Professor Louise Richardson was formally installed in a ceremony at the Sheldonian Theatre as Oxford’s 272nd Vice-Chancellor on the morning of Tuesday, 12 January. She is the first woman to hold the post of Vice-Chancellor.
Prior to joining Oxford, Professor Richardson served as the executive dean of Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and spent seven years as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews. She is an expert on the study of terrorism and the author of What Terrorists Want, published in 2006.
Harvard President Drew Faust has said about her, “Louise Richardson is a brilliant academic leader. I had the privilege of working closely with her for six years at Harvard and came to deeply admire her analytic acuity, her organizational insight, her energy, courage and determination, and her high standards and aspirations.”
At the ceremony, before the assembled Congregation, the Chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes welcomed Professor Richardson on behalf of the Oxford community “as the 272nd Vice-Chancellor (or there abouts) since 1230, when the scoreboard at Oxford began to register these things.”
The Chancellor also touched on recent challenges to the university, namely the difficulties of fundraising, saying that he hoped the university would be able to continue to increase alumni donations, and internal student activism.
He urged against imposing contemporary views and prejudices on the past, concluding by saying that “the point of university is not to prepare [students] to be financially successful… but to find out for themselves a bigger purpose for their lives.”
For her part, Professor Richardson outlined what she views as the challenges Oxford faces as it hopes to maintain its academic excellence and continue making the same impact it has through its history.
She said, “Universities do serve as guardians of our culture, they also serve as engines of our economy, as drivers of social mobility, as foundations of our democracy and always, as generators of new ideas.”
“The challenge for us is: What are we going to do to prove ourselves worthy of [our] extraordinary inheritance?” she added.
Professor Richardson pointed to three key external challenges: “technological change, globalization, spiraling costs and pressure for value.”
Saying that “we must educate our students with the flexibility and creativity to be prepared for jobs we cannot even imagine today,” Richardson called for Oxford to “always remain open to the potential of new technologies and have the agility to exploit the opportunities they present.”
She also cautioned that “the trend towards globalization [poses] real questions for the place of universities as national institutions as their students, staff, research funding and even teaching facilities become less and less national.”
Echoing Lord Patten’s comments, Richardson raised concerns about the need for new sources of funding, saying that “there are many factors driving up the costs of education, new technologies and global competition are two, another is investment in ensuring that those with the talent to be admitted have the resources to attend. These are all necessary costs, willingly incurred.
“Simply put, if we are going to maintain a pre-eminent position in a fast changing world we are both going to have to operate more efficiently and to generate additional sources of support.”
Richardson also alluded to the need to compete with the larger endowments of competing American universities.
In addition to external worries, Richardson brought up three internal questions:
“First: How do we organize ourselves to ensure that we are creating the best possible environment for the remarkable academics and students drawn to work here?”
“Second: How do we replace ourselves? How do we ensure that we are continuing to attract the very best students and scholars?”
“Third: How do we ensure that we educate our students both to embrace complexity and retain conviction, while daring “to disturb the universe;” to understand that an Oxford education is not meant to be a comfortable experience?”
Richardson concluded by appealing to the Congregation to join her in “[making] the most of the time we have here in this privileged, magical, extraordinary place to leave it 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.”