More than 100 academics are boycotting Oxford’s Oriel College and refusing to teach students in protest at its decision to keep a statue of Cecil Rhodes.
Here JOSH WHITE and MARIO LEDWITH profile four of the rebellion’s ringleaders:
Dr Kate Tunstall
A Left-wing scholar of French literature, Dr Tunstall’s name was listed first on a bombshell email sent to staff rallying backing for the Oriel boycott.
Her social media profile shows support for the Labour Party, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and opposition to the anti-terrorism Prevent strategy.
As head of 307-year-old Worcester College, Dr Tunstall wrote about the murder of George Floyd in its annual record – more often reserved for updates on the exploits of sports teams or the academic achievements of students.
The killing, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, ‘shed a glaring light on the intolerable fact that being safe and well is all too often a privilege’.
First on Rhodes Email: Dr Kate Tunstall was appointed to the Office of Interim Provost in 2019
Pictured: Dr Kate Tunstall’s social media pages show support for the Labour Party
She added: ‘In Oxford, many of us joined the socially distanced protests in support of Black Lives Matter and Rhodes Must Fall and the governing body, expressing its support for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes, also recognised that though it might not have a statue it could agree to take down, it was not outside the legacies of colonialism.’
Dr Tunstall had overseen a plan to replace college prayers with a ‘range of set texts of thanksgiving from any world culture, religious or not’.
The change was blocked after students held a referendum on the ‘inclusivity’ measures. One student commented that they wanted to keep in place features that ‘remind them of this place’s history and that it’s a special place to be’.
Dr Tunstall will shortly hand over the reins of the college, which counts essayist Thomas de Quincey and Rupert Murdoch among its alumni, to David Isaac – a former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Stonewall.
Professor Miles Larmer
In 2017, Miles Larmer accused then Prime Minister Theresa May of displaying ‘post-colonial amnesia’ by describing Britain as ‘Zimbabwe’s oldest friend’.
The 41-year-old professor of African history at St Antony’s College believes the UK is guilty of a ‘national failure to come to terms with our imperial past and the way it shapes the present’.
Writing in a newspaper in 2017, he said: ‘The brilliant African students I teach are amazed at Britain’s ignorance and lack of recognition of the centrality of imperialism to their history and to ours.’ He added: ‘We are not yet close to a full imperial reckoning, but the arc of history is being bent in the right direction.’
Fury at ‘ignorance’: Miles Larmer is a Professor of African History and a Fellow of St Antony’s College. He was Senior Lecturer in International History at University of Sheffield until 2013
Dr Sneha Krishnan
Since its formation in 2015, Dr Krishnan has been a vocal backer of Rhodes Must Fall.
The associate professor of human geography at Brasenose College, who teaches a lecture entitled ‘Must Rhodes fall?’, has talked of her pride in attending protests calling for the statue to be toppled.
Raised in India, her work now looks at ‘how childhood and youth are materialised in entanglement with the enduring powerof imperialism’.
On Twitter, she has voiced her support for a free Palestine and called for an end to ‘the Israeli state’s apartheid’.
Imperialism’s ‘enduring power’: Sneha Krishnan joined School of Geography and Environment at Oxford as an Associate Professor in 2018 and is also a tutorial fellow at Brasenose College
Professor Simukai Chigudu
A founding member of Rhodes Must Fall, the academic grew up in a middle-class family in Zimbabwe, where he studied at the private St George’s College. He says Rhodes ‘cast a long shadow’ over his life.
His grandfather was lynched by Rhodesian security forces and his father fought in the Bush War.
In 2003, he left home and enrolled at Stonyhurst College, the Jesuit boarding school in rural Lancashire.
The academic has said that moving to the UK opened his eyes to the lasting damage caused by colonialism.
While later studying medicine at Newcastle University, he described being on the receiving end of vile racism.
‘Anachronism’: Simukai Chigudu is an Associate Professor of African Politics at Oxford
After three years working as an NHS doctor, Prof Chigudu took up a position at Oxford where he became shocked at how colonial leaders such as Rhodes were celebrated.
As part of the university’s decolonisation movement in 2015, he initially opposed a decision to focus on the statue of Cecil Rhodes.
But he was eventually convinced that the attempt to have the statue removed would be ‘an important litmus test’. The associate professor of African politics at St Antony’s College has said the Oriel College statue is ‘self-conscious propaganda designed to present an ennobled image of Rhodes for as long as it stands’.
Following the decision to retain the statue, he said Oxford was becoming ‘an anachronism of the worst kind’.
Unfair boycott just punishes students, says university chief
Oxford’s vice-chancellor last night condemned the university’s academics for trying to ‘punish students’ in their crusade against Cecil Rhodes.
Professor Louise Richardson said she was ‘deeply disappointed’ by their threat to stop holding tutorials for Oriel students until a statue to the colonialist is removed.
It came after Downing Street warned the college’s 300 students could be entitled to compensation if the university did not take ‘appropriate action’ to quell the rebellion.
Some 150 dons have refused to teach Oriel’s undergraduates, denying them the chance for in-depth discussion in small groups and in one-to-one sessions.
In an unprecedented move, dons led by Professor Kate Tunstall called on staff to stop holding tutorials for Oriel students until the monument of the colonialist Rhodes (pictured) is removed
The academics were branded a ‘useless bunch’ by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday, while Universities minister Michelle Donelan criticised their ‘ridiculous threat’.
Last night the Oxford vice-chancellor criticised their actions but stopped short of issuing them with a formal rebuke.
Professor Richardson said: ‘Oxford’s brilliant academics are rightly renowned for their dedication to teaching, so I am deeply disappointed that some of my colleagues would choose to punish students, and prospective students, for the actions of their College’s governing body, especially after the prolonged disruption of teaching during the pandemic.’
A spokesman for Oriel College acknowledged the rebellion with ‘sadness’, and suggested the academics were abandoning their ‘duty of care’ for students.
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest arranged by the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign, calling for the removal of a statue of British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes in June last year
An independent inquiry said Oriel College could fund two fellowships in subjects related to Rhodes’ legacy, create scholarships for students from Africa and hold an annual lecture on him
Call to axe the word ’empire’ from honours
Almost 100 people who have received honours such as an OBE have backed a campaign to replace ‘Empire’ with ‘Excellence’ to cut the system’s link to colonialism.
They want the change so that honours become an ‘inclusive source of recognition, celebration and patriotism’.
The plan would affect the Order of the British Empire, which covers the ranks of DBE, KBE, CBE, OBE and MBE.
The Excellence Not Empire campaign has written to ministers asking for the move to be considered for future recipients.
Leading figures have turned down honours in the past because of their association with the empire and slavery, including poet Benjamin Zephaniah who rejected an OBE.
The campaign is urging new recipients, who will be announced today, to add their support.
However, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘There are no plans to change the name of the Order.’
Oriel last month rejected calls to tear down the statue of Rhodes after an independent commission produced a review following the long-running Rhodes Must Fall campaign.
Critics say the monument of the wealthy imperialist – who played a dominant role in the southern African slave trade in the late 19th century – causes offence to ethnic minorities.
An Oxford student in the 1870s, Rhodes left money to Oriel on his death in 1902 and his statue stands on the college’s building on Oxford High Street.
The row comes days after students at Magdalen College voted to remove a portrait of the Queen from their common room and is the latest example of ‘culture wars’ engulfing universities.
Amid mounting fury yesterday, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘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.’
Universities minister Miss Donelan said: ‘We fully believe in protecting academic freedom, but this apparent boycott is a ridiculous threat, given universities have a duty to prioritise access to good-quality tuition.’
Responding to a question about the ‘wokification’ of Oxbridge colleges in the Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘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?’ Marc Glendening, of the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank, said students were ‘being collectively and irrationally punished for a matter and decision over which they are not in any way responsible’.
