In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, new Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson tackled the topics of Rhodes Must Fall, free speech at Oxford and the government’s anti-terror strategy, Prevent.
Concerning the hotly disputed statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel, she said, “My personal view is that the statue should stay. I think it makes eminent sense to provide a context and again we are an educational institution so to ensure that somewhere there is an explanation for the relationship between Rhodes and the university.”
She added that, “This country ran a colonial empire. The entire country was linked to colonialism some time ago. Many of our forbearers who contributed enormously to the quality of our lives today were slave owners.”
But she also pointed out, “There are far more important things to be dealt with at this university than whether a statue that stood I am not sure for how many years – stands or falls.”
Meanwhile, Oxford’s Chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes, has said that students deeply uncomfortable with Rhodes’ legacy should “think about being educated elsewhere.”
Professor Richardson also touched on another controversial topic—terrorism—saying that she was worried about Prevent.
She explained, “that whole groups of students may see themselves as being suspect. The Prevent legislation is not explicitly anti Islamist but it’s widely perceived to be directed against extreme Islamists and I worry that Islamic students would feel that they are suspect.”
In response to a question about six universities being investigated over allegations that they allowed CAGE, an organisation with the stated aim of “highlight[ing] and campaign[ing] against state policies developed as part of the War on Terror,” to present unopposed, Professor Richardson said she was not necessarily opposed to allowing groups like CAGE their say at universities.
She argued that, “I think universities, if you like, are the best places in which to hear objectionable speech because you can counter it. If you allow reasonable counter arguments to those views you will deligitimise [them] and that’s what a university should do.”
Third year Jacob Williams, a free speech activist at Oxford, agreed with the Vice-Chancellor’s views, telling Cherwell, “Professor Richardson is right to recognise the dangers of Prevent. To limit the rights of non-violent Islamists to defend their beliefs defeats the very freedom we are supposed to stand for. Oxford needs to be a space where people with any viewpoint, however controversial, can speak out and know they will be judged on the quality of their argument. That is the very essence of a university and we urgently need to make it a reality.”