President Obama Is Wrong on Cuba

Yesterday President Obama said that the U.S. was prepared to change U.S. policies toward Cuba, including the U.S. embargo, if Cuba takes steps to open up to democracy and human rights and releases political prisoners.[1]

This U.S. position is wrong.[2]

First, the U.S. does not have any right to impose such pre-conditions on the mere willingness to begin discussions on addressing the many differences that have arisen between the two countries over the last half century. Moreover, in my opinion, it is contrary to the U.S. national interest to do so.

Second, the minor premise of this U.S. position is erroneous. Cuba in fact already is taking steps to  make these changes.

Cuba, pursuant to an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church, has released many political prisoners over the last couple of years. Cuba also is taking steps to open up its economy to more private enterprise. These changes are not happening as fast as many people hope for, but as President Obama has discovered, change is not easy, it takes a lot of work.

Third, Cuba recently reiterated its desire and interest in having normal relations with the U.S. and mentioned specific problems on which the two countries should be able to work together fairly quickly. All the U.S. needs to do is to reciprocate with a stated willingness to start the necessary negotiations.[3]

I have been, and continue to be, a strong supporter of President Obama. But his recent statements about our relations with Cuba are wrong. The U.S. needs to change its policies and approach toward Cuba.


[1] Reuters, Cuba Must Reform Before U.S. Eases Stance: Obama, N. Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2011); White House Blog, What you Missed: President Obama’s Open for Questions Roundtable (Sept. 28, 2011), http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/09/28/what-you-missed-president-obamas-open-questions-roundtable.

[2] See Post: The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011); Post: U.S. Repeats Its Ridiculous Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (Aug. 21, 2011); Post: The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba (May 21, 2011); Post: Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies”

(Sept. 24, 2011).

[3] Associated Press, Cuba Seeks Normalization With US, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011); Archibold, Cuban Minister Leaves a Door Open to American’s Release, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011); Post: Roots of Hope for U.S.-Cuba Relations (Sept. 27, 2011).

 

Roots of Hope for U.S.-Cuba Relations

Desires for normal relations between the U.S. and Cuba often seem hopeless.[1]

Today’s news offers two new reasons for hope for such a day.

Roots of Hope or Raices de Esperanza is a Miami-based non-profit network of more than 3,000 students and young professionals across the U.S. and abroad focused on empowering Cuban youth. They seek to inspire young people to care about Cuba, think outside the box and proactively support our young counterparts on the island through innovative means. They hope to make a positive impact on Cuba through academic and cultural initiatives guided by three basic principles: amor, amistad y esperanza (love, friendship and hope).[2]

The group’s current projects are (a) to provide young people in Cuba with refurbished cellular phones; (b) to publish the Ex(CHANGE) Guide that outlines different ways young people outside of Cuba can connect with young people on the island; and (c) to host an annual national youth leadership conference of diverse Cuban, Cuban-American and Cuba-loving young leaders.[3]

The other news providing hope were remarks yesterday in New York City by Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, to the U.N. General Assembly and to the editors and reporters of the New York Times.[4]

Rodriguez reiterated his government’s willingness and interest in moving towards normalization of relations with the U.S. One way to make progress on this overall goal was to focus on problems where, he thought, both countries had an interest in negotiating cooperation agreements. These included drug-trafficking, terrorism, human smuggling, preventing and responding to natural disasters and protecting the environment.[5]

The Foreign Minister said the U.S.’ continued imprisonment of five Cubans (known as “The Cuban Five” in the U.S. and “The Miami Five” in Cuba) was “inhumane” and called for the U.S. to release them and allow them to return to Cuba.[6]

Cuba’s imprisonment of U.S. citizen Alan Gross, the Foreign Minister said, was not linked to The Cuban Five, but he hinted otherwise. He said, “I do not see any way in which we can move on towards a solution of the Mr. Gross case but from a humanitarian point of view and on the basis of reciprocity.”[7]

The time is ripe, President Obama. Commute the sentences of the Cuban Five and allow them to return to their homes on the island. Cuba has virtually committed to respond with its release of Alan Gross.


[1] See Post: The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011); Post: U.S. Repeats Its Ridiculous Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (Aug. 21, 2011); Post: The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba (May 21, 2011); Post: Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies”

(Sept, 24, 2011).

