Oxford University to Keep Statue of Cecil Rhodes

The statue of Cecil Rhodes on the facade of Oriel College in Oxford, England. (PHOTO CREDIT: Eddie Keogh/Reuters)
The statue of Cecil Rhodes on the facade of Oriel College in Oxford, England. (PHOTO CREDIT: Eddie Keogh/Reuters)

An outspoken group of students wanted to pull it down, and many alumni wanted it to stay. For months, the authorities at Oxford University have struggled with an awkward dilemma over the fate a statue of Cecil Rhodes, an imperialist benefactor seen by many as an architect of apartheid.

Now, after a vigorous debate, Oriel College, one of 38 largely self-governing colleges at Oxford, has decided it will keep the monument to its famous, if divisive, former student.

In a statement released late Thursday, the college said that it had received more than 500 comments on the subject and that “the overwhelming message we have received has been in support of the statue remaining in place, for a variety of reasons.”

“Following careful consideration,” the statement continued, “the college’s Governing Body has decided that the statue should remain in place, and that the college will seek to provide a clear historical context to explain why it is there.”

The decision represents a defeat for a group of students who had sought to follow the example of their counterparts at the University of Cape Town, who last year achieved the removal of a statue of Rhodes.

The petition and protest in Oxford had provoked an intense discussion about whether Britain’s colonial past should be judged by contemporary standards, and whether Rhodes should be remembered more as a ruthless colonialist or as a benefactor.

The dispute was characterized on one side as an exercise in political correctness and a desire to erase history, and on the other as a test of the university’s willingness to acknowledge the sensitivities and values of minority students.

Rhodes died in 1902, and his educational legacy includes a prestigious scholarship that bears his name. About 8,000 Rhodes scholars — including a former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, who said removing the statue would be an act of “moral vanity,” and former President Bill Clinton — have studied at Oxford thanks to the program set up with money left by Rhodes.

On Friday, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported that a leaked copy of a report prepared for the governors said that wealthy alumni were angered by the “shame and embarrassment” brought on the college by efforts to take down the statue, and that donations were at stake.

The college now fears that a proposed gift of 100 million pounds, or $143 million, “to be left in the will of one donor — is now in jeopardy,” the newspaper reported.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Stephen Castle