St Hilda’s elect first ever male Principal

St Hilda’s has recently elected its first ever male Principal, sparking controversy amongst former and present students. 

The college, which was all-female until 2008, has elected Sir Gordon Duff, an Oxford graduate and Lord Florey professor in Molecular Medicine at the University of Sheffield, to serve as the eleventh Principal.

In an email sent to students to announce his election, it was stated that, “He is married to Lady Duff, an alumna of St Hilda’s college.”

This resulted in some twitter posts from students and alumni disappointed that the once all-female college has chosen to elect a male Principal, as well as the implication that his marriage to an alumna justifies his election. 

Helena Dollimore, a History and Politics student and former OULC co-chair, tweeted, “Pretty disappointed that my college, which was all women until 2008, has just appointed a male president. We’ve got enough of them in world.”

Wadham SU President, Anya Metzer, tweeted in response, “possible unfortunate implication that as soon as a man is eligible he is preferable”.

However the biggest reaction against the appointment has come from college alumni.

Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall and former JCR president at St. Hilda’s, tweeted, “I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that the new principal of St Hilda’s is a man. Such important role models for me when I was 18.”

She also referred to the appointment as the “End of an era” and wrote that, “the reference to his wife in the release just epitomises how they have completely missed the point. Which is more disappointing”.

Val McDermid, a writer and broadcaster who attended St Hilda’s before it became mixed, also tweeted about the reference to his wife in the press release, “His wife knows our little ways, so it’ll all be ok. Yeah, right. Mary Bennett must be birling in her grave.”

Historically, five Oxford colleges were established as all-female institutions. These were Somerville, St Anne’s, Lady Margaret Hall, St Hughs, and St Hilda’s. Of these, St. Hilda’s was the last to go mixed and accept male members, and today still retains a majority of female fellows.  

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The Vice-Principals Dr Katherine Clarke and Dr Selina Todd, who chaired the election process said that, “Sir Gordon Duff’s record of leadership and academic achievement and his outstanding contributions to public policy make him the ideal candidate to lead St Hilda’s as we approach our 125th anniversary in 2018.”

The college’s Equal Opportunity Policy, which can be found on its website, states that, “Subject to statutory provisions, no applicant or member of staff will be treated less favourably than another because of his or her sex, marital status, sexual orientation, racial group, or disability.”

Dr Todd further commented, “We are very proud of our history as a college that have pioneered equality of access to higher education.”