BREAKING: Oriel College tells the world RHODES WILL NOT FALL

History will not be rewritten, says Oriel, finally bringing the massive “Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford” media phenomenon to something of a conclusion

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With its largest donors flexing their muscles menacingly, Oriel College has yielded to financial pressure and released a statement declaring they will not be removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes. 

The Daily Telegraph has reported that the campaign to remove the statue of the Victorian imperialist, which has plagued Oxford over the last few months, has met its match, at least in part, in the form of financial donors to Oriel College. They have threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100 million if it was taken down.

The Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) movement drew a staggering global reaction for its argument that the statue propagated an environment for ethnic minority students that is exclusionary.

While Cambridge Classics legend Professor Mary Beard condemned it as a “completely barking” plan to “erase” history, the Oxford Union backed a motion to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue only last week. This came after Lord Patten, Oxford University’s chancellor, told students opposed to the statue a week earlier that they should “think about being educated elsewhere”.

But, as ever, the students’ sentiment was not shared outside the bubble and many of the College’s potential donors have revolted. One expected donation of £500,000 will not be made this year as a result of the controversy, and a potential £750,000 donor to the college is now not returning messages, documents filed to the Charity Commission show.

According to the Telegraph, “some of its wealthiest alumni have re-written their wills to disinherit their alma mater, while others have decided to cancel one-off donations they were intending to make this year.”

Sean Power, development director, told the governors that he only expected to raise half the usual annual total of donations – £2m rather than £4 million – and even that was a “generous estimate”. With annual expenditure of £10.3m, Oriel may have to draw on investment income to cover its costs.

Because the governing body’s position on Rhodes was ambiguous, “at least one major donation of £500,000” that was expected this year has been cancelled, it transpired at a meeting on Wednesday.

When Oriel learnt The Daily Telegraph was about to publish its story on the financial pressure, the college’s Provost Moira Wallace wrote to all the college’s students claiming the decision to keep the statue was a “principled” one.

Safe for now

At its January 28 Governing body meeting, Oriel decided to keep the statue as well as the plaque that currently adorns it, but to place both within their historical context.

In a statement, the College said, “Over the past few months, there has been intense debate about how Cecil Rhodes is commemorated in Oxford, and particularly about the Rhodes statue on Oriel College’s High Street frontage. Oriel believes that this issue needs to be addressed in a spirit of free speech and open debate, with a readiness to listen to divergent views. The College’s intention, by releasing its statement in December was to open debate and listen to the response. Since that announcement we have received an enormous amount of input including comments from students and academics, alumni, heritage bodies, national and student polls and a further petition, as well as over 500 direct written responses to the College. 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 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 College will do the same in respect of the plaque to Rhodes in King Edward Street. The College believes the recent debate has underlined that the continuing presence of these historical artefacts is an important reminder of the complexity of history and of the legacies of colonialism still felt today. By adding context, we can help draw attention to this history, do justice to the complexity of the debate, and be true to our educational mission.”

Yo, leave Cecil alone

They added: “The campaign to remove Oriel’s statue of Rhodes has highlighted other challenges in relation to the experience and representation of black and minority ethnic students and staff at Oxford. Oriel takes these very seriously and, as previously announced, is taking substantive steps to address them.

The College supports the work the University is doing in this area, and reaffirms Oriel’s commitment to being at the forefront of the drive to make Oxford more diverse and inclusive of people from all backgrounds.”