An investigation by the Financial Times into the ongoing dispute between the governing body of Christ Church and the Dean, The Very Reverend Martyn Percy, criticizes both parties heavily.
Although details of the affair have been hard to come by, the report goes into detail and contains extensive comment from members of the college’s administration and academic body, largely anonymous, as well as figures from other colleges.
The investigation argues that the crisis which has swept Christ Church over the past year began with the Dean’s request for a salary rise, including a threat to adjust his availability and skip a fundraising tour to the United States.
According to the investigation, the Dean is perceived to be part of the “dwindling talent pool” within the Church, and “a low-key figure compared to the distinguished academics and civil servants who headed many other colleges” by fellows.
For his part, Percy cast himself as overworked and underappreciated. He said in an email that the college has a “culture of unpleasantness” and that “I have not received the smallest hint — not even a single sentence — of gratitude for my work”.
When Percy’s predecessor as Dean, Christopher Lewis, was asked whether he felt overworked in the role, he said, “No. You were busy.”
The investigation contains details about the current environment within college. It reports academics breaking down in tears over the dispute, the Dean refusing to attend meetings with certain people present, and clerical staff watching who sits with who at dinner as a way of determining loyalties.
One anonymous source said: “I go around hoping I won’t meet some people… If I meet them, we stare straight ahead so we don’t look at one another.”
The investigation concurs with the recent complaint made by former Conservative minister Jonathan Aitken to the Charity Commission which criticised the college for spending up to £2 mil- lion on the case.
The dean himself is reported to have spent £400,000 of his own money on his defence.
Mr Aitken was critical of the attempt to withhold details of the dispute from the public, telling Cherwell, “Like many members of the Christ Church Alumni Association, I regard it as a scandal of governance that the full Govern- ing Body of the College has been refused sight of a full, unredacted copy of the Tribunal’s findings and reasons for clearing the Dean of all charges.”
“The notion that a small cabal of anti-Dean Dons can censor the Tribunal’s report is an attempt at self-serving protection for themselves because they are severely criticised in the Appendices of the report.”
“It would be morally pusillanimous to go along with the cabal’s redaction attempt.”
The Charity Commission replied with a statement of their own, saying, “We can confirm that we told the trustees of Christ Church to undertake a review of the charity’s governance.”
“It is good practice for all charities to undertake such a review from time to time. We will not be involved in the review directly, but we expect the trustees to report to us on its outcome.”
Christ Church gave Cherwell a statement in response, which said, “All at Christ Church are focused on the work of the College and Cathedral and are committed to its future success. As part of this, Christ Church is currently embarking on an independent review of its governance arrangements, and we will be working closely with the Charity Commission during this process.”
“We are aware that numerous inaccurate and misleading comments have been made in recent weeks, but unfortunately we are not in a position to address these at this time as it would be inappropriate to comment before the independent review has concluded.”