A 25-year-old Stanford graduate who attended the prestigious DC school Sidwell Friends and is the son of a top commercial lawyer has enraged British politicians and sparked a free speech row in the UK by removing a portrait of the Queen from the students’ room at the Oxford college where he is getting his PhD.
Matthew Katzman grew up in privilege in Bethesda, Maryland, a rich suburb of DC where he attended school with the Obama daughters, the Biden grandchildren and countless other politicians’ kids. After graduating from Sidwell in 2014, he studied math and theoretical computer science at Stanford, obtaining a masters in 2018.
Katzman is now getting his PhD in computer science from Oxford, the historic university attended by British Prime Ministers.
This week, he sparked fury by leading calls to remove a portrait of the Queen from the common room at Magdalen College in his role as president of Magdalen’s Middle Common Room, an organization of around 200 graduate students.
They decided between them that the portrait was ‘unwelcoming’ and represents ‘recent colonial history’. They’re going to replace it with ‘art by or of other influential and inspirational people’.
The decision has been blasted as ‘absurd’ by British politicians who say the young students ought to ‘show some respect’ for the 95-year-old Monarch.
British Education Secretary Gavin Williamson tweeted: ‘Oxford University students removing a picture of the Queen is simply absurd. She is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the UK. During her long reign she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity & respect around the world.’
Katzman is the son of Scott and Sandy Katzman, both 65. His father is a partner at the commercial law firm Steptoe & Johnson. The family lives in a sprawling, $4million home in Bethesda.
They have not yet commented on the row their son has unapologetically caused.
Matthew Katzman, 25, has sparked fury in the UK by removing a portrait of the Queen from the students’ room at his Oxford college because he and other students think it’s ‘unwelcoming’. The PhD student is the son of Sandy and Scott Katzman (shown with him right, on his graduation day at Stanford in 2018). They haven’t commented on the row their son has caused
Katzman has defended his position, telling DailyMail.com on Wednesday the removal of the portrait ‘did not equate to a statement on the Queen’. He said instead it was being taken down to create ‘a welcoming, neutral place for all members regardless of background, demographic, or views’.
Members of the Middle Common Room at Magdalen College – which is made up of graduates – overwhelmingly backed the removal of a portrait of the Queen (pictured is a likeness of the photographic print)
‘The Magdalen College MCR yesterday [Monday] voted to remove an inexpensive print of the queen that was hung in the common room a few years ago (a motion I brought forward in my role as MCR President as I do all motions raised in a sub-committee).
‘It is being stored securely and will remain in the MCR’s art collection.
‘The action was taken after a discussion of the purpose of such a space, and it was decided that the room should be a welcoming, neutral place for all members regardless of background, demographic, or views.
‘The Royal Family is on display in many areas of the college, and it was ultimately agreed that it was an unnecessary addition to the common room.
‘The views of the MCR do not reflect the views of Magdalen College, and the aesthetic decisions made by the voting members of its committee do not equate to a statement on the Queen.
‘Indeed, no stance was taken on the Queen or the Royal Family – the conclusion was simply that there were better places for this print to be hung.’
Magdalen has indicated it will not attempt to reverse the decision, despite its long association with royalty. This includes visits from the Queen in 1948 to receive an Honorary Degree and again in 2008 to mark the college’s 550th anniversary.
The print was bought and put up by a previous group of students in 2008, and shows the monarch in a white gown and blue sash. It is based on a 1952 photograph taken by Dorothy Wilding to mark her accession and coronation.
Amid an intense backlash, the president of Magdalen College swiftly moved to distance the institution itself from the students involved, despite defending their right to make the decision.
Katzman – who lists his hobbies as CrossFit – has unapologetically defended his position, telling DailyMail.com that the print was being removed to a ‘create a welcoming, neutral place for all members regardless of background, demographic, or views’
Magdalen College (pictured) at Oxford. Famous alumni include Oscar Wilde, Dudley Moore, Edward VIII and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Katzman sparked outrage among British politicians like Education Secretary Gavin Williamson who called the decision ‘simply absurd’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson weighed into the row, tweeting: ‘Oxford University students removing a picture of the Queen is simply absurd. She is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the UK.