He said: ‘It is extraordinary that these academics are prepared to compromise the educational futures of students whose fees of £9,000 a year help to keep Oxford University in business.
Pictured: Protesters demand statue of Cecil Rhodes be removed from Oriel College, Oxford
‘While the tutors are perfectly entitled to express their illiberal political values and demands, Oxford University should examine whether they will be breaching their conditions of employment if they carry out their threats.’
Alumni have also criticised senior academics from other colleges seeking to meddle in Oriel’s governance.
One influential graduate of Worcester College said that Professor Kate Tunstall, a lead signatory on the boycott document, ‘has no business doing this, she should be looking after her own college’.
Oriel recently rejected calls to tear down the Rhodes statue and said it would instead spend money on improving the ‘day to day experience’ of ethnic minority students.
Chairman of universities regulator the Office for Students, Lord Wharton, said: ‘Oriel College took a decision to retain the Rhodes statue after carefully considering all of the evidence.
‘It would be utterly unacceptable if any “boycott” of Oriel led to students… at the college being disadvantaged in any way.’
Pompous, posturing narcissism – and it’s blackmail
Commentary by Dominic Sandbrook
Although it’s almost 30 years since, trembling with nerves, I went for my first Oxford tutorial, I remember it as if it was yesterday.
The setting was Oriel College, which in recent years has been besieged by protests about its statue of the imperialist-turned-philanthropist Cecil Rhodes.
My tutor was the late Byzantine historian Mark Whittow, and in my mind’s eye I can still see him now, poring over one of his gigantic maps of the medieval Near East.
So began one of the great intellectual adventures of my lifetime, which I shall cherish forever.
It’s a rare privilege to learn at the feet of great thinkers at the cutting edge of their subjects, which is why so many youngsters work so hard to get into Oxford in the first place.
Rhodes Must Fall: A timeline of events
March 2015: Students at University of Cape Town begin protest to remove statue.
April 2015: After a vote by the university’s council, the statue is removed
May 2015: A vote is held at Rhodes University, South Africa, to change the name of the university. The vote is defeated.
January 2016: Vote held by Oxford students in Oxford Union, not affiliate to Oxford University, vote to remove the statue.
January 2016: Leaked report reveals the university faces huge funding loss if it removes the statue.
June 2020: The Rhodes Must Fall campaign is thrown into the spotlight among growing anti-racism protests by the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of American George Floyd. It gains particular attention following the toppling of a statue to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.
May 2021: Oriel College announces it will not remove the Cecil Rhodes statue citing ‘financial difficulties’
June 2021: More than 150 academics sign petition urging colleagues to boycott Oriel College tutorials until the statue is removed.
How monstrous it is, then, for some 150 Oxford dons to put their own petty prejudices above the wellbeing of Oriel’s students.
And how despicably self-indulgent to deny these young people the intellectual opportunities they once enjoyed themselves – and all because of a statue that barely anybody notices anyway!
The background is probably well known by now. To cut a very tiresome story short, Oriel recently decided against taking down Rhodes’s statue, arguing – quite rightly, in my view – that it was better to put money towards African scholarships and other educational projects.
But that wasn’t enough for these posturing narcissists. Led by the provost of a rival college, Worcester, they have produced what is effectively a blackmail threat, warning Oriel that they have been left ‘no choice but to withdraw all discretionary work and goodwill collaborations’.
All 150 dons, therefore, will ‘refuse requests from Oriel to give tutorials to Oriel undergraduates’.
They will also refuse to interview prospective Oriel students, and will not even speak at Oriel talks and conferences until the college agrees to demolish Rhodes’s statue, pictured right.
You might be forgiven for wondering why this matters. Well, here’s the answer.
Oriel is one of Oxford’s oldest colleges. Its alumni include two Nobel Prize winners, the chemist Alexander Todd and the economist James Meade, as well as a host of judges, writers, doctors and public servants.
But its students are a far cry from the Brideshead Revisited stereotype. Proportionately Oriel has one of Oxford’s largest state school intakes and runs regular programmes to attract black and Asian applicants, as well as those from deprived backgrounds.
