Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post, a report of the 2015 Brewster Debate ‘This house believes freedom is more important than security’ – is written by Grace Carroll (HSPS 2011).

The 2015 Brewster Debate was an evening of passionate, intellectual debate which engaged speakers, judges and audience alike. The motion explored the relationship between security and freedom, issues of particular relevance in the wake of recent events in Paris. The speakers provided creative analyses of the two, challenging the more apparent definitions of both ‘freedom’ and ‘security’.

There was an entertaining and thorough mix of intellectual approaches and debating style, drawing upon powerful quotes (including one famous Hogwarts headmaster’s), rhetorical situations, complex theories and the odd suave compliments on the audience’s dress sense. The first speaker for the proposition, Sandamini Chandrasekara-Mudiyanselage, set out the terms of the debate, drawing upon examples of recent events which show the dark side of security at the expense of freedom, such as the Edward Snowden files and pointing to the precarious trajectory society faces if security becomes prioritized over liberty. This saw Sandamini awarded one of the speaker’s prizes. The first opposition speaker, Connor Michigan, then gave a thorough retort with comedic flair, challenging the binary presentation of the two concepts and positing instead that, rather than being independent from freedom, security is a necessary prerequisite for true freedom to exist.

Matteo Mirolo, as second proposition speaker, went on to examine the passionate reactions to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the Australian Lindt café hostage situation, citing the solidarity shown across communities though campaigns such as #illridewithyou as indicators that humans innately pride themselves in defending the liberty and unity of others, rather than valuing security in a more reactionary manner. It was at this point that the term debate took a new turn when the opposition’s Juan Bradley cleverly pointed that the definition of security so far discussed, whilst significant, did not emphasize the importance of less obvious forms outside of physical protection, discussing social, psychological and economic security as significant aspect of the debate in an almost Marxist approach. This creative approach saw Bradley win the second speaker prize.

Closing the debate for both sides were Sarah Collins and Junaid Hussein. Collins provided a comprehensive look at case studies of Guantanamo Bay, pointing out that often in the discussion of whether to surrender freedom for security, those making the decision are not the groups ever likely to themselves lose the said liberties. The Hobbesian emphasis of increased assured security as synonymous with risk of abused power was a powerful point for the debate to end upon. Hussein too made an equally powerful conclusion; drawing attention again to the non-binary relationship of the concepts, and that considering one of ‘more importance’ does not necessarily entail the total surrender of the other. The motion was defeated by a narrow margin.

The floor debate also provided some interesting insights, with the prize for best speaker from the floor eventually being split due to the quality of comments. One winner was first year undergraduate Viv Stott Morrison, who brought a social anthropological perspective to the debate, and the other was postgraduate Chinedu Ugwu who challenged the assumptions made on both sides, asking if we are ever truly ‘free’? All prizes for the evening were courtesy of valued alumnus and benefactor of the college, Lester Brewster, who matriculated in Fitzwilliam House in 1948 reading history. He was a founder director of the Fitzwilliam Society Trust Ltd in 1974, having been President of the Society in 1972-3 and died on 21 March 1996, and the Brewster debate is just one part of the legacy he left the College.

Debating at Fitzwilliam has seen a renewed emphasis this year with the establishment of the Fitzwilliam College Debating Society, of which Tobias Haefele and myself are founders. The society strives to make debating at Cambridge more accessible to those without previous experience; awarding prizes and using edited formats to achieve this end. It was a privilege for the society to host the Brewster Debate for the first time this year with College and the quality of the speakers and audience engagement indicates that the debating community at Fitzwilliam will thrive in the future owing to our incredibly hard working committee and committed student following.

Any of those interested in joining the Fitzwilliam debating society to take part of keep up with future events join our Facebook page or email

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

In this guest post, Helen Bettinson (History 1982 and currently Fitzwilliam’s Development Director) reflects on the College’s ‘Half Way Dinner’ held last week.

This week 140 Fitzwilliam undergraduates acknowledged that they were half-way through their degrees by attending, with their Directors of Studies and other Fellows of the College, the formal Half-Way Dinner. This enjoyable evening is a recent invention and alumni of previous generations might wonder at the point of it. In addition to the social benefits, however, the occasion forces students – indeed all of us – to take stock. Something which, in the normal run of the frenetic Cambridge term, isn’t often the case.

What does half-way mean beyond the simple calculation of being at the midway point in the typical undergraduate degree of nine terms? (Although we shouldn’t take all this too literally as a good proportion of our undergraduates are on four year courses…!) Have students acquired 50% of what they need to cram into their heads for Tripos? Or are they half-way along a steeply angled trajectory to intellectual enlightenment? The Master suggested that the second half should be ‘better’ than the first: certainly our students should build on the foundations of their first difficult year, towards the high peak that will be expected of them in their finals next year…

What is certain, is that the things that make the Cambridge experience significant are not all academic. Appearing on stage, singing in the choir, rowing in the Bumps, scoring a try, debating in the Union, putting on a JCR Bop, organising a society meeting – all are worthwhile activities. But so too is visiting the Fitzwilliam Museum, a pint in the Eagle, a punt on the Cam, and all the other typically touristy things that our students sometimes don’t get around to doing. Do them! In another 15 months these students will be graduating. Magically transformed into alumni they will – in all likelihood – look back wistfully in later life and wonder why they’d never taken the time to eat a Chelsea bun in Fitzbillies or amble around the Museum of Arch and Anth.

For those of us half-way through our lives (or indeed well beyond the half-way point) it is easy to envy the experiences and opportunities that our current students enjoy. Look at the buildings and facilities they have, compared to in our day! We shouldn’t forget, however, that the demands placed on them are huge. They work incredibly hard – to get into Fitzwilliam in the first place and then to keep up with the punishing timetable of essays, projects, lectures, lab work, and that’s before the rehearsals and sports training. We shouldn’t be surprised if, on occasion, the glass may seem half-empty to those struggling to meet an academic deadline or to connect with like-minded souls.

Exhortations to grasp everything that the College and the University have to offer risk patronising the intelligent adults that were seated in the Dinner last week. They don’t need us to tell them how lucky they are or to remind them of the intellectual and social opportunities before them. I do think, however, that the Half-Way Dinner, fabricated tradition that it is, serves a useful purpose to students and Fellows. Taking stock is essential to framing future ambitions. I’d end this piece with the words tempus fugit, except I’d be accused of resorting to cliche. But to those of us now enjoying ‘middle age’, you know what I mean.

PS A few addenda that didn’t fit neatly into the piece above: Firstly I’d like to mention that the Dinner also marked the half-way point in the Bursar’s Fitzwilliam career (assuming normal retirement age). And lastly, I’d like to thank alumnus Iain Reid, whose generosity supports the occasion. No coincidence, perhaps, that as the College’s previous Development Director and a Fitzwilliam historian, he understands the significance of dates and tradition.

Dr Helen Bettinson

About Dr Helen Bettinson

Helen read History at Fitzwilliam (1982) and, after a career in television production, rejoined the College in April 2010. Following the retirement of Dr Iain Reid, she became Development Director in October 2011.