Five minutes with Professor Roger Goodman

Meet Professor Roger Goodman Warden of St Antony’s

We talked to Professor Roger Goodman about his upcoming sabbatical, his role in College and the wider university, and how he spends his spare time.

What does your job as Warden of St Antony’s entail?

That’s a rather good question and one that I get asked many times. Warden is the oldest title for Head of an Oxford, or maybe even for an Oxford and Cambridge, college. It comes from the Norman word, which has the same root as guardian. So it has both a kind of protective function as well as one that’s sort of a controlling function. I get asked that question a lot when I go to North America, and people assume that I run some kind of correctional institution! I remember when the job at St Antony’s was advertised, the description actually had to explain that Warden meant Head of the College, just in case people did apply from different job sectors who might have been disappointed!

So it’s a very old job title in Oxford, but it’s a fascinating job. Essentially the role of Warden at St Antony’s is to ensure that the college sticks to its mission statement, which is to provide the environment for the best possible research in what I call area and development studies in the social sciences, but more generally, international relations, economics, history, politics, anthropology, and sociology related to all the different areas of the world. We cover in our regional study centres all areas of the world, except not much on North America and of course not much on the UK or Australasia. So that’s basically what the role of Warden is, to ensure that the college is operating effectively.

Ultimately, I report to the trustees who are the governing body of the college. Of course, I also continually look to the future, at raising funds to make sure that we can carry on doing things into the future and to develop various strategies that the governing body can discuss and endorse (or not endorse!) which we can then put into place at an operational level through the management executive team (MET) who are more responsible for the operational side of the college.

What is your role in the wider university?

I’m lucky that I have a number of wider roles in the university. In particular, the governing body has kindly allowed me to continue in my role as the Nissan Professor of Japanese Studies. I think I may be the only current head of an Oxford College who has a joint appointment where I’m both the Warden but also have an academic appointment. This means I can carry on doing my teaching which I love doing, and my research which I also enjoy doing. So that’s my main other role within the university.

I’m also something with a rather strange job title called Pro Vice Chancellor without portfolio. Every year the Vice Chancellor appoints a number of people from within the university to have these roles, which basically cover for the Vice Chancellor sometimes at ceremonial events. I do Matriculations for example or attend various public lectures or even church services. There are just so many of these events which the Vice Chancellor herself couldn’t possibly attend. I also get to chair many of the professorial appointment committees, particularly in social sciences, but occasionally also in humanities, because it would be impossible for the Vice Chancellor to chair all of those herself. I undertake various other roles in the university as called upon. So, at the minute I’m the Chair of the management board of the Continuing Education Department, which is a fascinating role. I’m also currently the Senior Responsible Officer for a major building project for the university, the Osney Power Station, which is being turned into an Executive Education Centre. For this, I represent the university with all the other partners of that project and ultimately report to the Vice Chancellor on how the project is going. So I’m very lucky. I have a variety of roles, all of which I hope feed into my role as Warden at St Antony’s and help the college in the way that it integrates into the wider university.

What do you do in your spare time?

Well, for the last 20 years or so, every Sunday I’ve been coaching hockey. At the moment for the last few years, I’ve been the coach for the Oxford under-12 Boys hockey team. But actually, I’ve coached all different levels, all different ages. I ended up doing the under-12s because I’ve discovered that it’s the only age group where they listen to what you say, but they don’t ask you why you said it. That’s my theory! I did the younger age groups where basically it was just like childcare. You could never get them to stop running around and listen, and the older age groups where they would question everything you asked them to do. Boys and girls used to train together until about 10 years ago when we had to separate them because the girls adolesce so much more quickly than the boys and the boys couldn’t keep up. I’ve done that for just over 20 years, and it is a lot of fun and very successful. In fact, I’m going to boast here. My team have been the county champions for the last two years, which is very exciting because then you go and play in the regionals and the nationals and so on. So that’s my Sunday mornings. On Saturdays, I normally go running. I run several times a week, and I think it’s more for mental health than any other form of health. It’s the way to get out and to see the countryside, and Oxford’s a brilliant place for running. There are so many different places you can go to and I either run on my own listening to music or podcasts, or I run with friends and chat as we go along. I think those are probably my two main consistent activities in my free time.