Many of its students, in other words, have worked tremendously hard and made great sacrifices to win their places. They did so to have the chance of working with specialists in their fields – which is where the 150 dons come in.
As retribution for Oriel’s refusal to toe the ultra-woke line, these self-righteous blackmailers propose to punish the college’s students.
So if, say, a teenage girl from Sunderland has always dreamed of studying with a world expert on Vichy France, that’s tough. She must suffer, so that Rhodes might fall.
I choose the French example deliberately, because that happens to be the specialism of Robert Gildea, who went on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday to defend the boycott.
I remember Professor Gildea well from my Oxford days. He struck me back then as quite spectacularly pompous, even by academic standards, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that he hasn’t changed a bit.
As the interviewer pointed out, the only losers from this will be the students. To this Professor Gildea seemed entirely oblivious, merely droning on yet again about the statue.
To him, it seems, the interests of Oriel’s young people are irrelevant. For the last two years, these youngsters’ precious time at Oxford has been blighted by Covid.
While continuing to incur tuition fees, they have missed out on months of face-to-face teaching, as well as all the other joys and benefits of a normal university education.
Yet for Professor Gildea and his collaborators, none of this matters. Despite all their pious, self-congratulatory cant about their roles as educators, they clearly care nothing for Oriel’s interests, and they certainly don’t give a damn about the students.
The only thing they care about is their own freakish, virtue-signalling obsession with the statue of Rhodes – whose scholarships, by the way, have brought so many benefits to so many people.
This is the second scandal to strike Oxford in a few days. It follows the outrage at Magdalen students’ decision to take down a portrait of the Queen from their common room, supposedly because she is the incarnation of ‘colonialism’.
But while the Magdalen business is really a question of modish, Left-wing student silliness, the dons’ boycott is in an entirely different league. To turn young people into collateral damage in their demented anti-statue campaign is simply unforgivable.
After two Covid-blighted years, the students deserve so much better. But Oxford’s dons are clearly so blinkered, so cocooned by their own self-righteous prejudice, that they just don’t care.
Who was Cecil Rhodes and why is he so controversial?
Cecil Rhodes, pictured, who died in 1902, was the founder of the De Beers diamond company who was accused of exploiting his black miners. He was also a proponent of racial segregation which led to the Apartheid strategy in South Africa
Cecil Rhodes was born in Bishop Stortford, Hertfordshire in 1853. He was the son of a vicar.
Rhodes left England in 1870 for South Africa to work on his brother’s cotton farm. Though he later moved into the diamond business – co-founding De Beers – which at one stage controlled more than 90 per cent of the world’s supply.
The tycoon had wanted to build a railway from Cairo to Cape Town in order to colonise much of the continent of Africa.
He had even plans to bring the United States back under Crown control.
It wasn’t until the 1880s that he attended Oriel College, Oxford, which he left a substantial fund upon his death in 1902.
He was supported by Queen Victoria in expanding British territory in southern Africa, colonising Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia – now Zambia and Zimbabwe.
He once claimed: ‘Why should we not form a secret society with but one object, the furtherance of the British Empire and the bringing of the whole world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for making the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire?’
He was the Prime Minister of Cape Colony – now South Africa – between 1890 and 1896 and is credited with creating the conditions for the second Boer War.
In 1895, Rhodes sent British troops into Transvaal, which was an independent Republic, in order to overthrow it’s prime minister Paul Kruger and seize the area’s gold mines.
The Jameson Raid failed miserably.
Though, the battle over gold rights in the region led to war in 1899, which lasted for more than three years.
British troops operated a scorched earth policy, burning farms and placing women and children into concentration camps where thousands died.
Some 500,000 troops – including soldiers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada were involved in the conflict.
The conflict claimed the lives of 25,000 Afrikaners – many of them in concentration camps.
Some 22,000 British troops as well as a further 12,000 Africans died in the conflict.