Oxford University’s new Vice Chancellor has used her installation speech to lay out her agenda for an ‘agile’ university at the pinnacle of global change. Professor Louise Richardson, Oxford’s 272nd, and first woman, Vice Chancellor called on the university to show ‘agility’ in an era of globalization and technological change in a speech given to the congregation of the University shortly after she had been accepted into the office of Vice Chancellor at a ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre.
Professor Richardson said: “If we can provide leaders for tomorrow who have been educated to think critically, to act ethically and always to question, these are the people who will prevent the next financial crisis; who will help us to grapple with the fundamental questions prompted by the accelerating pace of technological change, as we confront profound ethical choices about the prolongation and even replication of life. People who will force us to confront the costs we are imposing on the next generation by our wasteful use of the earth’s resources; who will articulate our obligation to the vulnerable, the poor, the victims of war, oppression and disease, wherever they live.”
Amongst other topics touched upon in the Vice Chancellor’s speech included criticism of moves towards greater governmental control over higher education and questioned how the University can address the challenge of ensuring freedom of debate within the student community. On this, Professor Richardson said: “How do we ensure that they appreciate the value of engaging with ideas they find objectionable, trying through reason to change another’s mind, while always being open to changing their own? How do we ensure that our students understand the true nature of freedom of inquiry and expression?”
Professor Richardson then also made a point of calling for the University to make ever-greater efforts to attract the world’s best students and scholars to Oxford regardless of who they may be. She concluded her speech by making an appeal to all at the university: “Let’s all make the most of the time we have here in this privileged, magical, extraordinary place to leave it even better than we found it. Let’s keep our eyes firmly fixed on the future, without forgetting the traditions that bind us to our forebears and the values and interests that unite us to one another. Please join me, it will be hard, it will be fun, but we owe it to those on whose shoulders we stand, and Oxford deserves no less than our very best.”
Also speaking at the ceremony was the Chancellor of the University, former Conservative Minister and Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes. In his speech, Lord Patten told Professor Richardson: “You have, Professor, an outstanding record as a teacher and scholar, and have been until recently the head of another eminent university. I know that you would wish to be judged primarily not on the glass ceilings you have smashed, but on your achievements as an academic leader on both sides of the Atlantic. They provide the principal argument for our choice of you as our next leader, as this world-class university confronts the trials and opportunities of the 21st Century.”
In his speech the Chancellor also criticised historical revisionism following the widespread debate created by the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign.
Professor Richardson’s previous position was that of Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews, a position she had held since 2009.
During her time at St Andrews she was involved with a well-publicised dispute with the former SNP leader Alex Salmond over her refusal to release a statement praising the record of the Scottish government with regards to higher education and has subsequently been critical of the increased regulation of higher education institutions in Scotland under the SNP.
Prior to her appointment at St Andrews Professor Richardson had also served as Executive Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Her teaching positions at Harvard included courses on international relations focusing on terrorism, and American foreign policy. During this time she also received numerous awards for the quality of her teaching and advised policy makers on issues surrounding terrorism and security. She holds a bachelor’s degree in History from Trinity College, Dublin, an MA in Political Science from UCLA and an MA and PhD in Government from Harvard University.