Rhodes to ruin
A tiny minority of Oxford academics sanction hundreds of innocent students over the continued existence of a statue.
A number of Oxford lecturers recently announced their boycott of Oriel College, after the governing body of the college decided not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes adorning the building, following the establishment of and report by an independent commission.
Rhodes was a British businessman, politician, and steadfast imperialist. He was the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony between 1890-1896, and his various writings make it clear that, by today’s standards, he was disgustingly racist. His paternalistic commentary regarding the indigenous peoples of Africa and elsewhere — “the native is to be treated as a child, and denied the franchise” — makes for sickening reading.
The governing body at Oriel College, upon review of the commission’s report, cited substantial and costly regulatory obstacles to the proposed removal. Their statement made clear that the governing body still supports, at minimum, the re-contextualisation of Rhodes’ legacy and relationship to the college, additionally committing to:
Create the office of Tutor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion who will be a Fellow and Trustee of the College
Develop a strategic plan for improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion, ensuring it is embedded more formally in the College
Fundraise for scholarships to support students from Southern Africa
Enact a 2016 decision to have an annual lecture on a topic related to the Rhodes legacy, race, or colonialism
Institute an annual student prize (e.g. for an essay, artwork or photography) on a topic related to Rhodes legacy, race, or colonialism
Provide additional training for academic and non-academic staff in race awareness
Introduce further outreach initiatives targeted at BME student recruitment
Cecil Rhodes was a true white supremacist, controversial even in his own time — he died in 1902. We ought to remember that his immense fame and fortune went hand-in-hand with the subjugation of millions, and the relentless promotion of his own abhorrent views regarding the “English master-race”. Some have suggested adding plaques to make plain his bigotry, or that he be turned around to face the wall — an elegant solution, in my opinion, to preserve history but also make a symbolic statement.
The latest round of suggestions (this has been going on for 6 years) has been reviewed in detail by the college — a 700-year old institution with the right to maintain their building as they see fit. They rejected the proposal to remove the statue, but still they attempted to find compromise, and to address the concerns purportedly driving the objections to the statue.
They did so even despite reviewing “well over a thousand written contributions from students, alumni, associates of the college and the general public”, among whom “[a] majority [of the submissions to the Commission] backed the retention of the statue.” With the will of the people to consider, the statement goes on to promise to:
Establish a task force to consider the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission, together with other ideas for contextualisation, and to oversee their implementation
Commission a virtual exhibition to provide an arena for contextualisation and explanation of the Rhodes legacy and related issues of relevance to the College’s objectives
Undertake to contextualise the Rhodes legacy and memorials, including both physical elements at the site and virtual resources
This all sounds like a pretty fair hearing, right? The ten-month long commission was rigorous and detailed, and the decisions of the governing body measured and conciliatory. Those so concerned about the statue itself could continue to apply pressure in good faith; with sustained, coherent, and respectful argumentation, and, crucially, with the will of the college/university populace, perhaps further viable solutions will begin to take shape.
They should, of course, recognise that many concessions have been made as a result of the process. It should mean something that they have been heard, and they should respect the decision of the authority regarding the statue, backed in majority by the people who cared to write-in.
Instead, a minority of academics have chosen to boycott the college, stating that the decision not to remove the statue “undermines us all” — all 150 of them, constituting 2% of the academic staff at the university. They apparently feel that they “have no choice but to withdraw all discretionary work and goodwill collaborations” — this includes tutoring of Oriel students, interviewing of admissions candidates, and attendance at talks and outreach initiatives sponsored by the college. Unbelievably, this lonesome group have explicitly ruled-out collaboration in goodwill with the constituents of the college, none of whom are responsible for the existence of the statue, and apparently few of whom care enough to co-sign demands for its removal.
An investigation, substantial opposition, several compromises. The realm of adults, where we do not always get what we want, and we must sometimes accept that. For these academics, though, this is not acceptable, and so now they are throwing their toys out of their oversized prams. They are daring the governing body of the college to abandon their careful considerations, or else. They think themselves above due process. They clearly think themselves morally superior if they are willing to sanction innocent students, to take away from their learning potential. All because the statue still stands, and despite every other gain to come out of the commission. Their final position is, ‘Give us everything we want, or we will make you bleed in the public square.’
I suspect that they would have accepted removal of the statue, accompanied by none of the other compromises, as a resounding victory. Such is the pattern for these performative social justice types. Indeed, the decision regarding the statue, and the concurrent opportunity to make a scene with this boycott, is almost as good an outcome for the performers as if the college had agreed to tear the statue down. They want the scene, they need it — this is why the EDI role, strategic plans, fundraising, annual lecture, annual prize, race awareness training, outreach initiatives, and various physical and virtual methods of contextualisation, were referred to by Oxford Prof. emeritus of modern history, Robert Gildea, as “taking no action” and “not acceptable”. The statue and the associated publicity are paramount. Rather than risk a damp squib, they initiate the 4th act: withdrawing their work and expertise from the subset of students who happen to attend Oriel College.
