Critic offers Oxford his latest work of friction

April 26, 2002

One of Oxford University's most vocal critics has opened a bookshop and gallery in the heart of the dreaming spires as a focal point for dissent and attacks on the institution's establishment.

Andrew Malcolm, who has been in dispute with the university for more than a decade after Oxford University Press reneged on a promise to publish his book, aims to cause maximum embarrassment. He has taken the lease on a shop on Broad Street, opposite Balliol College and near the Bodleian Library, and a few doors from tourist gift shop "The Oxford Story". He intends to sell books and pamphlets and stage exhibitions critical of the university.

Mr Malcolm hopes to raise money to pay £12,500 the university is seeking from him after his latest court case and is gathering support from other people who have had disputes with Oxford. He will invite the "exiled" Oxford poets, who were removed, controversially, from the OUP's poetry list in 1999, to sell their work and give readings.

"The shop could become a centre for a range of disaffectees, with events and happenings - all very 1960s," Mr Malcolm said.

Oxford paid Mr Malcolm £17,000 in 1991 after the High Court established he had been unfairly treated when OUP declined to publish his book, Making Names . Commissioning editor Henry Hardy told Mr Malcolm he was keen to publish the book and it was likely to be approved for publication. Alan Ryan, then a fellow and now warden of New College, and a delegate of OUP, recommended that the book be published. But after Mr Malcolm made revisions, Dr Ryan changed his mind.

As part of the out-of court settlement, Oxford agreed that "it, its servants and agents will not publish or solicit the publication of any derogatory statements, letters or articles about Mr Malcolm or about the merits or quality of the work".

Mr Malcolm claimed this undertaking had been broken when in a letter to The THES in April last year, Dr Ryan said he had changed his mind about publishing the book because "what seemed fresh, lively and amusing seemed coarse and jeering the third time around. Perhaps the reading climate had changed, perhaps it was always a book that should be read once only."

Mr Justice Lightman upheld the freedom of Oxford's academics to criticise the work, because the order could not be used to block academic freedom and said that Dr Ryan was not an employee or servant of the university but an "independent contractor". The university is seeking costs.

Mr Malcolm's shop, named "Akme Expression" after his own publishing company, is due to open tomorrow.

A spokesperson for Oxford University and OUP said: "We respect the right of individuals to air their views publicly. However, if they have a concern about matters relating to either OUP or Oxford University, there are procedures by which they can bring it to our direct attention so it can be considered thoroughly and acted upon if appropriate."

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