‘During her long reign she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity and respect around the world.’
Oxford’s vice-chancellor Lord Patten also intervened, saying: ‘Freedom of speech allows even intelligent people to be offensive and obnoxiously ignorant.
‘I hope it does not do too much damage to the reputation of the college. I am sure old members of the college will try to be charitable in their assessment.’
Sir John Hayes, chairman of the Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs, told The Telegraph: ‘The sad thing is that you would think that the people of Magdalen College Oxford are reasonably bright, and this decision would suggest that they are not.
Katzman told DailyMail.com that the students voted to remove the print to create a ‘welcoming space for people of all backgrounds’
‘The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth and respected across the world as such, and to try to suggest anything otherwise is a dishonest distortion. The people involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.’
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick today called the row ‘student union politics’ but said he was ‘proud’ to have a portrait of the monarch in his office.
‘Well, this really is student union politics, and I’m not going to get involved in that – it’s their decision,’ he told BBC Breakfast. I have a portrait of the Queen on my office wall in my Government department and I’m proud to do so. I’m a huge fan and supporter of Her Majesty the Queen, I think we are incredibly lucky to live in a country with a head of state of her stature.
‘I wouldn’t want anyone to disrespect her out of ignorance in this way but I don’t think that we should waste too much time on student union politics.’
Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘This petulant and pathetic insult to Her Majesty the Queen is childish and pointless. It will change nothing.’
Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union and himself an Oxford graduate, said: ‘The students are perfectly within their rights to remove this painting from their common room, but it is baffling that they associate the Queen with colonialism.
‘I don’t think these students realize how loved the Queen is by the people of the Commonwealth. It is only woke British students who feel offended by it.’
The $48,000-a-year school Sidwell Friends, where the children of countless politicians and DC dignitaries study before going on to Ivy League colleges. Katzman graduated in 2014
Katzman was two years ahead of Malia Obama at Sidwell Friends. The former First Daughter is shown with her parents at a function at the school in 2011
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: ‘These kind of gestures are getting a bit out of hand,’ he told Nick Ferrari on LBC.
‘We should always respect the Queen but particularly now given things that have happened in the last few months. I don’t support that. Let’s get a sense of proportion and a bit of respect. People can air their views but those kind of gestures are divisive actually – they just divide people, and I don’t think they achieve much, to be honest.’
BBC TV presenter Richard Madeley asked: ‘How can this make any sense when this queen has presided over the dismantling of what was left of empire?’
And Twitter user Samantha Smith added: ‘The Queen was a pioneer of anti-racism in an era of widespread segregation and apartheid. Imagine trying to cancel the reigning monarch.’
Barrister Dinah Rose, who was appointed president of Magdalen College last year, emphasized that the students were not representative of the college, but supported their right to ‘free speech and political debate’.
In a series of tweets, she said: ‘Here are some facts about Magdalen College and HM the Queen. The Middle Common Room is an organization of graduate students. They don’t represent the College. A few years ago, in about 2013, they bought a print of a photo of the Queen to decorate their common room.
‘They recently voted to take it down. Both of these decisions are their own to take, not the College’s. Magdalen strongly supports free speech and political debate, and the MCR’S right to autonomy. Maybe they’ll vote to put it up again, maybe they won’t. Meanwhile, the photo will be safely stored.’
‘Being a student is about more than studying. It’s about exploring and debating ideas. It’s sometimes about provoking the older generation. Looks like that isn’t so hard to do these days.’ Rose also said college staff had been receiving abusive messages in the wake of the scandal.
‘So if you are one of the people currently sending obscene and threatening messages to the College staff, you might consider pausing, and asking yourself whether that is really the best way to show your respect for the Queen,’ she added.
On its website, Magdalen College Middle Common Room described itself as ‘one of the biggest graduate communities of the traditional Oxford Colleges’, with 200 members.
It states: ‘Our graduates come from many different countries throughout the world, and have diverse interests, academic and otherwise.
‘The MCR forms an integral part of the Magdalen graduate experience – not only do we organize social and cultural events for students so that we can make the utmost out of our time in Oxford, but we also provide a network of support for graduate life in representing the concerns of students to the College.’