Oxford University’s chancellor, Lord Patten says that students who cannot embrace Cecil Rhode’s legacy as part of history “should think about being educated elsewhere”.
The chancellor was speaking to UK media regarding the #RhodesMustFall movement which is being spearheaded by a South African student Ntokozo Qwabe at the university.
Qwabe is the co-founder of Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford – “an organisation determined to decolonise the space, the curriculum, and the institutional memory at, and to fight inter-sectional oppression within, Oxford”.
The campaign was born out of the Rhodes Must Fall – #RhodesMustFall – protest movement originally directed against a statue at the University of Cape Town (UCT) commemorating Cecil Rhodes that began in March 2015.
In response to the movement, chancellor Patten said that the university was respecting the protesting students by listening to their views, even if the institute didn’t necessarily agree.
He said that a university like Oxford was open to the world, and offered a platform to engage and debate. It was a place to be confronted with ideas, which should be engaged with, not shut down.
“Oxford and every other university is full of people saying and arguing things which I don’t agree with. That’s absolutely right,” he said.
“We should tolerate freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry right across the board. That’s what a liberal, open society is all about.”
He said that, at the end of his life, Rhodes left his whole fortune to a scholarship programme which has helped to ensure that Oxford University manages to be a university for the whole world.
“But if people at our university aren’t prepared to show the generosity of spirit which Nelson Mandela showed towards Rhodes and towards history… then maybe they should think about being educated elsewhere.”
Patten suggested anti-Rhodes students go study at a Chinese university, “where they are not allowed to talk about ‘western values’.”
Historians have pointed out that, while black and female students are now able to attend Oxford on the Rhodes scholarship, Rhodes, an ardent white supremacist, never intended for his money to be used to educate women or blacks.