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).

Oxford’s Lord Franks

Lord Franks

In February 1962, Sir Oliver Shewell Franks was installed as the Provost of Oxford’s Worcester College. Three months later he was awarded a life peerage as Lord Baron Franks, of Headington in the County of Oxford.[1]

As a Worcester student at the time, I soon learned that Franks was “Mr. Establishment.”

After a brilliant performance as a Classics student at Oxford with a Congratulatory First in 1927, Franks immediately was elected a Fellow in Philosophy at Oxford’s Queens College. There he helped to establish the new degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). In 1937 Franks moved to Glasgow University to hold the Chair in Moral Philosophy, a post once held by Adam Smith.

With World War II on the horizon in 1939, he was conscripted into the U.K. Civil Service to work in the Ministry of Supply, which was in charge of production of war material and equipment. His successful efforts to replenish the British military equipment after the forced withdrawal of forces from Europe at Dunkirk in 1940 drew praise, and by the end of the war Franks was Permanent Secretary of the Ministry. For this exemplary public service, he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1942 and a Knight Grand Cross in 1946.

After the war in 1946, Franks returned to Oxford’s Queen’s College to be its Provost. He was able to hold this position for only two years, but thereafter was a lifetime Honorary Fellow of the College.

The reason for his 1948 departure from Oxford was his acceptance of a request by Prime Minister Clement Atlee to be the U.K. Ambassador to the U.S., a position he held until 1952. During these years he headed the British delegation for European discussions about what became the Marshall Plan for U.S. aid to Europe. He helped to found the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and became Chairman of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation.

In 1953 Franks had many offers of important jobs in the U.K. and Europe. The one he chose in 1954 was Chairman of Lloyd’s Bank, one of Britain’s largest banks, and he held this position until 1962, when he became Provost of Worcester College. Franks also headed many important commissions of inquiry and was on the board of trustees or directors of other important institutions in the U.K.

In 1960 Franks, with the support of influential heads of several Oxford colleges, was a candidate for the Chancellorship of the University of Oxford, its titular head. His main opponent was Harold Macmillan, then Prime Minister. I recall reading in Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain (1962) that the Chancellorship was an office elected by the holders of Oxford M.A. degrees, who were physically present at a meeting in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theater. Sampson also reported that Macmillan thought that losing this election to Franks would be a political embarrassment and so ordered or persuaded the many government officials and civil servants who held Oxford M.A. degrees to go by train to Oxford that day to vote for Macmillan. With that special effort, Macmillan won the election by a narrow margin and became the Chancellor. He still held that position in 1983 when he attended the dinner to celebrate Worcester College’s 700th anniversary.[2]

In 1962 when Franks became Worcester’s Provost, he turned down an offer from Prime Minister Macmillan to be the Governor of the Bank of England. He retired from Worcester in 1976, but remained active on the boards of various important institutions and government and university commissions until his death in 1992.

Through this life of remarkable service, Franks gained a reputation as the “Divine Authority” or the “Headmaster of Headmasters.” At 6’2″ with a high brow, he gave the impression of all-seeing omniscience. It was said that if you managed to break the ice with Franks, you would find a lot of cold water underneath.

With such a record and reputation, Franks was an imposing figure for a lowly Oxford undergraduate like me to encounter. I, therefore, was surprised to discover a shy, engaging human being.

At a sherry party in the Provost’s Lodgings at Worcester, Franks once asked me, “Krohnke, do you know why The Times (of London, of course) has advertisements on its front page?” I did not know, so he told me that in the great houses of Britain the butler ironed The Times before the head of the house read the newspaper. I thought that was a bit silly, but there is a scene in the movie The Remains of the Day in which the butler played by Anthony Hopkins is ironing the newspaper. And in the 2011 version of Upstairs, Downstairs a fuss is made when the newspaper arrives too late for the butler to iron the newspaper. (The Times many years ago ceased the practice of front-page advertisements only.)

