Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

“Be good citizens”: University responds to objections about “patronising” Responsibility Agreement

Queen’s College has labelled the COVID-19 Student Responsibility Agreement as “patronising” and opposes it “in principle”. Speaking to Cherwell, the University has responded to concerns about the Agreement, saying: “What we’re asking people to do is to be good citizens. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Oxford University’s COVID-19 Responsibility Agreement, which all students have been asked to sign, requires that individuals abide by both government regulations and University guidance throughout the term. The Agreement supplements students’ existing responsibilities under University and college student contracts.

The email to Queen’s College students wrote: “The College’s Governing Body strongly opposed key aspects of an earlier (but still quite similar) draft of this document, in principle (it’s not the university’s place to create rules for what happens in College) and with its patronising tone and degree of minutiae. In the end, Governing Body agreed […] because there was a real risk [students] would be denied access to university teaching and spaces if we did not go along with it.”

In response to this objection, Karen O’Brien, co-chair of the Michaelmas Coordination Group, said to Cherwell: “It wasn’t an agreement that was imposed from above. It was an iterative process, and there were discussions amongst all colleges about the topics that should be included, the tone, and the information that the agreement was going to provide.”

She further emphasized: “What we’re asking people to do is to be good citizens. Nothing more, nothing less.”

In addition to Queen’s objections, an open letter by students which has received 190 signatures states that “we do not […] consider it to be a necessary or reasonable requirement for students to sign the responsibility agreement in its present form.”

The letter, sent to the Vice-Chancellor on Monday, argues that “asking the students to adhere unconditionally to policies not yet known to them gives the university far-reaching powers over the private and social lives of students. […] Combined with the university’s decision to reintroduce the residency requirement, this gives students no choice but to sign the agreement. If signatories are held to ransom, an agreement cannot be a true and honest affirmation of shared values.”

The letter calls on the Vice Chancellor to “lift the requirement to sign this agreement and to establish a framework through which the concerns and feedback of students can be expressed and integrated into the university’s COVID-19 response and policies”. 

Speaking to Cherwell, O’Brien stated, “The Student Union was involved throughout, and we came up with this responsibility agreement after a long process.”

Students who sign the agreement commit to “abiding by all national public health regulations brought in to stop the spread of COVID-19,” as well as “the University and/or colleges’ specific guidance on health measures, together with local public health guidance as relevant.” It requires students to isolate and request a test upon presenting symptoms, participate in contact tracing, and practice good hygiene. 

The University’s website states: “The purpose of the Agreement is not to prescribe an additional code of discipline; it is to support community safety and well-being. It is an affirmation of shared values – community, consideration for others, patience and tolerance, and inclusion.”

Image credit: Kaofenlio/ Wikimedia Commons

Support student journalism

Student journalism does not come cheap. Now, more than ever, we need your support.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles