Chancellor Lord Patten of Barnes grabbed the spotlight at Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson’s installation this Tuesday morning. In his welcome speech Lord Patten took the opportunity to criticize what he called a “threat to academic freedom from within the university community itself,” seemingly an attack on the Rhodes Must Fall movement.
“It is deeply depressing, though not perhaps surprising, that the way this issue has played out recently in Oxford has commanded far more media attention than all the wonderful academic stories that have taken place in this university over the past year,” Lord Patten said.
“Education is not indoctrination. Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been according to our contemporary views and prejudices. We work, we study, we sleep in great buildings, many of which were constructed with the proceeds of activities that would be rightly condemned today. Moreover, many who are studying here or are doing research here are assisted with financial support from similar sources,” the Chancellor added.
He struck a firm note, saying it was “intellectually pusillanimous to listen for too long without saying what we think, reaffirming the values that are at the heart of Karl Popper’s ‘Open Society’ and the generosity of spirit that animated the life of Nelson Mandela. One thing we should never tolerate is intolerance. We do not want to turn our university into a drab, bland, suburb of the soul where the diet is intellectual porridge.”
Though the Chancellor did not mention Rhodes Must Fall by name, his comments seemed a clear reference to the movement to decolonize Oxford that has swept the university and made international headlines.
Vice-Chancellor Richardson also seemed to allude to the protests, asking “How do we ensure that we educate our students both to embrace complexity and retain conviction, while daring ‘to disturb the universe;’ to understand that an Oxford education is not meant to be a comfortable experience […] How do we ensure that our students understand the true nature of freedom of inquiry and expression?”
More to follow.