Chris Patten at Encaenia 2009

Oxford honorary degree ceremony postponed to next year

News University/Local Issues

Encaenia, the annual University ceremony for the conferral of honorary degrees, will be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oxford honorands will receive their degrees in the next ceremony to be held on 23 June 2021, according to a proposed Congregation resolution likely to be approved without opposition.

The seven people originally due to be honoured in this year’s Encaenia are all women. They include Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, the first woman to hold that office. Poverty expert and Labour peer Ruth Lister and British historian Linda Colley are also due to receive degrees.

Honorands from the scientific world are former English chief medical officer Sally Davies and environmental scientist and marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco.

Recipients distinguished in cultural fields are American actress and playwright Anna Deavare Smith and Jeanette Winterson, author of bestseller Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a coming-of-age story about a lesbian girl in a Pentecostal community.

Although the Encaenia ceremony will not be held, a filmed version of the annual Creweian Oration, which normally precedes the ceremony, will still be broadcasted online. Jonathan Katz, Public Orator of the University and Fellow of All Souls College, will be delivering the oration this year.

The Honorary Degrees Committee selects those of academic, cultural, or industrial eminence as well as people who have played a distinguished role in public life. The committee has aimed to ensure that at least half its final list of names consist of women and minorities. The list of individuals selected by the committee are then rubber-stamped by Congregation.

The Encaenia day consists of the Creweian Oration, the Encaenia ceremony, a lunch held by All Souls College for the honorands and senior members of the University, and a garden party hosted by the Vice-Chancellor. Students are normally able to get tickets to the Encaenia ceremony on a first-come-first-served basis. The honorary degrees are conferred by Chancellor Chris Patten.

The Creweian Oration is named after Nathaniel Crewe, Bishop of Oxford from 1671 to 1674 and benefactor of Lincoln College and the University. The Public Orator and the Professor of Poetry, currently Alice Oswald, make the oration on an alternating basis.

A regulation in the Congregation Regulations 3 of 2002 stating that the Encaenia ceremony must be “held in each academic year” will be suspended.

Featured image: Chancellor Chris Patten at Encaenia 2009 by Pruneau via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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