A warm welcome to those new to Wolfson, and a warm welcome back to those who have been travelling during the summer or hiding away in libraries or laboratories.
I will be standing in as Acting President for the next few months, between the presidencies of two remarkable people: Hermione Lee, who retired at the end of September, and Tim Hitchens, whom we look forward to welcoming this summer.
During Hermione’s nine years as President of Wolfson, it has become a cliché that she has transformed the college. Most immediately noticeable as one approaches the college today is the stunning new Academic Wing. Once inside the college, the Academic Wing means we now have a purpose-built auditorium for lectures, concerts, and other events; a café for a quiet or conversational cuppa; a newly-extended library including a room devoted to the legacy of Isaiah Berlin, whose bust looks on; a library breakout space where studies can combine with discussion; seminar rooms; a media room... The heavy use which these facilities are getting underscores a more fundamental transformation in the college: we now have a richer and more varied programme of academic activities and events in college than ever.
Hermione herself is the first to give credit to many others for these achievements: the benefactors, the architects, and all the colleagues and students who have devoted their time, energy, and resources to college projects and activities. Those involved in running research clusters in the college have played a crucial role, and continue to do so. Nevertheless, Hermione’s leadership made a huge difference: if she did not transform the college single-handedly, she got us all transforming the college. As we wish her well in her retirement and in her current project (her biography of Tom Stoppard), this is also a moment to think about how we can best help the college to keep thriving and to keep refreshing and transforming itself with the times.
As I take up the role of Acting President, I am naturally nervous about all this, but I would like the next few months to be a fantastic time to be at Wolfson, as well as a time when we look forward to welcoming a new President with fresh ideas for the college. I hope that you will all help by voicing your thoughts for the college, whether formally on college committees or informally at lunch, in the café, and around the college. Our founding President, Isaiah Berlin, wanted Wolfson to be egalitarian, cosmopolitan, intellectually innovative, and unstuffy. By discussing what we could be doing differently, or what we could be doing in addition, we remain true to his vision and we keep the college modern and relevant.