Durham University (June 9)
by Karen James (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)
On Thursday, June 9, our group headed to northeast England and was able to spend a full day as guests of Durham University. We were warmly welcomed with coffee and biscuits (the British variety, not Bojangles), and then we were treated to a welcome speech from Professor Tim Clark, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health. Professor Clark shared key highlights and facts. He noted that Durham was the third-oldest university in the U.K., and that it was very competitive. In fact, the Vice Chancellor is fond of saying at graduation, “I hope you have had a difficult time.” Archaeology is a top-ranked program, and Professor Strong mentioned that Theology and New Testament Studies were also quite strong. Interdisciplinary research and teaching is emphasized at Durham.
We could not help but be amazed by the historical nature of the university since it is centered around a tenth-century Norman castle and cathedral! The cathedral has two copies of Magna Carta. Tradition befitting such history is evident here as Professor Clark shared that students walk across the palace green to the cathedral and sign in at matriculation.
Professor Clark noted that there are currently 17,505 students, 22 percent of whom are international. Of those students, 319 are from the United States, and 100 more are from our neighbors to the north, Canada. An amazing 92 percent of Durham students participate in sports, and more than 200 clubs attract high participation. These students leave Durham both well rounded and with an excellent education. The university is proud that they rank 31st in a survey of satisfaction by those hiring graduates from universities around the world.
Next we were treated to a lecture by Professor David Held, Professor in the School of Government and International Affairs, and Master of University College. His topic was “Gridlock and Beyond: The Challenges to Global Cooperation in World Politics.” His interesting and far-ranging lecture covered everything from the U.K. creating the largest empire the world had known, WWI, and the Depression followed by WWII and Harry Truman’s prophecy that modern warfare would destroy all people if we do not seek peace. He also talked about the cold war and the threat of mutually assured destruction, the shift to China consuming 80 percent of luxury goods and being flush with cash, and the global financial crisis of 2008–09 and the resulting economic shift from the USA to Europe. He noted that the USA is not able to push policy as much as we used to—others are taking the lead on climate change. (Yet, the WHO and governments did not act on out-of-control Ebola until American aid workers came down with it.) He finished by saying to move away from gridlock, we need social movements, institutional reform, and strong leaders. He did not find the future to be rosy; however, both the Brexit vote and the Trump candidacy have played on the worst fears of the people. (Sorry for running on so long—you would never guess I enjoyed the lecture!)
After the lecture, we had a choice among three different workshops: (1) “teaching beyond textbooks” from the School of Government and International Affairs; (2) a talk on artefacts in the master’s courses in archaeology by Dr. Chris Caple; and (3) a visit to the Oriental Museum, “one of Durham University’s treasures” and a talk by Dr. Craig Barclay, Head of Museums, with exhibits and a talk about how the museum, students, and academies interact. I can attest the archaeology workshop was excellent, and from comments I heard, the other workshops were equally good.
We were then treated to a delicious buffet lunch with many faculty and administrators present to answer our questions and provide more information. I was especially delighted to learn that my colleagues from Duke were seated at a table with an English Professor who was a Morehead-Cain Scholar at Chapel Hill. The Morehead-Cain Foundation (where I worked for six years) has a long tradition of including British students in the program, and it was a delight to meet Patrick Gray as I was also an English major at Chapel Hill. We had the same Shakespeare professor who inspired him to become a Shakespeare scholar!
After lunch we had a choice of a guided tour of the castle or of the cathedral. I chose the castle because I was fascinated to learn that students in Castle College actually live, dine, and socialize in the castle. All of us were busy taking pictures outside, but we were asked not to take photos inside since it was the students’ “home.” Some of us were so amazed by the Harry Potteresque scene of the huge banquet hall set for a formal dinner that they forgot the prohibition and snapped a few pictures. (I am just jealous that I didn’t get one.) We were given a great tour of the castle, its galleries, and its chapels—including an amazing early one that appeared to have remained the same over many centuries! I understand the cathedral tour was equally informative and enjoyable.
We then met up after the tours for coffee, tea, and the largest pastries many of us had ever seen. After a fond farewell, we headed back to the bus with a very favorable impression of Durham University, its faculty, and its administrators.