[2] Associated Press, Nonprofit Plants Seed for Future US-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011); Roots of Hope/Raices de Esperanza, http://www.raicesdeesperanza.org.

[3] Id.

[4]  Associated Press, Cuba Seeks Normalization With US, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011); Archibold, Cuban Minister Leaves a Door Open to American’s Release, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.; Post: Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies” (Sept, 24, 2011).

[7] See n.4.

Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies”

The U.S. has been involved in three disputes over individuals convicted and imprisoned for alleged spying.

Shane Bauer & Joshua Fattal
Alan Gross

One dispute has been with Iran over its conviction and imprisonment of two American hikers (Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal) for alleged spying. This week Iran unilaterally released the two men, a decision prompted, in part, by its desire to improve its international image at the start of the U.N. General Assembly meeting.[1]

The second dispute is with Cuba over its conviction and imprisonment of an American, Alan Gross, who apparently brought some electronic equipment to Cuba for Jewish people on the island. Former Governor Bill Richardson recently was unsuccessful in his trip to Cuba to gain Gross’ release. Late this week, however, there were hints that Cuba might release him for humanitarian reasons. Cuba should follow the lead of Iran and commute the sentence to time served and release him to return to his family in the U.S.[2]

The last dispute is also with Cuba over the U.S. conviction and imprisonment of five Cubans for their efforts to gain information in the U.S. over Cuban exile groups’ flights to and over Cuba. The so called “Cuban Five” were arrested in September 1998 and subsequently convicted of various crimes. They have been in U.S. jails and prisons for the last 13 years. Yet during this long period the U.S. cruelly has granted very few visas to the Cuban spouses of four of them to visit them in U.S. prisons. One of the “Cuban Five” will complete his sentence this October, and the trial judge recently imposed three years of supervised release in the U.S. only, thereby rejecting his plea to be able to return to his family in Cuba. The U.S. should act in a humanitarian manner and commute the sentences of all five to time served and allow them to return to their families in Cuba.[3]

 

In Cuba the five are known as the “Miami Five” and are regarded as Cuban heroes for helping to protect Cuba from terroristic attacks by Cuban exile groups in the U.S. You see posters with their photographs or portraits all over the island. Cuba has mounted an international “Free the Cuban Five” campaign.

 

The time is way past due for the U.S. to have normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba.[4]


[1] E.g., Goodman & Cowell, American Hikers Leave Iran After Prison Release, N.Y. Times (Sept. 21, 2011).

[2] E.g., Archibold, Cuban Minister Leaves a Door Open to American’s Release, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2011).

[3]  E.g., Assoc. Press, Spy Wants Return to Cuba After Prison, U.S. Objects, N.Y. Times (Sept. 12, 2011); Cave, Americans and Cubans Still Mired in Distrust, N.Y. Times (Sept. 15, 2011); Cuban Embassy in Netherlands, Denied by Judge Lenard, Rene’s motion on his return to Cuba (Sept. 16, 2011), http://www.cubadiplomatica.cu/EN.

[4] See Post: The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011); Post: U.S. Repeats Its Ridiculous Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (Aug. 21, 2011); Post: The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba (May 21, 2011).

International Criminal Court: INTERPOL Issues Red Notice for Gaddafi

 On September 8th the ICC Prosecutor announced that he is requesting INTERPOL to issue a “Red Notice” to arrest Muammar Gaddafi for the alleged crimes against humanity of murder and persecution that have been charged by the ICC. The Prosecutor also is seeking such Red Notices for the other two Libyans facing ICC charges.[1] On September 9th INTERPOL isssued these Red Notices. (Nordland, INTERPOL Issues Qaddafi Arrest Warrant as More Libyan Officials Flee, N.Y. Times (Sept. 9, 2001).)

The ICC Press Release says that an “INTERPOL Red Notice seeks the provisional arrest of a wanted person with a view to extradition or surrender to an international court based on an arrest warrant or court decision.” Such notices go to all 188 countries that are members of INTERPOL.

