Oriel College, Oxford, has said it will not begin the process of removing its controversial statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes, due to “regulatory and financial challenges”.
In a statement, the college said the removal of the statue would be subject to “considerable obstacles” – among them, cost. It will now focus instead on the “contextualisation” of Rhodes’ links with Oriel College, including “the day-to-day experience of BME students”.
“The Governing Body has carefully considered the regulatory and financial challenges, including the expected time frame for removal, which could run into years with no certainty of outcome, together with the total cost of removal,” the statement said.
“In light of the considerable obstacles to removal, Oriel’s Governing Body has decided not to begin the legal process for relocation of the memorials. Instead, it is determined to focus its time and resources on delivering the report’s recommendations around the contextualisation of the College’s relationship with Rhodes, as well as improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort and academic community.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson tweeted his support for what he called a “sensible” decision.
Sensible & balanced decision not to remove the Rhodes statue from Oriel College, Oxford – because we should learn from our past, rather than censoring history, and continue focussing on reducing inequality.
— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) May 20, 2021
In June 2020 the college’s board voted to take down the controversial statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes, which is positioned on the college’s facade overlooking Oxford’s high street. An independent commission, set up to consider Rhodes’ legacy, backed the college’s decision.
The vote last summer followed a campaign for the statue’s removal that began in 2015, as part of the global Rhodes Must Fall movement. In what was seen as deference to a number financial donors, in 2016 the college opted not to remove the statue but proposed changes to it that would “draw attention to this history [and] do justice to the complexity of the debate”. The campaign was reignited by last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Lord Mendoza, provost of Oriel College said: “My sincere thanks go to the Chair, Carole Souter and the expert Commission members for delivering an extensive, rigorous and considered academic body of work. It has enabled the College to achieve a productive resolution to a complex series of issues, and most importantly, we can now set-out deliverable measures that can demonstrably improve the educational equality, diversity and inclusion of the College and its community.
“It has been a careful, finely balanced debate and we are fully aware of the impact our decision is likely to have in the UK and further afield. We understand this nuanced conclusion will be disappointing to some, but we are now focused on the delivery of practical actions aimed at improving outreach and the day-to-day experience of BME students. We are looking forward to working with Oxford City Council on a range of options for contextualisation.”
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