How will you be spending your upcoming sabbatical year?

I’m really excited about my sabbatical. I’m very grateful to the governing body for giving me a year to go away and research a new project. It is the first time in 20 years that I’ve done a new project, which will be essentially on the Japanese health system. I’ve been curious for a long time about how the health system operates in Japan and I became even more curious during the pandemic. I quite often got phone calls during the pandemic from journalists asking me to explain why the Japanese system was responding the way that it was. Not only could I not answer the questions, I couldn’t really find any good books that would tell me the answers to those questions, and there was one thing in particular that fascinated me, which was that 65%, or perhaps even more, of the hospitals and clinics in Japan absolutely refused to take Covid patients. It turned out that most of these were small family-run hospitals and clinics and that actually they are the dominant force in the health system in Japan.

We know the Japanese health system overall has very effective outcomes, people live a long time in Japan and there are very high health statistics. We know healthcare is very cheap there, and we now know that 65% of healthcare institutions are family-run businesses. So my real research puzzle is what the relationship is between those three things. Is there anything we could learn from these family-run businesses in a technologically and economically advanced country like Japan? That might be a transferable piece of knowledge that we could look at for our own system. I always go and look at Japan as a way of thinking about the way we do things in our own country and any lessons that we can learn. It’s a genuine puzzle. I know nothing about this topic at all, and I don’t actually know very much about health systems in total. In the past, I’ve worked on welfare systems, and I’ve worked on educational systems, and healthcare is a completely new area, so I’m really excited about this project.

I’m going to be in Tokyo from the 1st of October and will probably spend about nine months there visiting as many institutions as possible and talking to as many policymakers as possible. My aim is to get a feel for how the system works and then come back to the UK to write some of it up. So that’s a very broad outline of how I’m hoping to spend next year.

Tell us something nobody in the College knows about you…

I don’t think anybody knows this, but if they do, apologies!

In the mid-1970s, when I was 17, I got a burst appendix in the Negev Desert. I was actually on the bus when my appendix burst, already on my way to a hospital across the desert in the hope that somebody could work out what was wrong with me. I ended up in a very basic hospital in a city called Be’er Sheva and was very lucky because there was a Russian surgeon there who had been sent to this hospital as part of his immigration plan. He’d been allowed to immigrate or emigrate to Israel, but only if he went and worked in a field hospital for a period of time. He was apparently highly skilled and he managed to sort out the peritonitis which happened as a result of a burst appendix. I was subsequently told that it was pretty amazing that I managed to get to the hospital in one piece and then to come out of the hospital in one piece. So, I think that’s possibly the most exciting thing – if exciting is the right word – that I can think of to tell you!

What three items would you take with you to a desert island?

I think I’d like a radio because I’m a bit addicted to the news, but I suspect I’d get less addicted to the news quite quickly if I was stuck on a desert island. Also, you’re probably not allowed a radio… I’d like my running shoes because going running is an important part of my life, but I guess I could get used to running barefoot, so I probably don’t actually need running shoes.

In terms of luxury food and drink things, I’m basically addicted to ginger. Anything that’s got ginger in, I love. So if I could have an endless supply of ginger on the island and I could do things with it, that would be important. I also drink gallons of tea, good quality gold blend Yorkshire Tea, so I’d like a lifetime supply of Yorkshire Tea.

The thing I always do when I don’t know what I want to do next is get a jigsaw puzzle out because it just sort of clears my mind. So, if I could have a supply of thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles – not too difficult, so not just a picture of sand, but with some images in! – that would be something that would keep me occupied and relatively happy.

I don’t think I’d be very good on my own as I think I need company, but those are three things that would make it more tolerable. So that’s ginger, Yorkshire Tea, and jigsaw puzzles. Okay, those are my three things!

Where next?