In the Spring of 1963 Franks lead a “revision” session on political philosophy for Worcester students who were taking PPE Schools that year.[3] Franks mentioned “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  One of the English students who had attended Eton College, the preeminent English “public” school, interrupted to say, “I am sorry, I did not get that all written down. Would you repeat that phrase, please?” (Perhaps it was just my American background, but I always thought it odd that an Oxford University student, in PPE, would not know that phrase.)

In June 1963, after I finished PPE “Schools,” my fiancée and I were married in Oxford’s Manchester College Chapel. As a wedding gift, Lord and Lady Franks gave us a beautiful colored print of the Worcester Provost’s Lodgings.

After I had obtained a First in PPE, Franks sent me a short typed note with his “warm congratulations” and announcement of my receiving a “College Prize for your performance in the examination.” (The prize was “books to the value of ten guineas.”) Another short typed note at the same time stated that he  was “glad to give you the College Grace to take your B.A. degree.” (This undoubtedly was a form note that gave the college a lever to force you to pay all of your college bills.)

My best Franks story, however, took place earlier in one of Worcester’s Senior Common Rooms when my philosophy tutor gave an oral “report card” on my performance to Franks as the head of the College. All of us were in suit and tie, of course, and covered by academic gowns. My tutor must have given a positive report on my performance although I do not recall what he said. Franks responded, “Krohnke, your tutor says you are doing very well. But I do think there is more time for devilry.” I was caught totally off-guard by this note of levity from the august personage of Lord Franks. The word “devilry” was not in my vocabulary, but it sounded mischievous. I had no response.


[1] Wikipedia, Oliver Franks, Baron Franks, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Franks,_Baron_Franks; Middlemas, Obituary: Lord Franks, The Independent (Oct. 17, 1992), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-lord-franks-1557796.html; Lambert, Lord Franks, Diplomat Who Led Marshall Plan Effort, Dies at 87, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 1992)(http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/18/world/lord-franks-diplomat-who-led-marshall-plan-effort-dies-at-87.html?pagewanted=print&src=pm; Alex Danchev, Oliver Franks: founding father (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993);Michael Hopkins, Oliver Franks and the Truman Administration: Anglo-American Relations, 1948-1952 (London: Frank Cass 2003); Smethurst, Oliver Shewell Franks, 139 Proceedings of the American Philosophical Soc’y 83 (1995); Franks, Britain and the Tide of World Affairs (London: Oxford Univ. Press 1955); Somerville, Oliver Franks, hsommerville.com.

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

[3] See Post: Reading PPE at Oxford (June 6, 2011); Post: PPE Examinations at Oxford (June 10, 2011).

PPE Examinations at Oxford

As indicated in my discussion of “reading” PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford,[1] the examinations were given at the end of a student’s time at the University. For me, that was early June 1963.

Examination Schools Building

For the examinations, University statutes required the students to wear sub-fusc (Latin: dark/dusky color) clothing. For men, this meant dark suit and socks; black shoes; white shirt and collar; white bow tie; and academic gown and cap. Riding my bicycle to the exams with all of this regalia made me feel special, for most of the people you passed knew from your garb that you were “taking Schools.” The examinations were given in a late 19th century University building called The Examination Schools on High Street in the city. Thus, the exams colloquially were called “Schools.”

The examinations were prepared, and evaluated, by a university-wide committee, and if one of your tutors happened to be on the committee, he or she was barred from grading your answers.

For PPE there were eight three-hour exams given over two weeks. Six of them were in the required subjects. The other two exams were in the student’s optional papers.

Each of the examinations had the same format. You had to answer four questions on a printed sheet of 13 to 16 questions. At the time, I thought they were the fairest exams I had ever encountered because they eliminated the chance that even though you knew the subject and had engaged in diligent preparation, you would be hit with a question for which you were not prepared. As I look back on the experience 48 years later, I could see how this format could be nerve-racking and force a student into wasting a lot of time figuring out which four questions to answer. This, however, was not my plight. I believe that I quickly read the complete list of questions and first picked the question for which I was most prepared and answered that one. Then I looked at the remaining questions and picked another question for which I was prepared and answered that one until I had answered four questions. As I reflect now on that experience, I can see a tactical problem of pacing yourself so that you did not spend too much time answering the questions for which you were best prepared.

