20 February 2012

Angiolini appointed Oxford Principal...

Being an Oxonian myself, and given my interest in Scots law, it would be remiss of me not to remark briefly on an unexpected development. Today, St Hugh's College, Oxford have announced their election of Elish Angiolini as their new Principal. Angiolini, who was Scotland's chief public prosecutor as Lord Advocate (between 2006 and 2011), will replace the College's current head, Andrew Dilnot, who was appointed in 2002.  Founded in 1886, St Hugh's is formerly a women's college, which began admitting men in 1986. In the official announcement, Angiolini is quoted, remarking...

"Founded to give an excellent education to women who were otherwise excluded from Oxford, and now providing a focus for learning and scholarship for women and men from all backgrounds, St Hugh’s College has an inspiring history and an exciting future. I am eagerly anticipating joining the College and aim both to support and celebrate its important work."

Firstly, my congratulations to Elish and I hope the best of good luck goes with her as she contends with the new prospects, challenges and experiences this appointment promises. As someone who was always profoundly leery and suspicious about Oxford before I came here for my doctorate, my expectations of the place (good and bad) were partly realised and partly contested by experience. Contending with the town and University's novel life-world will prove an unavoidably interesting, stimulating and alienating experience, and I wish Elish all luck with it.  If you have any need of a friendly word, Scotch solidarity, or a stimulating conversation about Scots criminal doctrines, do feel free to pop over for a glass of claret.

Secondly, it is a delight that two women, born and brought up in working class families in the west of Scotland, who prospered in the law, will now sit on the University of Oxford's Conference of Colleges. That's an achievement of which both can reasonably be proud. As Principal, Angiolini will join Helena Kennedy QC, who was born in Pollokshaws, made her way in the English Bar, and took up her post as Principal of Mansfield at the start of this academic year.

I must admit, however, that as I read about Elish's appointment today, surprise was my primary reaction. There was talk of Angiolini being elevated to the bench, but much more than than, she's a soul who made her career in Scotland, as a solicitor, in Scots law, with no previous connection to the University (best I can discern). For those who haven't experienced it in person, the institution and its characters continue to leave a polarising impression.  I hadn't envisaged an Angiolini candidacy for this sort of job as particularly probable, nor (to be frank) would I immediately expect that she'd be keenly received by the Oxford establishment. To their credit, St Hugh's have clearly subverted my expectations.

One final observation, more than anything else. As with other stations in public life which Angiolini has occupied, she will find that the Conference of Colleges she joins remains overwhelmingly dominated by men. At present, Oxford has thirty eight constitutive Colleges and six "Private Halls". Of all of their masters, deans, presidents, rectors, principals and wardens, only seven currently have female figureheads (15.9% of the total number):

Exeter College (Frances Cairncross)
Lady Margaret Hall (Dr Frances Lannon)
Mansfield College (Helena Kennedy QC)
St Anthony's College (Margaret MacMillan)
St Hilda's College (Sheila Forbes)
Somerville College (Alice Prochaska)
Wolfson College (Professor Hermione Lee)

With Angiolini's appointment, that creeps up to 18%. Reapings of a post-gender age, eh?


  1. Five out of seven seem to be Celtic in origin.

    Swings, roundabouts, chutes and leaves.

  2. See when you talk about expectations of Oxford, there are many of us whose expectations would be formed almost entirely by Morse.

    I am now picturing a new series with a complicated-middle-class-crime busting duo composed of a head of college, assisted by a keen young boffin who occasionally goes AWOL to comment on the finer points of the legality of referendums etc.

    Could be a winner!

  3. Indy,

    Ha! True enough. Mine too, to some extent. Presumably the show would be called Angiolini and involve several picturesque shots of her enjoying a lonely pint in an old man's pub, with my schilling out for it.

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