Somerville College have this morning announced the election of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon as their new principal, replacing the outgoing Dr Alice Prochaska after a seven-year term.
The appointment of a female principal keeps with tradition at the former women’s college, where the role has never been held by a man.
In an email to students Andrew Parker, Chairman of the Selection Committee, described the search as “thorough and exhaustive”. He said that the recruitment consultants Maloney’s had made contact with around 400 potential candidates.
Baroness Royall previously earned praise from members of the Oxford community following the publication of her report into anti-semitism at Oxford University Labour Club. Royall concluded that there was no evidence that the club was institutionally anti-Semitic, but acknowledged a “cultural problem in which behaviour and language that would once have been intolerable is now tolerated”.
Baroness Royall said: “It is a pleasure and a privilege to have been appointed as the next Principal of Somerville. I look forward to working with academics, staff and students to build on the work of Alice Prochaska in this wonderful college where teaching and research of the highest quality are celebrated.
“I am proud that I will be part of a vibrant community that is meeting the challenges of today whilst finding solutions to the problems of tomorrow.
“My aim is to ensure academic excellence whilst reaching out to young people with potential from all backgrounds so that our future leaders will reflect the diversity of our society. I am determined that Somerville’s future will be as exceptional as its past and present.”
Royall began her career in politics working as General Secretary of the British Labour Group in the European Parliament, before returning to the UK to work for leader of the Labour Party Neil Kinnock. She went on to work for the EU in various capacities before being made a Lord in 2004.
It was in this capacity that she became a Privy Councillor, Chief Whip in the Lords, a member of the cabinet, and Leader of the Opposition in the Lords. She has announced that she will not seek reelection to that role.
Royall’s selection comes as a relief to those concerned that a man had been shortlisted for the position.
Alex Crichton-Miller, president of Somerville JCR, told Cherwell before the announcement: “Given that there are several colleges in Oxford that have only ever been led by men, there were some members of the Common Room who felt strongly that Somerville ought to continue to have a female principal.
“This point was made, clearly, on the basis that the proposed female candidate possesses all other required qualities for the leadership role.
“Others held the view that it would be unjustified to discriminate on the basis of the candidate’s gender, even in the case of positive action.”
Of the 38 Oxford colleges just nine—Green Templeton, Mansfield, Oriel, Pembroke, St Anthony’s, St Hugh’s, St John’s, Somerville, and Wolfson—currently have female heads of colleges.
Somerville, a women’s college until 1994, became the only college in Oxford that has solely had female leadership when St Hilda’s appointed its first male principal in 2014.