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St Mary’s appoints Churchill expert as new pro vice-chancellor

Professor John Charmley

The historian John Charmley has been appointed as pro vice-chancellor of St Mary’s, joining Francis Campbell and Ruth Kelly on the university’s senior team.

The new appointment comes as St Mary’s aims to strengthen its Catholic identity and research credentials. A new research centre, the Benedict XVI Centre, opened earlier this year, with the goal of bringing the Catholic tradition into dialogue with contemporary social and political questions.

Professor Charmley, a specialist on Winston Churchill, previously taught at the University of East Anglia for 37 years and had taken several senior positions at the university.

A frequent contributor to the Catholic Herald, he has written that the government’s “British values” agenda is a threat to the liberty of religious believers.

Charmley told the Catholic Herald he was “delighted” to take up the post as pro vice-chancellor for academic strategy. He said: “I know I am joining St Mary’s at a time of change and renewal, and my aim is to be a part of that process.”

Charmley said St Mary’s “Catholic ethos” meant that it tried to educate “the whole person, body and spirit as well as intellect”, and that the university was a model of an academic community.

“That community spirit is at the heart of the Blessed John Henry Newman’s vision of a university education, and to feel it embodied here at St Mary’s is to feel part of a special place. For me, that is one of the huge attractions.”

Charmley is the latest addition to St Mary’s leadership team, at a time when the university is seeking to expand. In 2014 St Mary’s appointed Francis Campbell, the UK’s former ambassador to the Holy See, as principal. Last year Ruth Kelly, a former Education Secretary, took up the post of pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise.

Charmley said that St Mary’s programme of expansion had to work with the university’s Catholic ethos. “In having Francis Campbell and Ruth Kelly at the helm, St Mary’s is fortunate to have leaders who understand this,” Charmley said.

“My job is to work with them, and the whole community of St Mary’s, to ensure that in the long term we have a university which continues to embody Newman’s ideals and which shows the world that if you want to come somewhere which values its students for who they are, and wants to help shape who they will be, then this is that place.”

The university is also hoping to rise in the university league tables, which Charmley said will be easier now that the government is bringing in a Teaching Excellence Framework to measure excellence in teaching.

Charmley said the university’s Catholic identity meant that it aimed to help every student to flourish.

“Our faith should so infuse the life of the university that to those of all faiths, and none, it is evident that what we are about is helping each student to realise their full potential as a human being.

“I never yet met a student or an academic who thought that a university education was just about getting a good degree, and you don’t have to be religious to know that there is more to life than ‘getting on’. If we want to live in a good society and to be part of one, we have to help build it.”