Those lecturers are quite clearly in need of a shaking: Keep pushing the university, keep making inrhodes (haha) — but do your damn job. Who do you think you are, to demand that your employer, the University of Oxford, one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the world, submits to your ideological position, by no means majority-held, or else you will withdraw your support from some of the students? Do they not pay you enough? Those students at Oriel College, whom you now refuse to tutor, who have worked their fingers to the bone to gain admission to Oxford, who pay £9000 per year to attend, who may dislike the statue but still wish to learn, who may not care an iota about the statue — do they not deserve to continue their studies without impediment? Studies likely having absolutely nothing to do with colonialism, or Cecil Rhodes, or virtue-signalling masquerading as “social justice”. Were I a student at Oriel College, I would be furious. How dare you force your ideology upon them, visit sanctions upon them, in your paternalistic, tyrannical stupor.
How weak are you — how weak do you think are the descendants of subjugated peoples from ex-colonies, myself included — that the continued existence of a fucking statue prevents you from tutoring the young people who have earned their place at the college? After more than a century, this is apparently an intolerable environment?
No. This is a blatant power-play by academics who think that they have a right to deny the students their tutelage, because… what? An inanimate object, supposedly “glorifying colonialism” but in reality sneered-at if not ignored, offends their pathetically delicate sensibility? The statue was raised more than a century ago; the advanced age of many top academics notwithstanding, it is very likely to have been there when they won the job. If they are no longer able to merely see the statue, even whilst they continue to argue for its modification (which I support) or removal (also fine, who actually cares?), perhaps they should blindfold themselves on their way into work. If they undergo heart palpitations every time they see a metal rendering of a long-dead arsehole, then they should seek medical aid for their hysteria.
Either way, I call bull: exactly which straw broke the camel’s back? For how many years has the statue failed to engender a boycott of the college? Why now? The answer is plain: these people see the world exclusively through the lens of power, and see that now is the time to wrest some power from the amorphous “structures”, placing it firmly into their own hands.
One wonders what they will do with their newfound influence, should the administration capitulate to their boycott — though we can make guesses given the illiberal nature of this contention (submit to our demands or suffer the consequences), and the broader goals of the radical, authoritarian left. These types seek to hamstring honest debate; censor controversial curricula and speakers; encourage homogeneity of thought; punish diversity of political belief; exclude holders of such beliefs; and transform the sacred-yet-secular edifice of The University, the (former?) home of open inquiry, one of our most treasured assets as a species, into a repressive Church of Social Justice.
Why are we not standing up to this moral terrorism? Why are we allowing a clergy to establish themselves, and to dictate how we all must feel about the distant past? It is the job of some academics to analyse history, some fewer in the ethics department to moralise over history, and exactly zero to unilaterally repudiate history, and declare any remaining iconography as so morally repugnant that they cannot, will not, continue to work near it at their own ‘discretion’. How lost are these performers, whose art smells like blackmail, and takes students as collateral damage?
Need I reiterate that these 150 academics constitute just 2% of the 7000+ academics working at the University of Oxford? If they refuse to treat all students equally, on the grounds that the college administrators have — finding themselves in-between a rock and hard place — refused demands that a 110-year old statue be uprooted, then they should be sacked: Continue to teach these students, cease this discrimination, or else replacements will be sought after. There are plenty of well-qualified, well-credentialed academics who would dearly love to hold those positions, who could stomach the sight of a statue, and who would laugh at the idea that figures from history, or their statues, can do harm to us today — especially not to people who value strength of mind, such as those attending the University of Oxford.
This is not a protest, this is a refusal to treat Oriel students fairly; a baseless soft strike — no rights are being violated here, there is no appreciable collective demanding coherent reform, no union supporting any such demands. These people are not standing-up for a beleaguered subset of the student body, they are strutting around giving interviews to journalists. If they object that they are only withholding discretionary work — why withhold any at all? Why announce a boycott if it signifies no material change? For the transparent, shameless, narcissistic theatre, of course — look at us, so holy in our abnegation!
The people suffering the consequences are the students. The people paying the renegade 2%, indirectly, are the tax-payers. These 150 academics count themselves among the privileged few, high up in the ivory tower. It should be humbling to be able to pursue and disseminate knowledge for a living; doubly so, at such an institution as the University of Oxford. To those academics who have forgotten their privilege, those self-appointed arbiters of morality, so righteous that they “have no choice” but to eschew the duties concomitant with that privilege: You are the angry, childish fringe whom the rest of us roll our eyes at. You increasingly debase yourselves, and the university, with these tantrums. You have every right to continue to push for the removal of the statue, but, in the meantime, grow up. And get back to work.