Master’s Email – Michaelmas 2015

Lord Chris SmithForty-six years have passed since I first came up to Pembroke to read English. I am delighted to be back here, a place which holds so many special memories for me. I am struck by how little has changed and how much. The College and its gardens are of course still astonishingly beautiful; but the College community – enhanced over the last thirty years by women students and Fellows – is even more welcoming and collegial and friendly than ever. Sir Richard Dearlove has left the College in very good heart; and I look forward to building on the firm foundations he has put in place.

Now that I have had a chance to settle in, I wanted to take a moment to outline what I consider to be the major challenges and opportunities ahead.

1. Finding a new Senior Tutor.

This is the College’s most important and immediate task. Dr Mark Wormald has been an outstanding Senior Tutor for 15 years, overseeing a period of significant academic progress for the College. Pleasingly, Pembroke consistently finds itself in the top six in the annual Tompkins Table, something I hope to see continued during my Mastership. Mark’s sage guidance is much valued in many aspects of Pembroke life and in the wider University, and finding a suitable successor to him will be a considerable challenge. We have recently advertised the post and anticipate appointing someone in the spring of 2016 with a view to them taking up their role in Michaelmas of that year. Of course, I’m pleased to say that we will not be losing Mark from the Fellowship. Instead, he is looking forward to being able to dedicate more time to research and teaching.

2. Securing the Mill Lane development.

As you will be aware, Pembroke has the rare opportunity to purchase and develop a significant portion of land on the south side of Mill Lane, directly across the road from the main College site. Sir Richard and his team have worked very hard on this project and I am looking forward to being able to take it forward to the next stage. We have ambitious plans for the site, which will enable us to bring so many more of our students – undergraduates and graduates – closer to the heart of Pembroke. The Bursar, Dr Andrew Cates, is still working on the final details of the purchase from the University but we hope to complete the agreement early in the New Year. We conservatively estimate that buying the land on a 200 year lease, re-developing it, and then making the fullest use of its potential will cost around £75 million and significant inroads have been made into raising funds towards this figure, thanks to the generosity of a number of principal donors. However, we will need to draw on the support of all our Members to fulfil this transformative vision and I will certainly be staying in touch about this!

3. Maintaining academic excellence.

We attract some of the best and brightest to Pembroke. I want to continue to foster the warmest possible academic environment for our undergraduates, graduates and our Fellowship. This means not only continuing to try to attract and admit the brightest, but also strengthening the academic links between the undergraduates and graduates, and between graduate students and the Fellowship. One of the projects being considered for the Mill Lane site is a research resource centre, which I hope would encourage cross-disciplinary work between our Fellows and their research partners, something that the College has already been innovative in exploring.

4. Enfolding graduate students more fully into the life of the College.

I had the great privilege of being a graduate, as well as an undergraduate, student at Pembroke; and I found the experience a very different one. Coming to Cambridge even for someone who already has a bachelor’s degree can be a bewildering experience. Graduate students tend to be more independent and may spend a far larger proportion of their time in their departments. Some also come with families, and have to find accommodation in the general rental market. Today, we have 285 graduate students, who come from all over the world to study at Pembroke. We must bring graduate students more closely into the heart of college life, not just physically, through the Mill Lane project, but also by giving them the encouragement and opportunity to get involved at every level of the College community.

5. Making sure we look after our students well.

Firstly, we need to ensure that our students have the financial means to study at Pembroke, by continuing to strengthen the financial support we can offer those in need. However, we also need to create the right environment for them to thrive as individuals. Pastorally, there is the Tutorial system, as well as support organised through the Junior and Graduate Parlour committees. However, I also want to nurture the sense of community for which Pembroke is rightly renowned, and which I remember so well. Sometimes our students need to be encouraged to step away from their laptops and get more involved in College life, whether that’s through playing in a college sports team, singing in the choir, standing for office in one of the Parlour committees, running a May Ball, or throwing themselves into drama, music, politics, or some of the myriad experiences that Pembroke and Cambridge can provide.

6. Making sure we continue to attract the best students, regardless of background, to Pembroke.

We remain one of the most popular colleges at both undergraduate and graduate level. This year we have yet again received over 720 applications for 135 undergraduate places. We need to continue our work to attract the best students to apply to Pembroke, regardless of their background. This is something our Admissions Office, led by Dr Caroline Burt, works hard to do and the College already has a wide range of access initiatives; but we cannot rest on our laurels and must continue to search for excellence wherever it lies, and ensure that no artificial barriers exist that might deter any of the brightest students from coming to Pembroke.

I hope you will find common cause with these objectives. Undoubtedly, other challenges will spring up over coming years. However, I am very much looking forward to meeting them head on, with the help of the excellent team we have in place at the College.

Finally, I wanted to say how much I am looking forward to meeting fellow Members like you over the course of my Mastership and I hope we will have an opportunity to meet you at a College event, in Cambridge or elsewhere, before too long.

Floreat domus!

Lord Chris Smith