It is not just privileged Oxford students who are feeling good about themselves this month, by removing a portrait of the Queen. At nearby Oriel College, 150 college tutors are refusing to teach because the college decided against removing a statue of Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes was a British imperialist who doubtless had objectionable views and helped to create the white South Africa with its apartheid. He also generously arranged to endow his old college with £100,000 in 1899. The real Rhodes, as opposed to caricature which many today enjoy reviling, was a more complicated character. For example, he funded a newspaper for a black readership, which would be odd for an obvious white supremacist. Still, some of his opinions would be deemed less than satisfactory today, and many of the good students and dons who walk beneath his statue may not wish to look up to him.

So what of the 150 university lecturers who are refusing to lecture or give tutorials until the statue is removed? These brave men and women are bravely sacrificing their undergraduate’s educations in order to remove some objectionable art. Perhaps they did not know about Rhodes’ association with Oriel when they accepted the teaching posts however many years ago? Possibly they were only recently made aware of Rhodes’ imperialist views during last year’s BLM protests; now their eyes have been opened, they have resolved to act and made good their silence. I have scoured the press reports, but can find no resolution to return Rhodes’ financial contributions. Perhaps the £100,000 he gave (now worth £10,000,000) could be donated to the South African government or to anti-racism charities? That would certainly prove that all this is more than gesture politics coming from well-paid academics enjoying all the benefits of working at an elite institution. Sadly not. Instead, their statement reads:

"Faced with Oriel's stubborn attachment to a statue that glorifies colonialism and the wealth it produced for the college, we feel we have no choice but to withdraw all discretionary work and goodwill collaborations".

Valiant. I suspect that Mark Twain's comment about Rhodes does far more than the huffing and puffing of these middle class dons:

"I admire him, I frankly confess it; and when his time comes I shall buy a piece of the rope for a keepsake".

Image by Alfonso Cerezo from Pixabay