This statement also stands as an implicit rebuke to the recent erroneous decision of El Salvador’s Supreme Court that a Red Notice only called for information about the location of individuals named in such notices, not their arrests.[2]

In another ICC development, on August 30, 2011, the Philippines deposited its instrument of ratification of the Rome Statute with the U.N. Secretary General. It will become the 117th State Party to the Statute.[3]


[1] ICC Press Release, ICC Prosecutor Requesting INTERPOL Red Notice for Gaddafi (Sept. 8, 2011). See Post: International Criminal Court and the Obama Administration (May 13, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Libya Investigation Status (May 8, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Three Libyan Arrest Warrants Sought (May 16, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Issuance of Libyan Arrest Warrants and Other Developments (June 27, 2011); Post: International Criminal Justice: Libya, Sudan, Rwanda and Serbia Developments (July 4, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Possible Arrests of Three Libyan Suspects (Aug. 22, 2011).

[2] Post: International Criminal Justice: Developments in Spanish Court’s Case Regarding the Salvadoran Murders of the Jesuit Priests (Aug. 26, 2011); Comment [to that Post]: Salvadoran Supreme Court’s Decision on INTERPOL RED NOTICE Was Erroneous (Aug. 28, 2011).

[3] ICC Press Release, The Philippines becomes the 117th State to join the Rome Statute system (Aug. 30, 2011).

Memory and Human Rights: Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula

On September 29-October 1, 2011, the University of Minnesota Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies will host an “International Symposium: Ongoing Dialogues about Memory and Human Rights: Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.”[1]

The  symposium will address the role that literature, art and film have in the struggles against enforced disappearance, torture, degrading treatment, forced prostitution, human trafficking, violence against immigrants, gender violence, and feminicide. We seek to address the relations between artistic practices and struggles against impunity and between aesthetics and ethics, and to give visibility to current human rights concerns and to the design of practices of memory.

I will be presenting a paper, “The Interactive Global Struggle Against Impunity for Salvadoran Human Rights Violators.”[2]  Other participants and their topics are the following:

  • Jean Franco (Emeritus Professor, Columbia University),“The Ghostly Arts.”
  • David William Foster (Regents’ Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies, Arizona State University), “Helen Zout’s Desapariciones: Shooting Death.”
  • Ileana Rodriguez (Humanities Distinguished Professor, Ohio State University),“ Operación Pájaro: Expediente 27, 1998. Obispo Gerardi: Enemigo del Estado.”
  • Horacio Castellanos Moya (Escritor, periodista), READING from “Insensatez (Senselessness) y Tirana memoria (Tyrant memory).”
  • Guillermina Wallas (Independent Scholar),“Ciudad y memoria: reclamos de justicia a través de las marcas testimoniales de La Plata (Argentina).”
  • Margarita Saona (Associate Professor, Department of Spanish, University of Illinois at Chicago), “Memory Sites: From Auratic Spaces to Cyberspace in Peruvian Embattled Memories.”
  • Amy Kaminsky (Professor, Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota), “Memory, Postmemory, Prosthetic Memory: Reflections on the Holocaust and Argentina’s Dirty War.”
  • Hernán Vidal (Emeritus Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, University of Minnesota),“Verdad universal: notas jurídicas para una hermenéutica cultural basada en los derechos humanos.”
  • Alicia Kozameh (writer), READING from “Pasos bajo el agua, 259 saltos, uno inmortal, Mano en vuelo,y “Bosquejo de alturas.” Barbara Frey (Program director, Human Rights Program. University of Minnesota),”Forms and Practices of Human Rights Advocacy.”
  • Felix de la Concha (Artist),“Facing Memories: Portraits with Testimonies.”
  • Patrick J. McNamara, (Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Minnesota,“Memory Without Metaphor: Cognition and the Art of Human Rights in Mexico.”
  • Raul Marrero Fente, (Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, University of Minnesota),”Ethics and Law in the Inter-American Human Rights System.”
  • Luis Martín Estudillo (Associate Professor, University of Iowa),“The Banality of Torture? Earning Democratic Credentials Under Franco.”
  • Miguel Rep (Artist, cartoonist),“Del derecho humano al humor.”
  • Regina Marques (Professor of Communication Science at the Polytechnic Institute of Setúbal (Portugal), Member MDM (Movimento Democrático de Mulheres) , CES (Conselho Económico e Social) and WIDF’s (Women’s International Democratic Federation) bureau), “ Women’s Rights as Human Rights. Vulnerabilities in Portugal and in Europe. The Gap Between the Law and Life.”
  • Javier Sanjinés (Professor, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan),”Estética y Derechos Humanos bajo la Dictadura en Bolivia: el monumentalismo de Fernando Díez de Medina.”
  • Alicia Gaspar de Alba (Writer, Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, English, and Women’s Studies at UCLA), READING from “Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders.”
  • Leigh Payne, (Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, University of Oxford, Visiting Professor, Department of Political Sciences, University of Minnesota), “The Struggle Against Silence and Forgetting in Brazil.”
  • Alexis Howe, (Assistant Professor, Dominican University), “Madness and Disappearance: El infarto del alma” by Diamela Eltit and Paz Errázuriz.
  • Ofelia Ferrán, (Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Minnesota), “Mala gente que camina, by Benjamín Prado: Uncovering the Plot of Franco’s ‘Stolen Children’ in Contemporary Spain.”


