Oxford's November 5th fireworks

November 1, 1996

I hope I was not alone in finding Valentine Cunningham's article intellectually shallow and socially rather offensive.

I found it particularly strange that a teacher of English would hint that management studies was "a shallow contemporary shibboleth" when English has spent much of this century attempting to make itself intellectually respectable at this university and is still thought of as an "easy option". The decision to have management studies at Oxford was taken a number of years ago and the debate about the siting of the school of management studies has nothing to do with this issue.

The brief discussion of the site also seems to be misleading. The issues are certainly complex and one can understand the concerns of some, but the matter is far more evenly balanced than Professor Cunningham admits.

The argument most difficult to follow was the argument that accepting money from a donor would inevitably arrive with strings. Corpus Christi College gets Pounds 3,047 of state money for each undergraduate it takes. The Government tells it, however, how many undergraduates it can take, how many shall be in the arts and how many shall be in the sciences - and pays the university differentially for such students. Political parties now try to tell the college from what type of schools students should be admitted. Does state money come without strings? Undoubtedly, the tax-payers from whom the money is taken involuntarily and most of whom, no doubt, have a less elegant lifestyle than the fellows of Corpus, are indeed entitled to impose strings.

What about the estimated Pounds 6,800 Corpus has each year from its endowments for each undergraduate? Does that have more strings than the state money? Or did Corpus have the good sense to take from benefactors who would not attach strings? Or is it that the wife of one of Mrs Thatcher's advisers is on one of Mr Said's foundations the real reason for opposing this particular gift? Or is that receiving gifts from Syrians is far less acceptable than stealing assets from cistercians?

I have met Mr Said only once. I do know, however, that he has been very generous to a number of programmes in this university and to various colleges. His gifts have always been without strings. He has helped to maintain Oxford's reputation at a time when the university finds state funds increasingly scarce and coming with more strings attached. If Oxford is to regain its international pre-eminence, we ought to welcome such generous benefactors and not sneer at them.

Robert Stevens


Pembroke College, Oxford

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