The Vice-Chancellor's reflections
In a personal blog, our Vice-Chancellor Professor Simone Buitendijk reflects on the last few weeks, including Queen Elizabeth II's funeral, honorary graduates, the FUAM Art Prize and more.
Queen Elizabeth II
The last couple of weeks have been deeply poignant with the passing of Her Majesty. I was honoured to attend the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey on behalf of the University and was particularly struck by the sermon read by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, which celebrated the Queen’s lifelong commitment to the idea of servant leadership, which underpinned her sustained and selfless public service over seven decades.
The touching poem, Floral Tribute, written by our Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage, who was appointed poet laureate by the Queen in 2019, is testimony to the enduring power of poetry and language to move and inspire us.
In this time of national reflection, we can also remember happier times too: the Jubilee in June was a period of great celebration and we were honoured that one of our students, Edward Roberts, designed the Jubilee logo.
Honorary graduates – 2022
The return of graduation ceremonies in the summer was cause for celebration. Our students work so hard during the course of their studies at Leeds and after the disruption of the pandemic, it is great to see these milestone events back in the calendar. It was a huge privilege to welcome on your behalf eight special people, who were awarded honorary degrees in recognition of their significant contributions over many years in Law, Sciences and the Arts.
This year’s honorary graduates were (left to right, row by row):
Brenda Hale, Alison Lowe, Gillian Leng, David Gray
Eleanor Dodson, Rachel Skinner, Mark Tucker, Nina Gualinga
All became Doctors of Laws, except from Eleanor Dodson and Gillian Leng, who became Doctors of Science.
The arrival of our students for the new academic year is a fantastic sight – they truly bring campus to life. We have an exciting programme of activities – Campus Live – kicking off on Friday 7 October to showcase our campus, students, staff and partners. From live spectacles to art installations, poetry slams to sports demonstrations, campus will come alive throughout autumn term with a display of the hidden talents of our University community. Staff, students and visitors to campus may wish to allow a bit more time than usual to get from A to B, as a programme of pop-up activities hosted in unexpected locations on campus keep us distracted with moments of surprise, delight and inspiration.
Arts graduate Exhibition and Prize
The FUAM Graduate Art Prize Exhibition in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery is a must-see. This is an imaginative and dynamic show by four talented artists – Liv Hedges and Sunny Wong (who studied on the BA Art and Design programme); and Suman Shams and Astrid Butt (who completed the BA Fine Art programme).
I don’t envy the judging panel as they try to select an overall winner, but they will have to do so later in the autumn. You can have your say too – alongside the judges’ decision there is a people’s choice, which is your chance to cast your vote. You can see the exhibition Tuesday – Saturday until Saturday 5 November. You can also see the exhibition online.
Refreshed and ready for the new academic year
I hope you managed to take a break – whether at home or abroad – during the summer. We all need time and space for ourselves to recharge our batteries, to think, pause and reflect.
The start of the new academic year is one of my favourite times in the calendar. And especially after the disruption of the pandemic, I am really looking forward to seeing the University community coming together face-to-face again, and the new and exciting opportunities and outcomes which can result.
Making progress on our ambitions for global access to knowledge and learning
Later this year, the University will sign the Knowledge Equity Network declaration. This is a significant step towards our vision of unlocking knowledge in higher education, teaching, research and societal outreach for a fairer future. We want Leeds to be at the heart of a global community combining research and innovation, research-led student education and knowledge exchange.
This is our vision of a world in which human knowledge is shared more equitably, unhindered by barriers of cost, time or national borders and links directly to our overall strategy Universal Values, Global Change.
Just think what could be achieved by harnessing the latest research-led, challenge-focused education at scale, as part of a global effort to meet – and solve – the biggest challenges facing our planet. That calls for a bold strategy like the Knowledge Equity Network – a truly global initiative we are kicking-off in Leeds.
Stepping forward on Equity
At the beginning of the month I welcomed our new Director of EDI, Fiona McClement, to the University. Fiona’s appointment is timely – we launched our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy at the end of last academic year. This is an inseparable component of our vision and is critical to our aim of making a positive difference in the world.
We need to stop denying that there is a problem with EDI in higher education. Once we acknowledge the reality of pervasive bias in universities, we can work together in an atmosphere of positivity to create an equitable environment. As a result of the strategy, the University of Leeds will be a place which brings the broadest representation of people together, where every person is accepted as equal, inspired to participate and empowered to succeed.
We’re focusing on equity rather than equality in this new strategy. That’s because equity recognises that each person has a different starting point so, while treating everybody equally would enable some people to get ahead in life, it also increases the chance that others remain behind. We want our EDI strategy to reflect the importance of giving individuals what they need to thrive and succeed.