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US Presidential adviser Fiona Hill announced as new Chancellor

Fiona Hill, an acclaimed foreign affairs specialist and authority on Russian and European geopolitics, is to be our next Chancellor.

Fiona, who grew up not far from the University, has advised US Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump on foreign affairs.

In becoming our Chancellor, she follows in the footsteps of opera singer Sir Tom Allen, author Bill Bryson OBE and prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn.

Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images
Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images

Global search

Fiona’s appointment concludes an inclusive selection process which involved all our 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.

The nomination was overwhelmingly supported by Council and Senate sitting in joint session and a specially convened meeting of Convocation on Monday 28 November.

Fiona will be officially installed as Chancellor in a ceremony at Durham Cathedral in summer 2023.

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

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

What the Chancellor does

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. 

Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

From the coalhouse to the White House

Fiona 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, 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, USA, 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 was one of four speakers who featured in last year’s BBC Radio Four Reith Lectures, which were inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous ‘Four Freedoms’ speech. Fiona’s lecture explored ‘freedom from fear’. It was broadcast on Wednesday 21 December.

An “immense privilege”

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.”

We look forward to welcoming her to the University community.

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