Here is a sample of the 32 questions that I answered on the PPE examinations in June of 1963:

  • General Philosophy (from Descartes to the present): “Is there anything wrong with Hume’s definition of cause?”
  • Moral and Political Philosophy: “Is a retributive theory of punishment the only safeguard against condoning the punishment of the innocent?”
  • Theory and Working of Political Institutions: “Has the British Parliament anything to learn from the U.S. Congress?”
  • British Political and Constitutional History Since 1830: “Why was the second Parliament Act so much like the first?”
  • Principles of Economics: “‘Monetary and fiscal policies should always work in the same direction.’ Should they?”
  • Economic Organization: “How would you judge whether there is a world liquidity shortage?”
  • Public Finance: “Compare the merits of an annual capital tax and an expenditure tax.”
  • Currency and Credit: “‘Debt management is monetary policy.’ Discuss.”

(I do not remember what my answers were and could not intelligently answer these or the other 24 questions today.)

After I had finished the written exams, I told my philosophy tutor what I had done. On the Political Institutions paper, I said I had written about the U.S. and the U.K. In response, the tutor said, “Krohnke, you should expect to be called back for a ‘viva‘ [viva voce or oral examination] to establish ‘spread’ or breadth. So get out the Political Institutions examination paper and develop an answer about France or the Soviet Union.”

This was an example of how your tutors were also your coaches. That relationship was celebrated when Worcester College’s PPE tutors gave a dinner for their students who were “taking Schools” that term in one of the College’s senior common rooms.

In any event, I did as my tutor suggested and prepared an answer about France or the Soviet Union for the Political Institutions examination. It was time well spent for indeed I was called back for a viva by the full examination committee of six or so dons. It took place in a large room in the Examination Schools building. The dons were wearing full academic gear (robes, caps, etc.), and again I was in sub-fusc clothing. The chair of the committee said, “Mr. Krohnke, please tell us something about France or the Soviet Union.” I said something like, “Question No. 4” and then delivered my memorized answer. The committee chair then said, “Thank you very much,” and I left the room.

Sometime in July the examination results were posted on the University bulletin boards and published in The Times of London. I was greatly surprised and pleased to discover that I had obtained a First, which was awarded to the top 7.5 % of the 240 taking the exams.

Sheldonian Theater

All that was left was to obtain the B.A. degree in a ceremony in the Christopher Wren-designed Sheldonian Theater. The entire degree ceremony was conducted in Latin by the Classics (Greek and Latin) don from my college, who held the University position of Public Orator. Although I did not understand what he was saying, it was difficult to keep a straight face because the university newspaper that term had referred to him as “the Pubic Orator.”


[1] Post: Reading PPE at Oxford (June 6, 2011).

Reading PPE at Oxford

Once I knew I would be going to the University of Oxford in the Fall of 1961, I had to decide what I was going to study. At the time, most American Rhodes Scholars read for a second bachelor’s degree that involved Oxford’s traditional tutorial style of education. (Today, more choose to seek advanced degrees.)

I rejected “reading” Jurisprudence for a B.A. degree because at the time that required translation of Roman law from Latin into English, a skill I did not have and did not think I could acquire “on the side” while doing everything else at Oxford.

Instead, like many American Rhodes Scholars, I chose Philosophy, Politics and Economics or PPE.[1] It was also known as “Modern Greats” to indicate that it was designed in the 1920’s to replicate some of the features of Classics or Greats or Literae Humaniores (Greek and Latin), one of Oxford’s traditional and famous courses of study. PPE, on the other hand, was designed to be a well-balanced course of study of the social problems of the modern world.[2]

PPE was organized in two subjects in each of the three PPE disciplines: General Philosophy (from Descartes to the present); Moral and Political Philosophy; Theory and Working of Political Institutions; British Political and Constitutional History Since 1830; Principles of Economics; and Economic Organization. The student also selected two additional subjects to study; I chose two in economics–Public Finance and Currency and Credit.