[1] Univ. Minnesota, Dep’t of Spanish & Portuguese Studies, International Symposium: Ongoing Dialogues about Memory and Human Rights: Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula, http://spanport.umn.edu/news/index.php?entry=297980. The Symposium will be held at the Maroon, Gold and the Gateway Rooms of the McNamara Alumni Center, 200 Oak St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455. For further information contact Professor Ana Forcinito (aforcini@umn.edu) or Jaime Hanneken (hanne045@umn.edu).

[2] An earlier version of this paper was presented at an October 2009 conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and has been published (in Portuguese translation) in Memorie e Justica by Brazil’s Museau da Republica (Museum of the Republic).

 

 

 

Chosen To Be a Rhodes Scholar

Cecil John Rhodes

The Rhodes Scholarships were established by the will of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), an Englishman who made a fortune in diamonds and gold in South Africa in the late 19th century. His will established the Rhodes Scholarships for English-speaking men from the British Commonwealth and the U.S. A codicil to the will added five scholarships for Germany because its Emperor recently had made the teaching of English mandatory in German schools. Rhodes had a vision of promoting international understanding and peace by providing the common broadening experience of an Oxford education to future leaders who were motivated to serve their contemporaries. [1]

In the U.S. in 1960 an individual to be eligible for the Scholarship had to be (a) a male U.S. citizen with at least five years’ domicile in the U.S. and unmarried; [2] (b) between the ages of 18 and 24; and (c) at least a junior at a recognized U.S. degree-granting university or college. The criteria for selection, as established by the will of Cecil Rhodes, were the following:

  • Literary and scholastic ability and attainments;
  • Qualities of manhood, truthfulness, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship;
  • Exhibition of moral force of character and of instincts to lead and to take an interest in his fellows; and
  • Physical vigor, as shown by fondness for and success in sports.[3]

The Rhodes Trust in 1960 added the following commentary on these criteria. “Some definite quality of distinction, whether intellect or character, is the most important requirement . . . . The Rhodes Scholar should not be a one-sided man. Thus special distinction of intellect should be founded upon sound character and special quality of character upon sound intellect. . . . Cecil Rhodes evidently regarded leadership as consisting of moral courage and interest in one’s fellow-man quite as much as in the more aggressive qualities. Physical vigor is an essential qualification . . . but athletic prowess is of less importance than the moral qualities that can be developed in sports.”[4]

Those requirements should have been enough to scare away any young man, but many applied even though only 32 are chosen each year in the U.S. In 1960 there were selection committees in every state, and a candidate could apply in his state of residence or the state in which he had received at least two years of his college education.  Each state then nominated two candidates to go to one of eight districts for another round of competition with each district selecting four Scholars.

As I was a resident of Iowa and had gone to college in Iowa, I applied for the Scholarship in Iowa, which was in a District with Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. The application consisted of a written endorsement from the individual’s college or university; your college transcript; a personal essay; and letters of recommendation. I received counsel on my application from George Drake, a former Grinnell Rhodes Scholar (1957-59) who was teaching history at the College in 1960-61 while he was working on his B.D. and M.A. from the University of Chicago. (Later he received those degrees plus a Ph.D. from Chicago. From 1979 to 1991 he was the President of the College.)

My essay reviewed my academic work and extracurricular activities at Grinnell and American University and stated my desire to devote my life to politics and government. “I believe that engagement in the decision-making processes of our nation’s government is a high purpose in life and that educated, intelligent men have a responsibility to society, to their fellow men.” Reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics or PPE at Oxford, I continued, “would contribute to my personal development and to my preparation for a possible future career in government and politics.” (The essay, when read today, is not very scintillating.)

