Lord Patten speaks out in Rhodes debate

Oxford chancellor says those unable to deal with history should think about being educated ‘elsewhere’

January 13, 2016
Rhodes Oxford plaque
Source: “Rhodes’ portrait bust”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The plaque dedicated to Cecil Rhodes that Oriel has agreed to remove

The University of Oxford’s chancellor Lord Patten of Barnes has spoken out about the Cecil Rhodes debate, saying that students unable to come to terms with the mining magnates place in history should “think about being educated elsewhere”.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, the former Conservative minister and governor of Hong Kong argued against the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign, a movement to remove a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College, Oxford. 

Because of the campaign, Oriel has agreed to remove from one of its buildings a plaque commemorating Rhodes and will also consider whether or not to remove the statue.

Lord Patten told Today that the scholarship programme at Oxford that had been made possible owing to the endowment left by Rhodes had been endorsed by Nelson Mandela.

“If people at a university aren’t prepared to demonstrate the sort of generosity which Nelson Mandela showed towards Rhodes and towards history...then maybe they should think about being educated elsewhere,” he said.

The Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign – an extension of the movement started in South Africa to remove a Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town – has called the statue of Rhodes at Oriel College “an open glorification of the racist and bloody project of British colonialism”, saying that it represents Oxfords tacit identification with Rhodes’ values.

Lord Patten said that he was happy to debate and discuss ideas but pointed out that there were buildings at Oxford, other UK universities and many British cities that had been funded by people and activities – like the slave trade – that were now rightly considered abhorrent.

However, to remove history would cause UK universities to become “a bland diet of bran to feed people”, adding, “if you want universities like that you go to China where they’re not allowed to talk about ‘Western values’, which I regard as global values.”

The Rhodes statue dispute follows similar debates about student “no platforming” and “safe space” policies on UK and US university campuses. In October, more than 3,000 students signed a petition to stop Germaine Greer speaking at Cardiff University because of views she had expressed on transgender issues. 

Lord Patten said the idea of “safe spaces” was “madness”. “To deny freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry at university would be a treason to the sort of values universities should represent,” he added.

The Oxford chancellor also spoke out against the Rhodes Must Fall campaign yesterday at the installation of Oxford’s new vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson. 

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Reader's comments (1)

What is wrong with the world today is that young radicals think that by turning their backs on a particular aspect of history they somehow achieve the undoing of that history. If one finds one's country's history hard to bear it is, I hope, because today's values are less imperialistic than were those of previous generations. If, however, we wish to sustain our new more benign set of moral values we must keep the old, rejected ones at the forefront of our consciences or we will forget they ever happened with the consequence that they will be more easily be repeated. We are not a species that learns well from history. To do away altogether with the history of what our forbears did would be to exacerbate our lack of ability to learn from the past. Keep his statue. Throw eggs at it if you must, but denying history is a bad idea.

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