Rhodes statue won’t fall says Oriel after commission recommends it should

The college will not go ahead with removal of the statue


The findings of the independent commission put together in response to Oriel College’s decision to vote to remove the statue has recommended that the statue and King Edward Street plaque should be removed. Oriel College has since said they won’t remove the statue due to the “regulatory and financial challenges” it would face.

The commission was set up in June 2020, and had been delayed due to the “considerable volume of submissions” that they received.

Some of the other commission’s recommendations included the College Governing Body putting out a statement about the College’s association with Rhodes, revising materials so they remain consistent with the statement. Further recommendations included two new fellowships related to Rhodes legacy, scholarship for southern African students and graduate students in relevant areas, as well as annual lectures and outreach initiatives responding to Rhodes’ legacy, race and colonialism.

The Governing Body has said it will “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.”

Oxford City Council would have had to grant planning permission for such a removal, and since January 2021 the Community Secretary Robert Jenrick can veto any request to remove historic statues, with a government preference for statues being ‘retained and explained’. Campaigners for the statue’s removal believe Rhodes’s views are irreconcilable with creating an “inclusive culture” at the University of Oxford.

In reference to these challenges, the Governing Body stated that “The Commission noted that any application for planning permission to remove the memorials is not only likely to face considerable costs, but also complex challenges in the planning process, particularly since the Government’s policy, in relation to historic statues and sites which have become contested, is to ‘retain and explain’ them.”

“However, the Governing Body recognised the need for a lasting and visible contextualisation of the Rhodes’ legacy, memorials and historical association with the College.” This includes a taskforce to implement the wider recommendations of the report, and commissioning a virtual exhibition to give “an arena for contextualisation and explanation of the Rhodes legacy and related issues of relevance to the College’s objectives”.

This follows protests in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, and much debate and controversy about whether the statue should remain. Commentators like Alexander Pelling-Bruce have argued contextualising statues would simplify a very complex history and lead to miscommunication, and Robert Poll has suggested only a small minority are calling for the removal of statues or plaques.

Rhodes Must Fall Oxford have vowed to continue to fight the decision.

Featured Image: Christopher Hilton, Creative Commons License