In early December 1960, the Iowa Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee advised me that I was one of the candidates to be interviewed by the Committee on December 14th at an office in Des Moines. The Chairman of the Committee was Paul A. Thompson, who was a Des Moines businessman and not a former Rhodes Scholar. The other members of the Committee, however, were all former Scholars; they were R. B. Patrick, an insurance company executive; Virgil Hancher, the President of the University of Iowa; Dr. D. T. Nelson, Professor of English at Luther College; and Dr. Bille C. Carlson, Associate Professor of Physics at Iowa State University.

On December 14th I joined 10 or 11 other candidates for the interviews. I did not keep a journal of what happened that day, and I do not recall the details of the interview. I really regret this lacuna because this was an important piece of my life and because Rhodes interviews are often known for their off-beat questions. I only have a vague recollection of talking about my Washington Semester experience and learning about Impressionism at museums in Washington. At the end of the day the Committee met with all of the candidates and announced that Bill Hartmann from Iowa State University and I were nominated to go to the District competition.

Three days later Hartmann and I joined 10 other nominees from the other five states in the District for the final interviews. Again the interviews were held in Des Moines. The chairman of the committee and a non-former Rhodes Scholar was W. Harold Brenton, the founder of the Brenton Banks. The other members of the committee, all former Rhodes Scholars, were Mr. Patrick from the Iowa Committee, Professor Emory K. Lindquist of the University of Wichita, Professor Robert M. Muir of the University of Iowa, C. H. Riggs of Pierre, South Dakota, H. A. Gunderson of Fremont, Nebraska and Merrimon Cuninggim of St. Louis, Missouri. Again I do not recall the details of the interview other than the Committee’s announcement at the end of the day that David Ness from Minnesota and MIT,[5] Fred Morrison from Kansas and the University of Kansas,[6]Bill Hartmann[7] and I were chosen Rhodes Scholars.

Thereafter the other new Scholars and I advised the Warden of Rhodes House and Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, E.T. Williams, which Oxford colleges we wanted to attend. I believe I said I wanted to go to Balliol College, which was probably the most prestigious in Oxford. On February 20, 1961, Mr. Williams advised me that he failed to gain my admittance at my preferred college and instead had prevailed upon Worcester College to take me. Worcester, he assured me, would be a great place, and Virgil Hancher, then the President of the University of Iowa, had been there.

I advised President Hancher that I too would be a Worcester man, and he was delighted to receive that news. As I later discovered, I was also pleased to be at Worcester.[8]


[1] Philip Ziegler, Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Scholarships (New Haven; Yale Univ. Press 2008)[“Legacy“]; Anthony Kenny (ed.), The History of the Rhodes Trust 1902-1999 (Oxford; Oxford Univ. Press 2001)[“Kenny“]; Office of the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, http://www.rhodesscholar.org/home.

[2] In 1965 the Rhodes Trustees eliminated the ban on marriage for Scholars in their second year at Oxford, and in 1994, the marriage ban was eliminated altogether. (Legacy at 217-19, 222-23; Kenny at 58-60.) In 1975 the Rhodes Trustees prevailed upon Parliament to include a provision in the new Equal Opportunities Act that would allow the Rhodes Trustees to eliminate any discrimination against women. Immediately thereafter the Trustees asked the U.K. Secretary of State for Education for permission to do just that. The next year, 1976, permission was granted, and women became eligible for the Scholarships. (Legacy at 217-23; Kenny at 66-69.) Before 1975, I was a member of the Minnesota Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee that held an informal interview with a female candidate and that thereafter wrote to the Trustees urging them to seek Parliamentary relief from the terms of the will regarding gender.

[3] Rhodes Trust, The Rhodes Scholarships–The United States of America, 1960 (April 1960).

[4] Id.

[5] David Ness obtained a B.A. (Oxon) in PPE in 1963. He then returned to MIT where he earned a Ph.D. and taught at its Sloan School of Management. While at MIT he worked on Project MAC, the pioneering research project that significantly advanced the development of computer operating systems. In 1973 he joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance as a professor of management and later also of decision sciences. He retired from Wharton in the late 1980s and worked as a consultant until 1993. He was the author of books and articles about computer software. In 2006 he died of complications following surgery. (Rhodes Trust, Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1985, at 257 (1996)[“Register“]; Obituary:  David Ness, , U. Penn. Almanac (Feb. 28, 2006), http://www.upenn.edu/almanac/volumes/v52/n24/obit.html#dn.)

