Actors Emma Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch are among a group of celebrities to be appointed as visiting fellows at Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford. Visiting fellows at Oxford are often non-academics, and Principal Alan Rusbridger explained that they come from diverse occupations such as “science, medicine, the performing arts, literature, feminism, politics, law, and policing.”
“They are people drawn from a variety of backgrounds, callings and professions and we want them to form a bridge between our own academic community and the worlds they inhabit and represent.”
Lady Margaret Hall was founded in 1878 as the first of the Oxford colleges to educate women, and has been co-ed since 1979. Watson, known mostly for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, famously attended Brown University in Rhode Island, where she majored in English Literature, although she also studied at Worcester College, Oxford. As well as continuing to act, Watson has become involved in charities and activism including the UN-sponsored gender equality organisation, HeForShe, and is also a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. It seems fitting that Watson, as an advocate for feminism, is to be one of the visiting fellows at the first female Oxford college.
Oscar-nominated Cumberbatch, who was awarded the CBE in 2015 for services to the performing arts and to charity, was last seen on our screens as Sherlock Holmes in the Christmas special “The Abominable Bride.” He definitely has a busy year coming up — his latest film, Zoolander 2, is released next week, and Sherlock showrunner Stephen Moffat told Collider that shooting on the next series would begin around April of 2016. Cumberbatch will hopefully still be able to participate fully at Oxford with the other fellows for the three-year duration of the appointment, as his duties at Oxford could be quite time-consuming.
Speaking to the BBC, principal Rusbridger explains that for visiting fellows at Oxford, it is much more than just a title for the appointees.
“At a minimum we’d like them to drop in occasionally at college, eat with us and meet informally with a variety of the LMH community.”
“We’d like them to do one thing a bit more structured: it could be a conversation or debate, a performance, a lecture or seminar, a form of outreach — or something we haven’t thought of… we can imagine fascinating interactions or collaborations between them.”
The appointment of Watson and Cumberbatch as visiting fellows has understandably caused quite a stir at Oxford.
Lady Margaret Hall could quite easily become the go-to college at Oxford for the next three years.
(Future news: applications to Lady Margaret Hall increase by a trillion per cent)— Richard Adams (@RichardA) February 5, 2016
While some might accuse the college of selecting celebrities as visiting fellows simply for the attention they would bring to Oxford, Rusbridger says that the selection process for the fellows’ appointments was by no means a quick decision.
“We canvassed names from our own governing body, of people of distinction whom we admired and whom we felt could add to the intellectual and cultural life of LMH.”
Rusbridger added that having the fellows at Oxford was by no means a one-sided opportunity.
“We think we can learn much from them – and we hope they treasure their time with us.”
Writing on his blog, Rusbridger admits to borrowing the idea of visiting fellows from another Oxford college, Nuffield, saying it “was a way of enriching the life of a college and its students, and of blowing oxygen through the corridors.”
“Our visiting fellows bring a different kind of experience. Some never went to university. One left school at 16. But they have all, in their different ways, achieved great distinction in their chosen fields, professions or callings.”
Joining Watson and Cumberbatch at Oxford are nine other new fellows including Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason director Beeban Kidron, Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant, former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year winner and Oxford graduate Mark Simpson and The Maybe artist Cornelia Parker.
[Photo by Steven Senne/AP Images]