The Senate House of Cambridge

the-senate-houseBuilt in 1722 by James Gibbs, one of Britain’s most influential architects, and opened in 1730, the Senate House of Cambridge is the Parliament building of Cambridge University. Formerly used to host the meetings of the University’s Council of the Senate, this historic building is now mainly used for the graduation ceremonies of the University of Cambridge.

One of the most important event held within the walls of the Senate House is the Business Graduation Day, the main graduation ceremony for business students at the University of Cambridge. This congregation gathers the Regent House members, governing body of the University, who have to give their approval before graduating students. Then there is the role of the Vice Chancellor, who is nominated by the University Council and elected by the Regent House, to confer degrees. The current Vice-Chancellor is the Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, since 2010.

How does the Graduation ceremony look like in practice?

First of all, the graduands are presented by the Praelector of their college to the Vice-Chancellor. The praelector is the fellow of one of the 31 colleges of the University of Cambridge to which he belongs. To do so, the latter holds the candidate by his right hand and says in Latin:

Most worthy Vice-Chancellor and the whole University, I present to you this man (this woman) whom I know to be suitable as much by character as by learning to proceed to the degree of (name of degree); for which I pledge my faith to you and to the whole University.”

It is important to understand that the Praelector acts as guarantor of the student’s action and can be punished if the student behaves badly.


The Vice Chancellor’s academic dress

The graduand is then called by his name and it is expected from him to step forward and kneel. Holding the graduand’s hands, the Vice-Chancellor says in Latin:

“By the authority committed to me, I admit you to the degree of (name of degree) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The new graduate then rises, thanks the Vice-Chancellor and leaves the Senate House through the Doctor’s door to receive his degree certificate.

Once all candidates have received their degree certificate, each College officially presents its new graduands in front of the audience of the Senate House. The presentation starts with the graduands of King’s, St. John’s and Trinity Colleges as it is customary.

The exam results are displayed on noticeboards outside the Senate House. It is an old-age tradition.


The Senate House noticeboards

A scandal appeared on May, 2015. Students at the University of Cambridge launched a petition to stop this tradition. In three days, more than 700 students had signed it. The first aim was to protest against the lack of welfare and privacy whereas in reality, students were protesting against the promotion of the culture of grade shaming.

Currently, students receive their exam results privately online before they are publicly displayed on noticeboards and in university publications.

Before 2010, the exam results were displayed on the noticeboard and then Cambridge students received them privately.

Oxford University had the same issue. In fact, 40% of students had opted out of having their names published on public exam results lists. That’s why, the University stopped displaying exam results.


St. Martin in the Fields Church

Let’s have a look at the architecture.

The Senate House has a Neoclassical architectural style and was made with Portland stones, which are very precious and costly.

We also notice that the Senate House has a parallelogram form. This distinctive form is a combination of temple and basilica which means dignity and religious ritual.

The architecture of the Senate House looks like the St-Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, which was also designed by James Gibbs.

Quick Story: When a battered Austin Seven appeared on the roof overnight on June 8, 1958.van-on-the-roof

One evening, a group of engineering students decided to place an Austin Seven on the roof of the Senate House. The following morning, the van was found completely cleared out. The group said their only regret was that the car was not left in place forever.

What a Prank!

(By Mah Bintou CHERIF, Antoine LE QUINQUIS and Flore-Anne RE)



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