Oxford college refuses to remove Cecil Rhodes statue after inquiry found it should fall

Governing body of Oriel College cites 'regulatory and financial challenges'

An independent commission has recommended the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Oxford should be removed. Getty Images
An independent commission has recommended the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Oxford should be removed. Getty Images

A University of Oxford college said it will not take down a controversial statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes after an inquiry found that it should be removed.

The recommendation was made in an independent report commissioned after Black Lives Matter protesters tore down a statue of slave trader Edward Colson in Bristol last year.

The governing body of Oriel College defied the call, citing the “regulatory and financial challenges” presented by its removal.

In a statement, it 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.”

“The Commission backed the College’s original wish (made in June 2020 and reaffirmed again by the College yesterday), to remove the statue, whilst acknowledging the complex challenges and costs presented by its removal in terms of heritage and planning consent.

“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 commission had recommended that the statue be taken down and a plaque removed.

However, it acknowledged the considerable planning and heritage considerations involved in removing the statue from a Grade II* listed building.

The inquiry also recommended that Oriel College publish a statement of its view examining its historic association with Rhodes and to update college materials to ensure they were consistent with the statement.

Oriel College said it will instead focus its time and resources on “improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort and academic community”.

These plans include creating an equality office and fundraising scholarships to support students from southern Africa.

In addition, it will present an annual lecture on a topic related to the Rhodes legacy, race, or colonialism.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson welcomed the college’s “sensible” decision not to remove the statue, as he warned against “censoring history”.

The governing body has carefully considered the regulatory and financial challenges

Campaigners want the statue removed because they say Rhodes, a 19th-century businessman and politician in southern Africa, represented white supremacy and colonialism.

The statue stands above a doorway on the front of the college's Rhodes Building, which faces Oxford's High Street.

Rhodes's bequest continues to finance scholarships bearing his name, allowing overseas students to attend the university. Among them have been former US president Bill Clinton and a string of former Australian prime ministers, including Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

The commission’s role is only advisory and its formal recommendations must be adopted by the college’s governing body.

Lord Mendoza, provost of Oriel College, said: “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.”

Updated: May 20, 2021 07:17 PM

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