During Oxford’s three eight-week terms of the academic year, you had two tutorials a week in these subjects. For the six required subjects there were usually only two students with tutors from your own college. For the optional subjects, you usually were alone in the tutorial and sometimes with a tutor from another Oxford college who specialized in those subjects.

Each week the tutor would set the problem and suggest relevant readings for the next week. The subject would always be put as a question that required you to come to a conclusion and marshal the evidence and arguments for your conclusion. Here are examples of such problems:

  • “The Left was never right.” Discuss this verdict with regard to British foreign policy between the world wars. Was the Right ever wrong?
  • What do we mean by “James who now does this is the same person who did that?” How do we know we are correct?
  • Is the City [London’s financial industry] vital to the U.K.’s role in world trade?
  • Can it ever be justifiably claimed that a tariff is imposed for revenue purposes only?
  • Is infallibility a pre-condition for knowledge? If not, why do we often think it is?

During the following week, if you were doing your work, you would read at least the suggested readings and prepare an essay analyzing the problem. At the following tutorial one of the students (if there were two) would read his essay, and the tutor would comment, ask questions and start discussions about the problem. The tutorials, by the way, were held in the tutor’s rooms in the college, and the students were required to wear their academic gowns. (Although I was a Rhodes Scholar, I was not a scholar of Worcester College and, therefore, was not entitled to wear a scholar’s longer gown. Instead, I wore a skimpy “commoner’s gown.”)

The philosophy tutorials were the most difficult and frustrating for me. Oxford was then in the throes of linguistic analysis with its emphasis on careful examination of the language of philosophical argument.[3] We frequently were assigned very abstruse articles in British philosophical journals —Mind and Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. One of the articles that I recall had a title like “What do we mean when we say this is a Grade A apple?” I kept wondering  why I was spending my time reading these articles. Usually, however, during the tutorial I would say to myself that this was a worthy activity for someone like the tutor who was really good at it. But it was not for me. The tutor probably would say to himself, “Oh, these pragmatic Americans, they don’t get it.”

In addition to preparing for and participating in tutorials, the students could, if they wished, attend university-wide lectures on the PPE subjects (or, if you wished, on any other subjects that interested you.) I attended some and heard some of the famous Oxford dons of the day: J. R. Hicks (economist), Gilbert Ryle (philosopher) and A. J. Ayer (philosopher) are ones that I remember.

Finally during your “vacs” (vacations) and especially the “long vac” (the four-month summer vacation), you were encouraged to study independently. During one vac, for example, I spent several weeks at St. Deiniol’s Library (n/k/a Gladstone’s Library), a residence library near Hawarden, Wales[4] where I had room and board and a quiet library in which to study. (The Library was founded for “Divine Learning” by William Ewart Gladstone, Britain’s 19th century Prime Minister, and is close to Hawarden Castle, which was Gladstone’s estate.)[5]

At the end of each term, as I recall, your tutors gave practice exams, which were evaluated and returned with comments. Also at least once a year one of your tutors would give an “oral report card” on your performance to the head of your college.

The only “real” examinations were those given at the end of your time at Oxford. This memorable experience will be described in a subsequent posting.

As I reflect on this educational experience, I especially value the way that the subjects were presented to the students. You were forced to come to a conclusion and justify that conclusion, rather than saying a lot about a subject and avoiding coming to your own conclusions. You also had great freedom. You could look for, and read, resources beyond those suggested by the tutor. You could attend lectures if you wanted to. Given the one-on-one nature of tutorials, a student could not hide and never say a word.


