Oxford students could get compensation over Cecil Rhodes lecturer strikes

10 June 2021, 14:11 | Updated: 10 June 2021, 14:23

An independent commission was set up to decide the future of the controversial statue after last year's Black Lives Matter protests
An independent commission was set up to decide the future of the controversial statue after last year's Black Lives Matter protests. Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

Oxford students whose teaching has been disrupted by protests over a statue of Cecil Rhodes may be liable for compensation, Downing Street has warned.

More than 150 lecturers at Oriel College are reported to be refusing to conduct tutorials in protest at the college's decision not to remove the controversial statute.

"Students rightly expect to get a good deal for their investment in higher education and we would expect universities to take appropriate action should any student be seriously affected by these actions which could include compensation," said a No 10 spokesperson.

"We fully believe in protecting academic freedom but universities have a duty to maintain access to good-quality tuition as a priority especially given the disruption the pandemic has caused students already."

It comes as graduate students at Magdalen College voted to remove a portrait of the Queen from their common room because of its ties to colonialism.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg described the academics concerned in the Rhodes dispute as a "useless bunch", adding: "We must not allow this wokeness to happen."

Conservative MP for Ipswich Tom Hunt raised the recent actions by Oxbridge colleges at business questions in Parliament, asking: "I know historically there's been lots of eccentric left-wing academics at Oxford and Cambridge, but the sheer frequency in which these events are cropping up, will (he) provide time for us to discuss what we can do to prevent the 'wokification' of Oxbridge colleges?"

Mr Rees-Mogg responded: "As for Magdalen College, it's not exactly 1687/88, it's a few pimply adolescents getting excited and taking down a picture of Her Majesty.

"It makes Magdalen look pretty wet, but it's not the end of the world."

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He continued: "As regards the academics refusing to teach, I'm half tempted to say you should be lucky not to be taught by such a useless bunch, but if they are that feeble, what are you missing and what are they doing there?

"Why don't they have any pride in their country, our marvellous history and our success?

"Rhodes is not a black and white figure, perhaps they're not learned enough to have bothered to look up the history of Rhodes in any detail, which has been written about quite extensively now and as I say, he is a figure of importance and of interest and of enormous generosity to Oxford.

"Do they want to give the money back to the descendants of Cecil Rhodes, or are they intending to keep it to themselves?"

The statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes has been controversial for years.

An independent commission, set up in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests, voted to remove the statue, but Oxford University went against the result of the vote because of time and financial constraints.

Campaigners called the decision "an act of institutional racism" and it prompted strikes from staff, who reportedly refused to give tutorials to Oriel's undergraduate students and withdrew from talks and seminars sponsored by Oriel.

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The chairman of the Office For Students Lord Wharton criticised the strikes and said students being disadvantaged because of them would be "utterly unacceptable".

Tim Loughton, a former minister for children and families, called the move "academic blackmail" and said that “innocent students" would become the victims.