Oxford chancellor election rules redrawn over ‘vetting’ fear

Committee will have no role in selection of nominations to succeed Lord Patten, university insists

May 15, 2024
Entrance of St Mary the Virgin church in Oxford
Source: iStock/Carlos Pascual

Revised guidelines “remove any ambiguity” that candidates to be the next chancellor of the University of Oxford would have to undergo vetting, which critics said amounted to a “stitch-up”.

Announcing plans in March for the election to succeed Lord Patten of Barnes, Oxford said that a newly created “chancellor’s election committee” would “determine which candidates are eligible to progress to the next stage of the election process”.

The committee, to include Oxford vice-chancellor Irene Tracey and representatives from the university’s council and congregation, would have “due regard to the principles of equality and diversity and the approved role specification”, it was announced in the Oxford Gazette.

Accusing the university of a “stitch-up”, former government minister Neil O’Brien had said the change in voting procedures represented a shift to an “EDI-style process of eastern bloc-style ‘managed democracy’ in which a small group will choose who (if anyone) will be allowed to go forward for ‘election’”.

Oxford had already denied that there was any intention to “vet” candidates or veto those whom the institution found distasteful.

But a revised version of the guidelines, first reported in The Times, makes it clear that the committee will put forward all the candidates proposed for election unless they fall foul of specific criteria, such as being an Oxford student or employee, or being a serving member of an elected legislature such as the House of Commons.

“Through the proposed amendment to the regulations, the university council’s intent is to remove any ambiguity and reinforce the intent of the original regulation that the election committee will have no role in the vetting or selection of any nominations for chancellor,” an Oxford spokesman said. “Our requirement to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty [PSED] remains unchanged.”

The upcoming poll will be the first to be held online, in an attempt to widen participation. The election of Lord Patten in 2002 saw about 8,000 graduates return to the city for in-person voting.

Mr O’Brien, the Conservative MP for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, told The Times he was “glad” that there had been a “rethink”.


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