[1]  Two of the more famous American Rhodes Scholars, Pete Dawkins and Bill Bradley, for example, read PPE. (See Post: Oxford in New York City (May 17, 2011).) Bill Clinton, who was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, 1968-70, started in PPE, but soon abandoned the program because he thought it was too repetitive of his U.S. undergraduate education. Clinton first switched to a graduate degree program (B. Litt. in Politics) that did not involve tutorials, but required a 50,000-word dissertation. His tutor, however, persuaded him that was a mistake and to switch instead to a graduate degree (B. Phil. in Politics), that had tutorials, essays, exams and a shorter thesis. Clinton made the switch, but did not finish this program and did not earn an Oxford degree; his memoir says he chose to go to Yale Law School rather than finishing the Oxford degree. (Bill Clinton, My Life at 141-43, 171 (New York: Knopf  2004); Ralph Evans (editor), Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1995 at 306 (Oxford: Rhodes Trust 1996).) In 2003 my wife and I attended a celebration of the centennial of the Rhodes Scholarships at Westminster Hall in London where Clinton was one of the speakers. He said his family was always embarrassed he had never earned an Oxford degree, but that year his daughter Chelsea redeemed the family honor by earning such a degree the prior day. (Bill Clinton, Speech: Rhodes Trust Centenary Celebration, July 2, 2003, http://www.clingtonfoundation.org.) Other American Rhodes Scholar-politicians who read PPE are U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and former Senators David Boren and Paul Sarbanes. (Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1995 at 201, 203, 269.) The current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, also read PPE, as did other prominent U.K. politicians (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Shirley Williams, Edwina Castle). (Wikipedia, David Cameron, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cameron; BBC News, Why does PPE rule Britain? (Oct. 31, 2010), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11136511.

[2]  Handbook to the University of Oxford at 147-50, 158-60 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1960); Wikipedia, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy,_Politics_and_Economics.

[3]  Wikipedia, Analytical Philosophy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic_philosophy.

[4]  Wikipedia, Gladstone’s Library, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladstone’s_Library.

[5]  Wikipedia, William Ewart Gladstone, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Ewart_Gladstone.

Oxford in New York City


Richard Smethurst

Two months ago I attended a dinner in New York City in honor of Richard Smethurst, [1] the retiring Provost of Oxford University’s Worcester College.[2]

Richard and I were students together at Worcester, 1961-63, and studied together (or revised together, as they say at Oxford) for the final examinations (or Schools in Oxford parlance) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). Richard recalled that our economics tutor told us and the other PPE students at the College that when he “took Schools” he had answered the first four questions on the examination paper to show the examiners that he knew everything. Richards also remembered that I thought our tutor’s suggestion was stupid or silly and instead said we should select the four questions out of the 12 to 15 on the paper for which we were best prepared.

Richard and I then embarked on our own revision together in the spring of 1963. In that effort I prepared the answer to a possible question on Public Finance that luckily turned up on the actual examination. Richard and I both answered that question, and we both received Firsts (the highest mark).

In New York I recounted this story in after-dinner comments to the group and joked that I was responsible for Richard’s receiving a First.

Also at the dinner was Bill Bradley, the former basketball player and U.S. Senator, who was a Rhodes Scholar and PPE student at Worcester, 1965-68, and who had Smethurst as his economics tutor. [3] Bradley told the group that while he was in the Senate, Smethust spoke at a dinner in Washington, D.C. and said that Bradley was the best economics student he had ever had . . . who became a U.S. Senator. Left unsaid at the earlier dinner, Bradley told us in New York, was the fact that he was Smethurst’s only economics student who had become a U.S. Senator.

At my dinner table were Bill Sachs, who was the brother of Daniel M. Sachs, and Dan’s widow, Joan Sachs Shaw. Dan was an all-Ivy League football player at Princeton University and a Rhodes Scholar at Worcester, 1960-63. Dan played for the Oxford University rugby team, but in 1961 was”aced” out of playing against the Cambridge University team for the all important “Oxford Blue” honor when the Oxford captain prevailed upon Pete Dawkins to return to the team for the Cambridge match. (Dawkins was a running back for Army who in 1958 won the Heisman Trophy for the best football player in the U.S. and who was a Rhodes Scholar PPE student at another Oxford college, 1958-62.[4])

Dan Sachs was a friend of mine during those Oxford days, and In June 1963 he was my best man when Mary Alyce and I were married in Oxford.

