50 objects for 50 years. No 3. Hats off or full board?



The week’s object is present through being absent. In the 1960s new universities sought to adopt the rituals and traditions of an older establishment. Essex, which opened its doors in 1964, got Hardy Amies to design its gowns while the University of Bath was presented with a four-feet long mace at the installation of its first Chancellor in 1966. Initially the University of the Air (the original name for the OU) was to be the University of the Hair, with heads uncovered at graduations and no gowns to be worn at award ceremonies. Sir John Daniel, when OU Vice Chancellor, perhaps recalling that the OU received its Royal Charter in 1969, felt this was a reflection of the ‘free-wheeling and informal spirit of the 1960s’ when the university was founded. However, the first students to graduate, in 1973, argued that they should be permitted to be seen to be graduates, with gowns. At the ceremony, held at Alexandra Palace in London not Milton Keynes and filmed by the BBC, most of the 867 graduates elected to wear gowns. Moreover, there was a procession, accompanied by Copland’s 1942 Fanfare for the Common Man. This year the University will hold 29 degree ceremonies, in 15 different locations. Norman Woods, Regional Director of the East Midlands, recalled the graduation ceremony in a local prison: ‘You used to put on your glad rags and go and hand them their diploma and certificate, whatever. And their families used to come in. You know, it was quite good. And the prison would provide some cakes and cup of tea.’It remains the case that academic dress for wear at degree ceremonies consists of a gown and a hood. The OU website makes it clear in bold, that ‘hats (mortarboards or bonnets) are not worn at Open University degree ceremonies’. However, a concession has been offered ‘a hat (mortarboard or bonnet) may be hired for personal use during the day’. Here is an OU student in Edinburgh


Meanwhile, the Times Higher reports that the US the academic titfer has been turned into a poster site.

This is a picture from another Open University. It is the one in the Netherlands. It permits professors to don headgear, but not the (in this case a doctoral) student who is being awarded a degree. So, should the OU permit bonnets or boards, throwing into the air for the use of, to be worn during the ceremony or should it continue to demonstrate that it is not simply following tradition, it is carving its own route forwards?

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