Posted Tuesday 5 March 2013
Universities could do more to encourage women to study mathematics and sciences, according to the playwright and author Bonnie Greer OBE who has just been appointed Chancellor of Kingston University.
"It is crucial that women continue to take up the study of science and maths as historically women have been kept out of these professions, so who knows what genius has been lost?" she said. "When you think of all the big problems that are out there waiting to be solved, every ounce of human intelligence is needed. I think of myself as a kind of science onlooker, my second novel was about a scientist, and I love, for example, experimental physics - maybe even more than the arts."
Ms Greer, a well-known contributor to many television and radio discussion programmes, is shortly due to succeed Sir Peter Hall as Kingston's Chancellor as he takes on a new role as Patron of the University.
Bonnie Greer was born in 1948 in Chicago, where she studied theatre under David Mamet. She reflected on this period of her life in the memoir Obama Music, published in 2009, which doubled as a warning to the then new United States president not to forget his own Chicago roots.
A regular contributor to Sky News Paper Review, BBC2's The Review Show and Radio 4's Any Questions, she also writes occasionally for The London Evening Standard, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. Ms Greer sat next to the British National Party leader Nick Griffin when he appeared on the BBC's Question Time in 2009, a broadcast that provoked mass demonstrations outside Television Centre. She said she decided to take part in the controversial broadcast because "as the daughter of a Mississippian who had to leave his home state because he spoke his mind, my denying another person freedom of speech - no matter how abhorrent their views - was not an option."
Bonnie Greer is an award-winning playwright and has written more than a dozen plays for BBC Radio, a short film for BBC2, a documentary for BBC television, two novels and a biography of the writer and social activist Langston Hughes. She has also turned her hand to acting, playing Joan of Arc on the Paris stage. Ms Greer has lived in the United Kingdom since 1986, becoming a British citizen in 1997. She was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2010 for her contribution to the arts and, the following year, she was named one of the UK's Top 300 Public Intellectuals.
Not content with play and novel writing, media commentating and acting, Bonnie Greer is also an accomplished musical performer. Her play Marilyn and Ella, about the friendship between Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald, was staged in London's West End in 2009 - the same year that she performed her oratorio Greco/Davis at the London Jazz Festival. She is also on the board of Jazz Warriors UK.
The Chancellor of a university, while acting as the formal head, is not involved in the day-to-day management which is undertaken by the Vice-Chancellor and board of governors. How the role is interpreted varies between universities but Ms Greer said she wanted to play an active part. Her predecessor, Sir Peter Hall, who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, built close links with Kingston's Rose Theatre, ran masterclasses and was instrumental in developing a postgraduate drama course.
"To follow the name of Sir Peter Hall is, believe me, overwhelming and a great honour," Ms Greer said. "Having a playwright follow a legendary theatre director and producer keeps the theatre as a major part of the University."
She is, however, interested in every aspect of the University's life, including its championing of entrepreneurship. "I'd like the world to know that Kingston is number one at this," she added.
As a playwright, novelist and President of the Bronte Society, Ms Greer has, for several years, been an associate of the University's Writing School. She said she hoped to continue to work closely with it, focusing on the playwrights Ibsen and Strindberg. She has just completed two four-year terms as a trustee of the British Museum - the second as Deputy Chair - and would like to see Kingston establish links with the Museum.
Kingston University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Julius Weinberg, said he was impressed by Bonnie Greer's enthusiasm and energy. "She is someone who has shown leadership in the arts, is passionate about the sciences and has made a stand for the power of free speech and civilised argument," he said. "Bonnie stands for all those values that are important to Kingston University - a place where lives can be changed, opinions challenged and where we think learning can make the world a better place - so I am delighted that she has agreed to become our Chancellor."