More than 150 lecturers are reportedly refusing to teach students at Oxford University’s Oriel College in protest at the institution’s decision not to remove a contentious statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes.
The academics have also pledged to withdraw from all talks, seminars and conferences sponsored by Oriel and to stop their involvement in interviewing students and recruiting fellows as part of the boycott, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Last month, Oriel College was accused of “institutional racism” by the #RhodesMustFall campaign after its governing body ruled against moving the monument to the colonialist from its position outside the building.
An independent inquiry had been set up to examine Rhodes’ legacy last June after the body “expressed their wish” to remove the statue but the college ultimately decided three weeks’ ago not to proceed, arguing the time frame and cost involved would pose “considerable obstacles”.
Now, in a stinging letter to the college, the signatories write: “The collegiate university can only effectively and credibly work to eradicate racism and address the ongoing effects of colonialism today if all the colleges do so. Oriel College’s decision not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes undermines us all.
“Despite votes in favour from its student common rooms and despite an earlier vote of the governing body expressing their wish to remove it, Oriel has now decided not to.
“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.”
The lecturers have already been criticised by Lord Wharton, chairman of the Office for Students, who told the paper it would be “utterly unacceptable” if students were to lose out as a result of the protest.
Tim Loughton, a former minister for children and families, has also criticised the move. “This is academic blackmail by a group of academics who think their own political views should trump everyone else’s, and if they don’t get their own way then any innocent students who happen to fall within their boycott will become the victims,” he said.
The Independent has approached Oriel for comment.
Members of the Magdalen College Middle Common Room, home to graduate students, overwhelmingly voted to remove the painting.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson is said to agree with education secretary Gavin Williamson’s criticism of the students, according to Downing Street, after the latter branded the gesture “simply absurd”.
Mr Williamson has since faced criticism from the University and College Union, which said the comments were a “distraction from the disastrous, systemic failings this government has presided over in higher education”.
Barrister Dinah Rose, president of the college, said staff had received “threatening messages” over the controversy and defended students’ right to “free speech and political debate”.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick dismissed the feud “student union politics”, but said he is “proud” to hang a portrait of Her Majesty in his own office.
Political website Guido Fawkes has meanwhile reported that the motion to remove the Queen’s portrait was launched in order to make members “feel welcome”, with one student said to have commented that “patriotism and colonialism are not really separable”.
Additional reporting by agencies