[6] Fred Morrison obtained a B.A. (Oxon) in Jurisprudence in 1963, a M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Princeton University and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. He is a Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School after teaching at the University of Iowa School of Law. (Register at 256; Univ. Minnesota Law School, Fred L. Morrison, http://www.law.umn.edu/facultyprofiles/morrisonf.html. )

[7] Bill Hartmann obtained a D. Phil. (Oxon) in Physics in 1965. After being a Research Physicist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, he joined the faculty at Michigan State University, where he is a Professor. Hartmann is a noted physicist, psychoacoustician, author, and former president of the Acoustical Society of America. His major contributions in psychoacoustics are in pitch perception,  binaural hearing, and sound localization. (Register at 255; Wikipedia, William M. Hartmann, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_M._Hartmann.)

[8] See Post: Sailing to Oxford (Aug. 29, 2011); Post: Reading PPE at Oxford (June 6, 2011); Post: PPE Examinations at Oxford (June 10, 2011); Post: Oxford’s Lord Franks (June 20, 2011); Post: Celebrating Oxford’s Worcester College’s 700th Anniversary (May 29, 2011); Post: Oxford in New York City (May 17, 2011); Post: Dinner at an Oxford High Table (May 18, 2011).

My Oxford University Years

Worcester College

As a Rhodes Scholar, I was a student at the University of Oxford’s Worcester College for two years, 1961-1963. I studied or “read” Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).[1]

The University traces its beginnings to the late 12th century after foreign-born students were expelled from Paris and Britian’s King Henry II prohibited British students from leaving the country. Many of their teachers congregated in the city of Oxford. Halls like Gloucester Hall (Worcester’s predecessor) and colleges arose from the need for board and lodging for the students. The distinction of being the oldest Oxford college is usually given to Balliol College, which traces its history to 1263, when John Balliol, one of King Henry III’s most loyal Lords, rented a house in Oxford for poor students.

In the early 1960’s when I was there, the University was comprised of over 20 separate colleges. Each has its own history and endowment. Each has its own head and fellows or dons who instructed its students in tutorials. Worcester, for example, had a claim to a 700-year history.[2] Some colleges were wealthy; Christ Church College was, and still is, reputed to be the wealthiest. Others were not so well endowed. These colleges are spread out all over the city of Oxford, and their buildings are used for various university events.

Oxford’s academic calendar is very different from those for U.S. colleges and universities. Oxford has three academic terms, each eight weeks long: Michaelmas in the Fall; Hilary in the winter; and Trinity in the Spring. There are six-week vacations or “vacs” between Michaelmas and Hilary and between Hilary and Trinity Terms plus a 16-week vacation or “long vac” in the summer.

Radcliffe Camera

During the three academic terms, I was focused on preparing for, and attending, two tutorials per week. This meant spending a lot of time in some of Oxford’s many libraries. Most of my time was spent in the ugly New Bodleian Library which was built in the 1930’s and which had the collections focusing on the PPE syllabus. I also spent some time in the library in the beautiful mid-18th century Radcliffe Camera and Worcester College’s own library.

Christ Church Hall

I also went to some of the lectures on PPE subjects. These were held all over the city in different University and college buildings. I especially remember attending a lecture in the dining hall of the majestic Christ Church College or “The House” (The House of Christ). The portrait over the High Table at the end of the hall, where the lecturer stood, was of the College’s founder, King Henry VIII. On the side walls I noticed portraits of some of The House’s many famous “Old Members”(alumni): John Wesley, Charles Wesley, John Locke, William Gladstone and Anthony Eden.

Worcester College Dining Hall
Worcester College Dining Hall

My meals were in the Worcester’s Dining Hall. The food was not very creative or delectable English food. For dinner we were required to wear coat and tie and our academic gowns. When the Provost and dons marched into the hall to have their meal at the High Table, we all stood. Then one of the College’s Classics scholars said grace in Latin. There was a custom that if you talked too much about your work at dinner, you could be challenged or “sconced.” In response, you either had to give an oration in Latin or drink a pint of bitter beer in one gulping or pay for beers for everyone at your table. At most I observed this once in two years, and I was not the subject of the “sconce.” Once a week before I got to the hall for breakfast, I could smell kippers (smoked herring); I turned around and went back to my room.

