Popular principal of Somerville to retire

Alice Prochaska will leave the college in July to continue her academic career

Dr Alice Prochaska, the principal of Somerville College, will step down at the end of the academic year, as a result of a college statute which prevents people over the age of seventy from holding the position.

Dr Prochaska, known by Somerville students as ‘Ali P’, has served a seven-year term in which the college’s endowment has almost doubled, the college revealed in an online statement.

The latest project announced under her watch is the Margaret Thatcher Scholarship Trust, which awards a tuition fee grant and free accommodation to two students with exceptional prelims results.

But due to college rules, which limit tenure to those younger than 65 with a maximum extension of five years, Dr Prochaska’s seventieth birthday will end her contract.

“According to our statues, the Principal cannot continue to serve beyond the age of 70”, a Somerville spokesperson told Cherwell.

“In fact, Alice Prochaska signed a contract for seven years, which takes her up to the prescribed retirement age.”

Finn Strivens, a Somerville third year, said, “I’m shocked and appalled. She is the loveliest person alive, and makes a huge effort with every individual student”.

Alex Crichton-Miller, JCR President, said, “We in the JCR are certainly sad that such a wonderful Principal has decided to move on. We can only hope that the college will find a replacement as considerate towards the JCR and as ambitious for the college as a whole.”

Dr Prochaska began her career at Somerville, where she read for a BA and DPhil in Modern History, and went on to publish a number of books on British trade unions, reform movements and the city of London, before working as a museum curator and an archivist.

During the 1990s, Dr Prochaska was a convener of a research seminar on Contemporary British History, served as a Vice President of the Royal His- torical Society, a governor of London Guildhall University and Chair of the National Council on Archives.

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Before becoming principal of Somerville in September 2010, she then worked on the government committee that designed the first National Curriculum for History, and as Yale’s University Librarian.

In 2015, she led an exposé of sexual harassment, groping and rape jokes in Oxford, prompting an unopposed JCR motion that donated £200 to Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre. She made a variety of public appearances highlighting rape culture and the prominence of homophobia amongst university students.

Somerville’s website describes Dr Prochaska as “well known for her open informal approach and concern for the welfare of students and staff.”

Other major achievements of her time at Somerville include a doubling of the number of graduate students to more than 150, and the opening of student accommodation at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, called “one of the most significant development projects…in more than a century”. In her time as principal, Somerville has increased its accommodation to house all undergraduates and first-year graduate students.

“She’s always super lovely and she’ll be greatly missed as a friendly face around college”, Robin Leach told Cherwell.

“I had one meeting with her as a fresher, which started as a somewhat daunting meeting with the principal, but quickly became a pleasant chat with a very amiable woman. Whoever succeeds her will have big shoes to fill.”

The college has begun recruitment for her successor, who is expected to be announced in early 2017. It did not specify whether it would seek an internal or external applicant for the role, but those considering it are encouraged to contact Dr Curly Maloney.

After leaving Somerville, Dr Prochaska hopes to continue with her historical work on heritage collections and their link to national identity.

1 COMMENT

  1. If Dr. Prochaska is considered a famously “popular” principal, then it says more about the extremely poor relations that exist between most Masters/Principals and their students in other colleges than it does about Dr. Prochaska’s own popularity. She has certainly done a good enough job at Somerville and I would certainly respect her, but “popular”…

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