Rhodes Should Fall: Oriel’s Governing Body expresses wish to remove statue

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The Governing Body of Oriel College has today expressed their wish to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes above the College’s High Street entrance. It has also said that the King Edward Street plaque should be removed.

This historic decision comes following a lengthy campaign by students at Oriel College and other members of the University, as well as a week of protesting by Rhodes Must Fall Oxford and Black Lives Matter Oxford.

In the statement released to the press, the Governing Body expressed their wish to remove the commemorations, and “this is what they intend to convey to the Independent Commission of Inquiry”. An independent Commission of Inquiry into the key issues surrounding the statue will be launched.

Neil Misra, Vice President for Graduates and proposer of all Oriel MCR motions endorsing the removal of the statue told The Oxford Student: “We are am immensely pleased with the Governing Board’s statement. This is merely the first step in a very long process.”

“There is still much work to do surrounding access and diversity at the University of Oxford – but this is a monumental symbolic step, with tremendous meaning for the PoC students here. It is a signal of Oriel College’s willingness to adapt to the times and listen to the demands of its students. We hope this is the first of many further positive changes to help make the college and the university more welcoming for BAME students.”

According to the statement, the Commission will “deal with the issue of the Rhodes legacy and how to improve access and attendance of BAME undergraduate, graduate students and faculty, together with a review of how the college’s 21st Century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past.”

“The Inquiry will, in turn, invite submissions from a broad range of stakeholders from Oxford itself and the country as a whole; the students, representatives of Rhodes Must Fall and Oxford City council, as well as alumni of Oxford and Oriel and citizens of the city.”

Carel Souter CBE, Master of St Cross College and former CEO of the National Lottery Heritage Fund will chair the enquiry. Ms Souter has insisted on a thorough process – but “conducted at pace” – and she is set to report to the Governing Body by the end of the year.

The Oxford Student’s News Correspondent, Wesley Ding, was outside Oriel College at the time of the announcement, and has said that prior to the announcement a person had cycled past shouting “it’s coming down!”.

The Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movement’s Oxford branch was first led in 2016 by Rhodes Scholar Ntokozo Qwabe and other students, and has seen a revival in the city since a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into Bristol’s harbour last Sunday. The movement was originally directed against a statue at the University of Cape Town that commemorated Rhodes.

Many students have expressed their support for the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue. Oriel’s JCR voted that the college should take it down, with a majority of 125 votes to 26, while its MCR voted to endorse the removal with 124 votes in favour, 62 against, and 17 abstentions. The MCR also voted to express its official support for the RMF movement and to have the statue preserved in a museum.

Oxford City Council has also expressed its willingness to work with the College to have Rhodes’ likeness taken down. Oriel was invited to apply for planning permission last week to do this, with Councillor Susan Brown stating that she wanted to “help [the college] find the right balance between the laws that protect our historic buildings and the moral obligation to reflect on the malign symbolism of this statue.”

In 2016, Oriel College announced that the statue would remain, after “furious donors threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100 million.” It has also come to light, in an article written for the Guardian by Alex Waygood, that some staff at Oriel previously sought legal protections from protests for the King Edward Street plaque – Oriel’s current treasurer, Wilf Stephenson has even been quoted as saying that Cecil Rhodes should be considered “one of the greatest educational philanthropists of modern times.”

Staff across the University have expressed varying points of view on the RMF campaign. Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson has said previously that the statue of Rhodes should not be removed, owing to the fact that “we need to confront our past [and] learn from it”. Conversely, 14 members of academic staff have written to warn her that she should not “presume to speak for black students or people of colour.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “I welcome the news that Oriel College have come to the view that they would like the statue and plaque of Cecil Rhodes to be removed.

 “Oriel’s formal review into the issues surrounding the statue and how to take forward the college’s commitment to diversity will be an opportunity for everyone to have their say on where this statue will best be curated in future.

 “The City Council would welcome an early submission of a formal planning application from Oriel to accompany the review process and feed into it.”

The Oriel College statement reads in full:

“Statement from the Governing Body of Oriel College, Oxford

The Governing Body of Oriel College has today (Wednesday 17th June) voted to launch an independent Commission of Inquiry into the key issues surrounding the Rhodes statue. They also expressed their wish to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes and the King Edward Street Plaque. This is what they intend to convey to the Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Both of these decisions were reached after a thoughtful period of debate and reflection and with the full awareness of the impact these decisions are likely to have in Britain and around the world.

The Commission will deal with the issue of the Rhodes legacy and how to improve access and attendance of BAME undergraduate, graduate students and faculty, together with a review of how the college’s 21st Century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past.

At today’s meeting, the Governing Body also approved the appointment of an independent Chair for the Commission of Inquiry, Carole Souter CBE, the current Master of St Cross College and former Chief Executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, who in turn will approach a number of individuals drawn from the worlds of academia, education policy, law, politics and journalism.

The commission is intending to draw upon the greatest possible breadth and depth of experience, opinion and background. The Inquiry will, in turn, invite submissions from a broad range of stakeholders from Oxford itself and the country as a whole; the students, representatives of Rhodes Must Fall and Oxford City council, as well as alumni of Oxford and Oriel and citizens of the city.

Written and oral evidence will be requested. It is intended that some oral evidence sessions will be held in public, with similar rules of engagement to that of a parliamentary select committee. By setting up this commission, Oriel governing body is demonstrating that it is willing to be guided by all its stakeholders.

The Governing Body believes that this decision will allow a serious, appropriate and productive resolution of a complex series of issues. Ms Souter has insisted on a thorough process – but conducted at pace – and set to report to the Governing Body by the end of the year.”

This story is being updated with more to follow. 

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