Oxford Chancellor: Students Must Commit to Free, Open Debate


Oxford University Chancellor Lord Patten has said that students unable to accept Cecil Rhode’s affiliation with the institution should consider an alternative school. Patten’s response came after protesters called for the removal of a Cecil Rhodes statue in front of the Oriel College building.

According to British media, the former Tory parliament member told students to consider getting their education from somewhere else, arguing that it’s a bad idea to protect them from views opposite to their own. Patten invited students to engage in debate rather than try to censor, mask or deny facts. The newly appointed vice-chancellor at Oxford, Louise Richardson, echoed Lord Patten’s comments saying that students need to be more open-minded to others’ ideas.

A few weeks back, about 200 international students led the Rhodes Must Fall campaign for the removal of a sign accompanying Cecil Rhodes’ statue at the school. Rhodes is considered a father of apartheid because he was the one that introduced racial segregation in South Africa.

Patten said on the BBC Today show that students need to be more open-minded and not shut down freedom of thought. He urged students to see historical facts for what they are, something that aligns with the university’s values of an open-minded, tolerant society. Patten said it is impossible for him to imagine a school that gives no platform for people that have something to say. Such a scenario is ‘an absolutely terrible idea,’ he commented, adding:

“If you want universities like that you go to China where they are not allowed to talk about western values, which I regard as global values. No, it’s not the way a university should operate,” The Guardian writes.

Patten went on to say how Nelson Mandela endorsed the University’s Rhodes scholarships, as he believed that the two of them shared a single vision regarding education and humanity, The Daily Mail reports. Mandela partnered with the Rhodes Trust to enable South African students to study at South African universities through Mandela-Rhodes scholarships.

Patten pointed out that Rhodes’ scholarship program made sure that the University of Oxford was able to offer education to students from all over the world, and said that his views at the time were deemed commonplace. Patten also said that Winston Churchill would possibly not have had very different beliefs from Rhodes at the time.

Daisy Chandley, one of the Rhodes Must Fall organizers, said that the campaign doesn’t aim to sabotage free speech and suffocate debate but to communicate to the public that:

“[A] statue – just like colonialism itself – is not history; it is something very much in the present tense.”

In the last year there have been several instances of political correctness issues on British campuses in which schools or student societies obstructed or banned invited speakers from giving their speeches, often in view of their controversial views.

Cecil Rhodes studied at the University about a century and a half ago and left a significant percentage of his wealth to the University. The school has been offering the annual Rhodes Scholarship to 83 international students as an honor to his legacy.

During the initiation of the first female vice-chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, the debate on Rhodes’ statue was ignited again, the BBC reports. Richardson commented on freedom of thought and speech:

“In an increasingly complex world the best may not be those who look and sound like ourselves.”

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