There was a period of several weeks near the beginning of Hilary when all anyone could talk about was Rhodes Must Fall. From Junior Common Rooms to bars, college dinners to social media, Oxford was dominated by RMF. That Oriel finally decided to retain its controversial statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes, one suspects, will not diminish the lasting legacy of the protest group.
University news can often be tremendously dull – I cannot count how many times Cherwell has been forced to rely on academic reports to fill the space in lieu of more interesting content. But 2015-2016 has been an exciting year at Oxford, at least for this former news editor. Even beyond RMF, we have had more than our fair share of stories that have gotten the University buzzing and which have been picked up by the national media.
Consider this term’s referendum on whether to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students over the election of Malia Bouattia or last term’s allegations of anti-Semitism within the Oxford University Labour Club. Microcosms of a national debate over anti-Semitism within the ranks of the political left, the two events forced Oxford to grapple with weighty issues, such as how to balance the needs of different minority groups. Indeed, the rights of members of underrepresented communities – black and minority ethnic students, Jewish students, queer students – have been at the fore this year.
In other news, political correctness movements and discussion of the limits of free speech have seemed ubiquitous, with Michaelmas seeing a healthy dose of debate over ‘no platforming’. And unfortunately, the formal installation of Oxford’s first female Vice-Chancellor was overshadowed the remarks of Chancellor Chris Patten, who has repeatedly provoked ire for comments about RMF, safe spaces and admissions quotas.
To the not-so-great shock of all observers, Oxford continues to underperform in terms of access. The proportion of students admitted from state schools, just over 50 per cent, is unimproved from previous years. Dismally, only 38 students of black or black British ethnic background were accepted for entry in 2015. Nonetheless, we have retained our strong place in international university rankings, receiving second place from Times Higher Education (although only sixth in the QS World University Ranking).
There have been other, more light-hearted stories too, for instance about a Green Templeton professor who lives much of his life as different animals. And at Christ Church in February, after a graduate student initiated confrontations over the college’s LGBTQ flag and quoted an anti-homosexual Corinthians verse, the college banded together in solidarity to support the queer community.
As for Rhodes Must Fall, despite issuing a seven-point manifesto and organising a march at the end of term, the group has largely gone mum. We will have to wait until October to see what comes next.