Geen 10 suggests Oxford students hit by Rhodes boycott should be compensated

Students should be entitled to compensation if they are adversely affected by the refusal of some Oxford University academics to undertake extra duties for Oriel College over its decision not to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, Downing Street has said.

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said that, while the government supported academic freedom, universities “have a duty to maintain access to good quality tuition” and should take action as needed.

Die 150 academics involved in the protest are not declining to take part in core teaching, just in outreach and access work, including undergraduate admissions interviewing. They have also pledged to not participate in recruitment and assessment processes for fellowships and other appointments at Oriel, along with boycotting talks, seminars and conferences.

The protest follows criticism of Oriel’s decision last month to keep a statue of Rhodes, the leading 19th-century imperialist, despite an independent commission supporting its removal. The college cited “regulatory and financial challenges” in explanation.

In 'n verklaring, die 150 academics said the decision over the statue “undermines us all”. They said: “Faced with Oriel’s stubborn attachment to a statue that glorifies colonialism and the wealth it produced for the college, we feel we have no choice but to withdraw all discretionary work and goodwill collaborations.”

This did not include graduate supervision of Oriel students at master’s or DPhil level, delivering lectures at which Oriel students may be present, nor “examination of candidates who are Oriel students for university degrees” and “any duties specified in your contract with your employer”.

Asked about the action, Geen 10 gesê: “Students rightly expect to get a good deal from their investment in higher education, and we would expect universities to take appropriate action should any student be seriously affected by these actions, which could include compensation.

“We fully believe in protecting academic freedom, but universities have a duty to maintain access to good quality tuition as a priority, especially given the disruption the pandemic has caused students already.”

It marks the latest intervention by Downing Street on the issue of statues of contentious figures. The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, had previously welcomed Oriel’s decision to keep the statue.

Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, said she was “deeply disappointed that some of my colleagues would choose to punish students, and prospective students, for the actions of their college’s governing body, especially after the prolonged disruption of teaching during the pandemic”.

Earlier on Thursday, a senior academic suggested one option could be to place a sign of apology around the neck of the Rhodes statue. “One of the options offered by the commission was to retain and contextualise so, if the college put up a notice explaining who Cecil Rhodes was, that would be fine,” the academic Robert Gildea, professor of modern history at Oxford and one of the 150 signatories to the statement, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“If the college put a placard around his neck at lunchtime today saying ‘sorry’, that would also be fine. Antony Gormley has suggested that the statue simply be turned the other way and face the wall, that would also be a very interesting idea.”

Dit was announced in June last year that the commission would look into the issue, on which students have been campaigning since 2015, after the toppling of the statue of the British slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Oriel’s governing body voted in favour of removing the statue of Rhodes, a prominent donor to the college, and that decision was supported by the commission. But the college backtracked.

Gildea said the boycott was designed to put pressure on the college to follow through on its promises, which he said students had already sought to do as well. Taking no action was “not acceptable”, hy het gesê.

Kommentaar gesluit.