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Presidential adviser and foreign affairs specialist announced as Chancellor of Durham University

Fiona Hill, the acclaimed foreign affairs specialist and authority on Russian and European geopolitics, who advised US Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, has today been announced as the next Chancellor of Durham University.

Fiona, who grew up in County Durham in North East England, follows in the footsteps of the opera singer Sir Tom Allen, author Bill Bryson OBE and prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn among others as she takes up the ceremonial and ambassadorial role at Durham, which was founded in 1832.

The announcement concludes an inclusive selection process which involved all the Durham University community: staff, students, alumni, retired staff and members of University Council and Senate. Community members were invited to submit nominations for the successor for Sir Tom Allen, who stepped down this summer after 10 years in the role.

Fiona was appointed at a special meeting of University Convocation today (Monday 28 November), on the nomination of Council and Senate sitting in joint session. She will be officially installed as Chancellor in a ceremony at Durham Cathedral in summer 2023.

The Chancellor is the ceremonial head of Durham University. It is a high-profile role which includes official, pastoral, scholarly and ambassadorial duties. A key part of the role is presiding over Congregation ceremonies in Durham Cathedral and taking part in staff and student engagement activities.

Key selection criteria for the Chancellor are that they embrace and represent the University’s values (to be inspiring, challenging, innovative, responsible) and that they recognise the importance of education, learning and research.

About Fiona Hill

Fiona is and will remain a senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe, in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organisation based in Washington DC.

She is the daughter of a coal miner who attended Bishop Barrington comprehensive school in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. From an early age she was a high achiever academically with a thirst for learning, telling BBC Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs how she would sit on the stairs at home reading encyclopaedias.

She pursued degree studies at St Andrew’s University in Scotland, graduating with a Master’s in Russian and Modern History. She holds a Master’s in Soviet studies and a doctorate in History from Harvard University where she was a Frank Knox Fellow. She became a US citizen in 2002 and is married with one daughter.

Fiona served on the US National Intelligence Council from 2006 to 2009, and was a member of the US National Security Council under President Trump.

Having, in her words, moved “literally from the coalhouse to the White House”, she is passionate about social mobility. She visited her former school in June 2022 to give a talk to pupils, inspiring them to grasp “every educational opportunity” they are given and spoke of her desire to “give back” to the area where she grew up.

Fiona is one of four speakers who will feature in this year’s BBC Radio Four Reith Lectures, which are inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous ‘Four Freedoms’ speech. Fiona’s lecture will explore ‘freedom from fear’.

Fiona said: “It is an immense privilege, surprise and honour to be selected as the next Chancellor of Durham University in the county where generations of my family have deep roots and where I spent my formative years.

“I am very much looking forward to becoming more involved in University life, meeting staff and students and engaging with the wider community as I carry out my duties.”

Joe Docherty, Chair of Durham University Council, said: “I am delighted that Fiona will be taking up this important role. As Chancellor, Fiona will serve as a living embodiment of the transformative powers of education and research and help to inspire our University community, especially our students, to achieve extraordinary things at Durham and beyond.

“Her educational journey, pre-eminence in Russian and global affairs, and commitment to truth highlights the value and importance of higher education, learning and research in the twenty-first century.”

Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Durham University, said: “It is an honour to appoint a Chancellor with such an extraordinary and deep understanding of global affairs. Fiona’s outstanding career as an exemplary public servant will resonate strongly amongst our University community, especially in light of her beginnings in the North East of England. We are truly honoured she has agreed to be our next Chancellor.”


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