Oxford mulls Thatcher naming rights and wrongs

‘Parliament of dons’ bypassed in decision-making process

November 21, 2013

Source: PA Photos

The lady is for naming: Congregation not involved in making decision

A University of Oxford academic has criticised the “opaque” way in which the institution approved the naming of a building after Baroness Thatcher.

The Thatcher Business Education Centre, a new structure in the Saïd Business School, was named in honour of the former prime minister, who died in April, at the request of Wafic Saïd, the school’s principal benefactor.

The prospect of the honour surfaced last year, with several academics warning that Congregation, Oxford’s “parliament of dons”, would not approve the move.

It famously opposed plans to award Lady Thatcher an honorary degree in 1985 because of the higher education cuts made during her tenure as prime minister.

However, the final decision on the name was not put before Congregation. An Oxford spokesman said this was not necessary and the decision had been made by the “appropriate” authorities, including the university’s council.

Robert Gildea, professor of modern history at Worcester College, Oxford, who voted against honouring Lady Thatcher in 1985, said he was disappointed with the way the decision had been handled.

“There is a tradition at this university not to name academic institutions after political figures. We try to keep a distance from political power,” he said.

Professor Gildea added that it was “unfortunate” the issue had come back in a “stealthy way”. He said he was in conversation with a number of colleagues about fighting the decision but admitted there was a “sense of water under the bridge”.

Bernard Sufrin, emeritus fellow at Worcester College, said that despite the governance issues raised, it was unlikely Congregation would try to undo the decision at this stage.

But he added: “This opaque way of conducting important business will not serve the university well in the long run. Making decisions as important as this one out of sight of Congregation is disturbing.”

However, Alice Prochaska, principal of Somerville College, Oxford, where Lady Thatcher studied chemistry in the 1940s, said the naming was a “good idea”.

“It is now 30 years since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister…We should regard her as a very important historical figure,” she said.

holly.else@tsleducation.com

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