Classically Inclined

October 17, 2011

Creative anachronism: electing the new Cambridge Chancellor

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 1:19 pm
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As some of you may have noticed, on Friday and Saturday Cambridge University held an election for its new Chancellor. The new Chancellor, replacing Prince Phillip who is (frankly) getting on a bit, is Lord Sainsbury. I have Issues with this, mainly connected to what I worry will be an overly business-orientated approach to the higher education model, but I’m willing to be proven wrong. I also know that there’s a strong argument to be made about Lord Sainsbury’s contacts within a network which may yield wealthy donors to the university, and I have some sympathy with that approach in times when it looks like universities are going to have to face up to constrained budgets, never mind how I feel about the policies that create that environment.

Photo licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy of flickr user James Bowe.

I personally felt that while the Brian Blessed camp were going to put up a strong fight, Sainsbury was probably a foregone conclusion (one which Mary Beard is quite glad about). Rather than mull over the results, I wanted to talk about the experience of being part of this election. My time in Cambridge as an undergraduate and an MPhil student was, ultimately, a shockingly unreflective one; coming back as an alumna to be part of something so ancient and ritual-laden as an election of a chancellor after six years in a very different institution gave me some perspective on the whole process.

I’d decided I was definitely going to be in Cambridge to vote because this is a historic occasion; it’s not quite a once in a lifetime thing, but it may be a long time before there’s another election, and I felt I wanted to be part of the process. Because, you see, in order to vote  you had to be present in person. No postal or electronic voting – physical filling-out-the-paper was all that would do. (This creates obvious problems for alumnae with parenting responsibilities or disabilities which restrict their ability to do the commute, for example.)  My friend Jo and I met up in town at 11am on Saturday morning; the poll had opened at 10am and would be open until 8pm, and we figured we would be beating the crowd if we made it early. Our college was also putting on an afternoon for alumnae, and we wanted to be on time for that. When we met up, I was wearing my formal gown – because the university required all alumnae to be wearing their Cambridge academic gowns (not, note, any other university, so even if I’d had my scarlet Rutgers doctoral robes to hand, I would not have been able to vote in them). Thankfully, anything roughly the right length seemed to be getting waved through, so my MPhil gown got me through alright despite not technically being the right gown for the Cambridge degrees I hold. (Wearing my own gown was a deliberate choice – I’m the sort of person who fancies being able to say “I voted for the Chancellor of Cambridge University in this gown!”. For those who are less nostalgically-minded, the University had a pile of rented robes that eligible voters were put into before entering the Senate House and which were retrieved when they left.) (more…)

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