After Dan’s untimely death in 1967, friends established in his honor a Sachs Scholarship for a Princeton graduate to attend Worcester College.[5] The most famous Sachs Scholar so far is Elena Kagan, now U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.[6]


[1]  Wikipedia, Richard Smethurst, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Smethurst.

[2]  Worcester College, University of Oxford, http://www.worc.ox.ac.uk/.

[3]  Wikipedia, Bill Bradley, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Bradley.

[4]  Pete Dawkins, http://www.petedawkins.com/.

[5]  Princeton University, Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Scholarship, http://www.princeton.edu/sachs/index.xml.

[6]  Wikipedia, Elena Kagan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elena_Kagan.

The Roads Not Taken


“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”[1]

 

In earlier posts, I described two roads not taken–becoming a Protestant minister or a professional historian.[2] Another was not going to graduate school in economics after reading PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford. That was primarily because I had had hardly any of the necessary mathematics in college and did not want to embark on a lengthy pursuit of a Ph.D.

After four years of being a Wall Street lawyer, I already have talked about my choosing not to remain at Cravath, Swaine & Moore to compete for one of its partnerships.[3] At the same time I declined an offer to teach at the University of Iowa College of Law. That was because I had enjoyed practicing law, because practice was more lucrative than teaching, and because I did not have some brilliant legal scholarship waiting to be unleashed.

Instead I chose to continue practicing law. But instead of fully exploring various cities, including San Diego, that were on my list of possibilities for such practice, I chose Minneapolis without an exhaustive analysis of the pros and cons of one city versus another. I did so because I already had developed good  working relationships with Minneapolis attorneys at Faegre & Benson on the IBM antitrust cases, because Minneapolis was closer to my wife and my original homes in Nebraska and Iowa and because Minneapolis sounded like an interesting place to live. (This last February after spending four pleasant weeks in Carlsbad, California just north of San Diego and avoiding a very cold and snowy Minneapolis, I wondered: Did I make a mistake in not going to San Diego?)

Other paths not taken were because I was not chosen. I already mentioned not winning a White House Fellowship in the last semester of law school.[4] At the same time my applications for U.S. Supreme Court clerkships with Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices Potter Stewart and Byron White were rejected. Such clerkships, of course, are pursued by many top law graduates because they are fascinating, challenging and prestigious jobs that open many doors for subsequent legal careers.

After registering for the military draft at age 18, I had college student deferments (Class 2-S) that covered my nine years at Grinnell, Oxford and Chicago. But in my last semester of law school, I received a notice from my draft board to report for an Armed Services physical examination and thus potential military service. As it turned out, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I thus was entitled to a new deferment (Class 3-A) because of dependant’s hardship. As a result, I never had to serve in the military, and I did not volunteer to do so. I missed the Vietnam War, much to my relief then and now.

While I was at the Faegre & Benson law firm, I was unsuccessful in my efforts to be appointed to vacancies on the Minneapolis School Board and the U.S. District Court in Minnesota as a judge and then later as a magistrate judge.  I also was unsuccessful in seeking the Deanship of the Hamline University School of Law. These jobs all sounded interesting, challenging and rewarding. The last three also would have allowed me to escape the pressures of practicing law.

I also have mentioned my not being offered a teaching position in Ecuador after I retired.[5]

I have no regrets about these roads not taken although I will never know what would have happened had I chosen or been chosen for one of them.  But clearly the road I did take “has made all the difference” in my life. Indeed, the road you take and the many decisions you made at various forks in the road along the way constitute your life.


[1] Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken in Mountain Interval (1915).

[2] Post: Adventures of a History Detective (4/5/11); Post: Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (4/6/11).

[3] Post: Lawyering on Wall Street (4/14/11).

[4] Post: Questioning President Lyndon Johnson (4/17/11).

[5] Post: My First 10 Years of Retirement (4/23/11).