Bernstorff – the life trajectory of almost every one of us has been profoundly affected by opportunities we have been given as Rhodes Scholars. If I didn’t believe this, I doubt if I would have accepted this position.
Easter might not be the same without the Christmas letter, but I will be back in touch with you well before Easter with more news and information (including on our financial challenge). In the meantime, this Christmas I am very grateful for the goodwill and support which Scholars around the world have shown – goodwill and support for the Scholarship, and for your fellow Scholar, ‘the new Warden’ – and send you and your family very warmest good wishes for Christmas and for the year ahead.
Let’s make it a good one.
Dr Donald Markwell
(Queensland and Trinity 1981)
Warden of Rhodes House