Collegiate claims

June 7, 2002

As a humble FE lecturer I hesitate to take issue with Lord Briggs's elegant review of volume VII of The History of the University Oxford (Books, THES , May 31). There may, however, be one minor element of misrepresentation by selective quotation.

Far from condemning Oxford in "slanted" or any other language, the Portsmouth shipwright, and later general secretary of the Workers' Educational Association, J. M. McTavish, was prominent among those, including R. H. Tawney, William Temple and Sidney Ball, seeking closer ties between Ruskin College and the university. Elsewhere in the speech of 1907 cited by Briggs, McTavish declares: "I am not here as a supplicant for my class. I decline to sit at the rich man's gate praying for crumbs. I claim for my class all that Oxford has to give."

It was McTavish's ambition that Ruskin become a fully fledged Oxford college. These ambitions were opposed by Ruskin's student body, for which the university was to be shunned because "all its teaching is permeated, inevitably, with class bias". McTavish lost the debate and went home to Portsmouth. While the pedagogical praxes of the University of Oxford have changed since 1907, Ruskin College remains firmly ex collegia .

Pete Keeffe
Executive fellow
Ruskin College, Oxford

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