My week – 11 November 2013

A regular update from Vice-Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands.

Sir Alan Langlands

My promised ‘Letter from America’ is straightforward – we had a purposeful meeting with the North American Foundation for the University of Leeds, an uplifting reception for about 120 alumni at the Cornell Club in New York and a number of useful meetings with key individuals.

There are probably more than 5,000 alumni in the United States, with a Leeds presence in every State. Our small but hugely enthusiastic cross section – from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California – spanned the period 1956 to 2013, and we were also able to welcome former postgraduate students from Ghana and Nigeria who were visiting New York. The 2013 graduate was in the city on a Mountbatten fellowship and it turned out that one of the senior directors of the Mountbatten Institute is also a Leeds alumnus.

There were many fond memories and, as a newcomer, I was introduced to the notion of the ‘Otley run’, soon to be recreated in Manhattan by a small group hankering after a former life.  The more serious business focused on the part that alumni play as ambassadors for the University, their willingness to provide the connections and networks we need to support our students and academic staff and an ongoing commitment to fund scholarships and encourage funding support for the new library.

A personal highlight was the opportunity to meet John Elderfield, arguably the University’s most distinguished alumnus in the art world.  John is Chief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art and a consultant to the Gagosian where he gave me and colleagues from the development team an exclusive preview and absorbing insight into the current exhibition ‘ Willem de Kooning; Ten Paintings, 1983 – 1985’.

The late Alistair Cooke’s letter from America in mid-November 1985 was by “bizarre coincidence” the 1,918th talk in his broadcast series.  He recalled his childhood memories of the Armistice, a reminder of a date that is now taught in schools but that left a solemn and indelible mark on previous generations.   My own act of remembrance was played out in terminal 5 at Heathrow where people of all nations and all generations stood silent and eerily still for two minutes on a Sunday morning – with no planes taking off or landing and no piercing announcements – all strangely poignant.

This act of remembrance will be repeated on the University campus this morning on the 11th day at the 11th hour and the next time you are passing the entrance to the Brotherton Library just pause by the University’s war memorial.

The memorial recalls the University motto – ‘Et augebitur scientia’, perhaps a reference to the University Leeds ‘increasing knowledge’ through the supply of personnel, training, research and advice to military forces.  The fallen are listed under the words Pro Patria, a reminder of Horace’s Odes; Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – it is sweet and right to die for your country – a sentiment roundly rejected by war poet Wilfred Owen as the “old lie”.

No matter where you stand on all of this, take time to remember those who died in two world wars and in subsequent conflicts so that we might have the privilege to be part of a community that has the freedom and resources to focus on the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge – Et augebitur scientia.

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