A Message from Across the Pond

by Judith Roberts on 14 November 2016

Dr Barbara Wittman, alumna (1976) and Former Visiting Scholar (2012), writes about her recent visit to the College

In mid-September 2016 before the arrival of freshers and the return of undergraduates and graduate students at Michaelmas, I thought it a fine idea to revisit the college in its 50th year to greet old friends, meet the new President, Jackie Ashley and see for myself how the college is navigating in the wider university setting.  The visit was extremely rewarding and gives me a greater appreciation for the College’s continued commitment to women’s higher education.

Cambridge is as ever brilliant; as the town grows, so does the number of cycles, the cost of housing has skyrocketed and traffic is formidable. A new north train station opposite Cambridge Science Park off the A14 scheduled to open in mid-2017 will cater for 3,000 passengers a day, alleviating pressure on Cambridge station of old. The pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca has moved into Cambridge Science Park, enabling academic and pharmaceutical researchers to work harmoniously, turning good ideas into therapeutics.

As for Lucy Cavendish College, our strategic location is a great advantage:  20 minutes or less by cycle or on foot from the Veterinary School, the 8 million volume University Library and its superior tea room, and the Sidgwick site faculties for Humanities subjects. Our 2016 student enrollment is 380: 129 undergrads with 43 new students who passed the admissions process for courses in Anglo-Saxon Norse, English, Medicine, Law, Theology, Human, Social and Political Science, Engineering, Art History, Psychology and Behavioural Sciences and Modern and Medieval Languages. Graduate students number 251, 94 of whom are new to College and 157 are returners. In 2014, the College opened new accommodation at nearby 100 Histon Road, a short walk to college with 56 ensuite study bedrooms and 4 flats. This year, about a quarter of the students there are undergrads, while the remainder are graduate students.  Our wonderful housekeeping staff helps students settle in and get the best from the Cambridge experience. 

After a look round the College grounds and fabulous gardens, I met Senior Porters Neil Curtis and John Morley to hear their concerns for students and the college built environment. In 2015, St. John’s College made available three residential houses on adjacent property to ours. These houses provide easier student access to College House, the LC community, teaching facilities, the Histon Road site, the lodge, college library and the dining facilities.  However, as our student numbers increase and students are living in and closer to College, President Ashley, Neil and John believe we must employ a lodge night porter (the lodge presently closes at 12 and opens at 7 a.m.) to oversee student welfare and safety and attend to silent hours emergencies.        

The responsibility for the College’s financial development rests with our bursar, Lesley Thompson. We discussed her thinking on investment strategies for long term financial sustainability, and I am impressed with her foresight and integrity. Audited accounts for the last 5 years can be viewed at www.lucy-cav.cam.ac.uk/about-us/freedom-of-information/reports-accounts: the reports speak volumes about her strong commitment to accountability and transparency.

The College plans to continue to support students in need of financial assistance.  In order to improve the teaching, learning and the research environment, we hope to recruit new teaching officers in law, pre-clinical medicine, and human social and political sciences and to fund two new research fellowships for women starting academic life.  As Lesley points out in the 2015 Annual College Review, the early Dining Group that preceded the Collegiate Society of 1951 began the work of establishing the college with an endowment of £3,000. As our assets grow, the college still needs to increase the size of endowments.   

Senior Tutor Dr. Leigh Stoeber outlined her plans for the undergraduate induction, scheduled for Friday 30th September, which was exceedingly well attended and enjoyed by the freshers. Speakers introduced students to various facets of Cambridge life, and advised on safety and finance. Second year student, Ida Svenonius gave a tremendously well-received presentation entitled “Cambridge 101 Survival Session.” Students enjoyed ice-breaking activities, got to know one another over delicious catering, and toured the College Library and IT facilities. The academic skills session, led by many of our Directors of Studies discussed subject supervisions as an opportunity for learning in a non-intimidating environment. The key to the success of supervisions is being prepared to exchange ideas, a long-standing tradition in Cambridge.

The College Library’s mission is to support undergraduate and taught graduate courses. Librarian Celine Carty and her staff work with faculty and department libraries to keep the college’s text books up-to-date. Departments and faculty libraries hold their own induction sessions and Celine encourages students to attend. The Lucy Library, or “home library,” with twenty-four-hour access for College members is often the first port of call for queries and support and can help students as they find their way through other libraries within the Cambridge system. Subject collections must be kept current in an academic environment that pushes students to the edges of their physical and mental boundaries, as much as their knowledge. On her walk with students to the University Library orientation, Celine observed that the walk itself was an opportunity for her to get to know individual students and for students to get to know each other. The library sessions are definitely useful and hopefully, they will be incorporated into the induction schedule next year.       

As a Cambridge college that has always welcomed diversity and encouraged cross-fertilization of ideas, the highly successful alumnae reunion dinner of 24 September was an opportunity to welcome guest speaker, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a tireless spokesperson for women’s rights, whose recent posts address issues facing Muslim women including discrimination, domestic violence and forced marriage. Introduced by President Ashley, Alibhari-Brown discussed the history of the burqa and why in her view, the veil has alienated and pushed Muslim women further out of main stream society. 

In addition to the above-mentioned people who were so gracious during my time at college, very special thanks to Alison Vinnicombe and Christine Houghton and her team, Jo Ryan, Judith Roberts and the alumnae association, Drs. Jane Renfrew, Sylvia Lynn-Meaden, Sue Jackson and Isobel Maddison, Kate (Bash) Newman, Vince and Alison Lucas, the UL staff and the team in the Porters’ Lodge.

Lucy Cavendish College remains a work in progress. It is one of the youngest colleges in an ancient University. The College will always be grateful to alumnae and friends for their continuing support for students and the College infrastructure. 

To read more of Nautilus 9, click here