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Black tie dinners and other Balliol traditions


Life as Master of Balliol College, Oxford
Baruch Blumberg Physician
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Now, in fact, the... the Master had very little power. Over the course of 700 years, any power he may have had had been gradually extracted by the Fellows. So, the governing body of the college was the Fellows of the college and as far as I can make out, we actually owned the college. I mean... I don't know if we didn't own it, it's hard to know who did, and we never, for example, all the time I was the Master, I never got a order from the government, you know, all universities in Britain are funded by the — to a large extent — by the government, in that... in that they pay the students' tuition and they give them a subsistence. That's changed somewhat recently, but nevertheless I never got directives from them and also we didn't get, directly, we did get requests from the university administration but the colleges were quite autonomous and there was... always was, and still is, a conflict between loyalty to the college and loyalty to the university. It wasn’t... I never had an issue with that. But in any case, so, we... we had a great deal of, you know, we'd have these discussions at college meeting and in effect everything had to be decided there. For example, if you wanted to buy a new rug for the library, we'd talk about that, and, you know, obviously we dealt with educational issues, that was our primary concern, and they... and we didn't have much of an administration, the Fellows actually ran things, that gradually changed. But, and then we had, in effect, everything was decided by a vote, well, and I had one vote, so the Master didn't have many more, but I don't... there's... for a small group, voting on everything is not a great idea and at Fox Chase here actually in its origins had kind of a Quaker attitude towards governance, although Tim wasn't a Quaker and I'm not sure any of our senior Fellows were either, but nevertheless there was this idea that you were run by kind of consensus and you can do that in a small organization, and there's big advantages to that because that means if you vote on something you have to polarize it, you have to get yes-no, answers. Well, that rules out all kinds of other answers. Now, if you arrive at a consensus, then, in effect, any combination of things is possible, as I say, you hit on one that, you know, has, you know, obvious merit over others, and... and it has a big advantage, you don't have a minority. You know, very often, if there's a vote and... and the minority, you know, doesn't really... they're not really crazy about the outcome and you have a kind of built-in antagonism. Well, I tried to... I tried to run things that way, with a fair amount of success. I mean it wasn't innovative, I think, the college ran that way in the past, and we'd occasionally have to vote on things, sometimes a Fellow would insist I had a vote but mostly I kind of avoided that and despite all these, you know, these books about these terrible rivalries and political shenanigans going on in Oxford colleges, there either wasn't any or, if there was, I didn't perceive it and part of the reason I didn't perceive it is I didn't look for it, you know, I just ran ahead blindly, naively, that, you know, things were... if somebody said something, that's what they meant, that it wasn't some sort of deception. So I found that's actually an easier way that you get along in life, you know, if... if you believe what people tell you, you're going to be wrong some of the time. If you don't believe what people tell you, you're also going to be wrong some of the time, so the easiest thing is actually believe them and then if they're wrong then, okay, you find out in time and that leads to some hazards but not always. So, the governance was actually — I learned a lot. I learned how to govern without power and that's a very good, even when you have a lot of influence, you know. When I ran my research group, a head of a research group has quite a lot of power, you know, we had one grant that... that went to me, initially to Tim and then to me. So that meant you held, but that's... that's not a good way to run a research group. You know, you can't order scientists to be creative, that's... that’s not the right... so it's a very good lesson and later on I found that useful. But there was... it was just a delightful time being there. Oxford, despite the... a lot of rain and overcast skies, is in a beautiful part of the world. The students were really good, they were interesting, very bright. We... we attracted some of the smartest students in the university, in Britain. They have a great sense of being in an elite institution, but it's not elite in the sense that we have, you know, you have to have money or you have to be wealthy. A lot of them... a lot of them, on the contrary, when people think... a lot of British education is pretty income-independent, you know, people are... can go based on their capabilities and in that sense a meritocracy. I found, I certainly found that to be the case and we at Balliol, we said if we admit a person and they're doing... they're doing their work well and they don't have sufficient money to stay there, we'll... we would support them, and I don't ever recall having to ask somebody to leave because they couldn't... they couldn’t pay for things, and, in fact, we sometimes, you know, had developed kind of scholarship funds when it was needed on an ad hoc basis. So we just had a grand time there and we had a wonderful house and I had... I had a butler, you know, who was meant to sort of look after... and when I'd invite guests for lunch he'd serve them and so forth. When he... he was... he had been a professional bicycle... bicyclist in Spain, and he used to take care of my bike, you know, small repairs and all, great. He even tried to clean it occasionally, and a very nice man.

American research physician Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 along with D Carleton Gajdusek for their work on the origins and spread of infectious viral diseases that led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus. Blumberg’s work covered many areas including clinical research, epidemiology, virology, genetics and anthropology.

Listeners: Rebecca Blanchard

Dr Rebecca Blanchard is Director of Clinical Pharmacology at Merck & Co., Inc. in Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Her education includes a BSc in Pharmacy from Albany College of Pharmacy and a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. While at Utah, she studied in the laboratories of Dr Raymond Galinsky and Dr Michael Franklin with an emphasis on drug metabolism pathways. After receiving her PhD, Dr Blanchard completed postdoctoral studies with Dr Richard Weinshilboum at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on human pharmacogenetics. While at Mayo, she cloned the human sulfotransferase gene SULT1A1 and identified and functionally characterized common genetic polymorphisms in the SULT1A1 gene. From 1998 to 2004 Dr Blanchard was an Assistant Professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. In 2005 she joined the Clinical Pharmacology Department at Merck & Co., Inc. where her work today continues in the early and late development of several novel drugs. At Merck, she has contributed as Clinical Pharmacology Representative on CGRP, Renin, Losartan, Lurasidone and TRPV1 programs and serves as chair of the TRPV1 development team. Dr Blanchard is also Co-chair of the Neurology Pharmacogenomics Working Group at Merck. Nationally, she has served the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics on the Strategic Task Force and the Board of Directors. Dr Blanchard has also served on NIH study sections, and several Foundation Scientific Advisory Boards.

Tags: Balliol College, University of Oxford

Duration: 6 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 28 September 2009