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Oxford to ban active politicians from chancellorship, leaked email reveals

A leaked email from the University of Oxford has revealed that “members of legislatures or those active in politics” will be barred from running for Oxford University chancellor, possibly disqualifying Boris Johnson and Theresa May as speculated candidates.

Oxford’s current Chancellor, Lord Christopher Patten, announced in February that he will be stepping down after 21 years of service. 

After his announcement, it has been speculated that former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Imran Khan, the jailed former Prime Minister of Pakistan, may take up Lord Patten’s role. 

This also follows the University’s new nomination process announced in March. Previously, a nomination by at least 50 members of the University was the basic requirement to stand for the position of Chancellor. Now, potential candidates will need approval from a panel of selected internal University representatives. 

The latest announcement signals a major shift in what Oxford may consider a desirable Chancellor for the current era. Since the 15th Century, the position of Chancellor has near-consistently been held by a Statesman, such as Oliver Cromwell and Harold Macmillan who served as Prime Minister and Chancellor simultaneously.  

The University’s most recent chancellors have been active politicians. Lord Patten served as European Commissioner for External Relations from 1999-2004. Roy Jenkins, Lord Pattern’s predecessor, had active political stints as Home Secretary and President of the European Commission. 

The change has since sparked criticism. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a Lincoln College PPE graduate, warned that this new electoral process was “divisive”. 

Neil O’Brian, the former Secretary of State for levelling up wrote on his website: “The university seems intent on imposing an eastern [European] bloc-style ‘managed democracy’.”

The Times has accused the University’s electoral change as a way to “secure [a] woke chancellor.” In a letter to The Times, Oxford’s current Vice-Chancellor, Irene Tracey, insisted the University had not “gone woke”, and stated these new measures “will only be ensuring those who are put forward to the vote are eligible; there will be no sifting of suitability”.

In response to the leak, the University later confirmed that the new rules are intended to apply to individuals who “are expected or aiming to be an elected member of a legislature during their term as our next chancellor”. 

This will disqualify House of Commons members, but not House of Lords members, which is an unelected body. The University confirmed that further details on these new criteria will be published in due course.

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