Life at Oxford clearly centered around life in your college. But there were occasional social events for Rhodes Scholars at Rhodes House, and each Scholar had several one-on-one conversations each year with the Warden of Rhodes House, E.T. Williams. We would discuss how our studies were going and any particular problems we were encountering. The Warden obviously would dispense advice when needed. I often wondered what he noted in his file on me.

Turf Tavern
Trout Inn

Oxford is famous too for its many pubs, and I visited them on occasion. The Turf Tavern on Bath Street was my favorite; I went here for lunch when I was taking PPE Schools. Others in the City were the Mitre on High Street and the Bear near Merton College. Occasionally I went to the bar of the posh Randolph Hotel, which was close to Worcester. (Many years later when my wife and I returned to Oxford and stayed at the hotel, we noticed photographs in the bar of actor John Thaw who played Inspector Morse in the TV mystery series set in Oxford.) North of Oxford was The Trout Inn with views of the spires of the city from its gardens on the Isis River.

Oxford has an active sporting life during the three terms.

For the University teams, the most important accomplishment is playing against its main rival, the University of Cambridge, and earning an Oxford “Blue.” In December it was rugby with the match against Cambridge played at the 82,000-seat Twickenham Stadium in London. In the winter it is basketball. In the spring it is track, cricket and rowing. The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race is on the Thames River in London in April. The big cricket match against Cambridge is played at Lord’s Cricket Ground near London in July. I am not sure about track, but the first ever four-minute mile was run by Oxford University’s Roger Bannister at the track in Oxford in 1954.

Each college also has its own athletic teams. In Michaelmas Term 1961 I played prop forward for Worcester’s second rugby team; this position is similar to an offensive/defensive lineman in U.S. football. I was not very good.

In Trinity Term 1962 I played cricket for Worcester’s casual team that played teams from nearby villages. I was not very good at cricket either. My most vivid cricket memory concerns driving to a match in an antique and, I am sure, very expensive sports car owned by a Scottish nobleman at the College. As he was turning from the High Street (a major street of Oxford) into a side street (Marsh Lane), a pedestrian who was obviously not a university student was hesitating on crossing the street. The driver stared at the pedestrian and disdainfully said, “Are you going to cross or not?” I cringed to witness this British class snobbery.

Punting on Cherwell River

Another quasi-athletic activity was punting on the Cherwell River before it empties into the Thames River in Oxford. A rather flat boat is propelled by manual use of a long pole, somewhat like the gondoliers in Venice. The punter stands at the back of the punt, half-facing to the side (probably the right). He holds the pole vertically against the side of the punt and lets the pole run through his hands until it touches the riverbed. The pole then is pushed downwards and backwards, gently at first, then more forcefully towards the end of the stroke (because, as your stroke “flattens” and the pole becomes closer to horizontal, less of your energy is going into pushing down into the riverbed, and more into pushing the punt forwards). After Mary Alyce arrived in Oxford in the Fall of 1962, we occasionally went punting.

During the three “vacs,” Oxford students were expected to continue their studies on their own, and I certainly did that. But the “vacs” also provided time to travel. I did that as well as will be discussed in future posts.

University of Oxford
University of Oxford

After learning my way around the city of Oxford, I took special delight in just walking or biking in the midst of these glorious historic buildings and knowing how to get to different places in the lanes and byways. For two short years, I joined the thousands who can claim that they were privileged to have been students at the University of Oxford.


[1] See Post: Reading PPE at Oxford (June 6, 2011); Post: PPE Examinations at Oxford (June 10, 2011); Post: Oxford’s Lord Franks (June 20, 2011). See also Post: Oxford in New York City (May 17, 2011); Post: Dinner at an Oxford High Table (May 18, 2011); Post: Celebrating Oxford’s Worcester College’s 700th Anniversary (May 29, 2011); Post: Celebrating 80th Anniversary of Rhodes Scholarships (May 30, 2011); Post: Celebrating the Rhodes Scholarships Centennial (June 21, 2011).

[2] See Post: Celebrating Oxford’s Worcester College’s 700th Anniversary (May 29, 2011).