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A Toast to the Provost

A Toast to the Provost

: Cornish Provost Moira Scott Payne. Photo by Moira's in-laws.

A few more things you should know about Cornish’s new provost, Moira Scott Payne

Moira Scott Payne brings a resume with some real heft to her new position as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Cornish College of the Arts. As provost, she is in charge of all things academic, overseeing the College’s curricula, faculty and research. It’s a complicated business: enter her office at the wrong time and you’ll be confronted with graphs of mind-boggling precision set out in eye-watering, 4-point type charting what one must suppose is the entire academic endeavor at the College from now to the crack of doom. Kepler did not chart the heavens with such assiduity.

Anything a business-minded person would want to know about Mrs. Payne is answered at length in her official bio on this website. But everyone knows that such biographies gloss over all the fun stuff. As an arts college with a responsibility to being creative, it behooves us to rather concentrate on it. It should be added that an exploration of the fun stuff allows us to further gauge Moira’s qualifications for the job.

Starting with proper forms of address, it’s “Moira” or “Mrs. Payne” but for her official title, we’re to use “Provost Scott Payne” not “Provost Payne.” This turns out to make perfect sense. “’Provost Payne’ just sounds bad,” Provost Scott Payne says, “not the sort of name to be known for.” True, Provost Payne sounds like a character from Dickens, and she is likely to be the sort to refuse a hungry undergraduate another bowl of gruel. Cornish’s new provost intends to foster warm relations with faculty and students alike, and an invitation to “visit Provost Payne” sounds like the lead-in to a scene from Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome.

Her official bio covers her Scottish background, including her time at Glasgow School of Art and the University of Dundee’s Duncan of Jordonstone College of Art and Design. But that’s not the Truly Interesting Part — which is actually in two parts. The first part of the Truly Interesting Part is that her family hails from the Outer Hebrides, the string of islands in the remote northwest of Scotland, the one last area of the country where Scottish Gaelic is commonly spoken. Scott Payne has studied the language extensively, and though she claims not to remember it, this is no doubt false modesty; one and all are invited to engage her in Gaelic whenever the opportunity arises.

The second part of the Truly Interesting Part is that, having pointed out the first part of the Truly Interesting Part, she didn’t actually grow up in the Outer Hebrides — nor, in fact, in any part of Scotland. No, her father was a tea planter in India, and she grew up on the other side of the world. Moira’s accent, which sounds so authentic to American ears, was thus acquired by unknown means.  As the daughter of a tea planter, she is, not surprisingly, very particular about her tea. For some reason, she has been forced to borrow a local teapot, since her personal pot has still not arrived from the U.K. (perhaps the absolutely perfect residue in the pot is covered by the Official Secrets Act).

A provost must be the sort to look to the future, and must plan accordingly. Even as a young artist, Moira Scott had great abilities in this direction not displayed in her official biography. Her positive glut of awards is exhaustively noted in the official bio; one of these was a residency at prestigious Hospitalfields House. Many young artists would have looked at a grant to spend time painting landscapes at Hospitalfields House as an end in itself, but that shows their lack of initiative and enterprise. Young Miss Scott apparently sized up the beautiful estate and the handsome man running it, William Payne, and said, “Right, I’ll take one of each.” And Hospitalfields House is where, in fact, she lived until her husband William’s retirement a few years back.

Mrs. Payne is in no way a reluctant transfer to the United States. In fact, she has been plotting a move here for some time. Cornish provided the perfect opportunity, along with William’s retirement. She believes that the College is on the verge of greatness. The ability to understand great opportunities is a family trait. Moira reports that her daughter, Lauren, is a lawyer in London who specializes in “air and space law.” You read that last part correctly, Lauren is an expert in legal matters pertaining to outer space. It’s a brilliant choice, actually, as outer space is, for all intents and purposes, endless. Not only is the universe expanding, the expansion is accelerating, we are told. There is quite literally nowhere to go but up in this specialty.

Finally, a college provost must be willing to make deals to get things done. Moira has displayed her fitness in this area by having purchased her son’s acquiescence to the big move to Seattle by promising James he could choose the family’s car on arrival. In practical terms, this apparently means she won’t be getting the Volvo she wants. On the plus side, we imagine she’ll look good behind the wheel of a Porsche. 

With the addition of this unofficial biography to the official entry, the reader should,  at last, appreciate the full scope of the talents of Cornish’s new provost. At the very least, it should provide the stuff for many conversations — in Gaelic, one hopes.


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