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What is in a Name and Why Change It?
Since I announced the news of the remarkable £155 million donation to College three weeks ago, I have received numerous emails from alumni with congratulations, questions, and, in some cases, sadness or even anger. Many of you have asked about us seeking permission from the Privy Council to change the name of College, so I thought I would try to shed some light on the thinking and different considerations behind this decision.
To provide you with some historical background, the name Linacre was suggested by the then Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Dame Lucy Sutherland, and was decided upon in preference of the alternatives of Grosseteste Hall and St Aldate’s Hall. The 15th century renaissance scholar Thomas Linacre was chosen because he was seen to represent the multidisciplinary and egalitarian spirit favoured by the Society, but no actual historical link exists between College and Thomas Linacre.
As most of you will know, these early values have been kept alive as College has grown and evolved during the last 59 years. Being in contact with alumni from all matriculation years, I find it reassuring that, when I ask, I almost always get the same answer to what makes College unique, and I am convinced that this egalitarian, international and non-hierarchical community will persist as we embark on the next chapter of College history. However important our name is to us, I believe that the values we represent are of far greater importance and they are what will always set us apart from other colleges. Over the next months and years, I will ask for your help to ensure we keep our links with the past very much alive. The changes brought on by the donation will happen slowly, we will not rush, but make gradual and measured progress influenced by an involved College community.
For those of you who are curious, there are many examples of Oxford colleges being renamed after great philanthropists. In 1714 Gloucester Hall was renamed and re-founded as Worcester College after a large donation was received from a Worcestershire baronet. More recently, Iffley College, which was the original name given to what we now know as Wolfson College, was renamed in 1965 after receiving funding from the Wolfson Foundation, in particular from Isaac Wolfson, and the Ford Foundation. And even more as recent, Rewley House was renamed Kellogg College in 1992 in honour of a founding donation from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
None of these examples directly match our situation, but placing ourselves within a larger historical framework has helped us see how philanthropy can help enhance an academic community without losing the spirit of that same community. Having spent time with Madam Thao, I know that she is very supportive of us and what we represent, and that she is not in any way looking to change our spirit or values. Her aim is to donate the funds we need to enable us do even better as we shape our own future.
I know some of you have been disheartened by this news, but I truly think that we are doing what is right for the College and I am hoping that, after reading this and the messages from the Principal and Finance Bursar, you will better understand the reasons behind our decision.
Head of Alumni Relations and Development