The University of Oxford’s acceptance of donations from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust (ACMT) has come under fire this week, with St. Peter’s College in particular becoming the focus of fierce criticism.
The Mosley family’s £6 million donation to Oxford will go towards a new physics laboratory and the foundation of the Alexander Mosley Professor of Biophysics Fund. A £5 million grant gifted to St Peter’s will contribute to the construction of new student accommodation, which will be named following an internal consultation with students after plans to name the block after Alexander Mosley were shelved. Another £260,000 has been given to Lady Margaret Hall.
The fund, named after Max Mosley’s son Alexander, who died of a heroin overdose aged 39, is controversial due to its alleged connections to the Mosley family’s fascist past. Critics allege the fund is based upon the inheritance left by Max Mosley’s father, Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists and later the far-right Union Movement.
The University of Oxford’s acceptance of this “tainted” money has therefore raised important questions about the morality of Oxford’s donor system. In the same month as the donation from the ACMT, Linacre College received a £155 million donation from Madam Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao. Madam Thao has close links to the Vietnamese Government, which is judged to have one of the world’s worst human rights records.
The late Max Mosley, best known as a Formula One tycoon, is himself a polarising figure. In his youth, his association with Sir Oswald’s Union Movement is well documented. In a 1961 by-election he published a pamphlet claiming that ‘coloured immigrants’ spread leprosy, venereal disease and TB, and should be repatriated. On one march through a Jewish area of London in 1962, Max Mosley walked shoulder to shoulder with his father’s followers as they chanted: ‘Jews out!’ before fighting Jewish protesters, some of whom were Second World War veterans. In the same year he visited the Dachau death camp while en-route to a conference with several Nazis and two ex-Waffen SS officers. His support of South Africa’s apartheid regime was set out in his argument for “a complete division” of Africa into Black and White areas, which appeared in the February 15th, 1961 edition of Cherwell.
Professor Lawrence Goldman, emeritus fellow in history at St Peter’s College, accused the College on Sky News of a total “moral failure”, as Mosley had never apologised for supporting his father’s movement, which made the donations “tainted and dirty money”.
He said: “The University has gone off the scale in wokery (…) but they go ahead and take money from a fund established by proven and known fascists.
“Its moral compass is just not working anymore.”
Meanwhile the Government’s anti-Semitism Tsar Lord Mann, and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi both objected to the rehabilitation of the Mosley family name. Lord Mann further commented:
“At a time when Oxford University are putting statues into storage or away from public display it is quite absurd to give credibility to a family who were active fascists over two generations and who led British fascism up to the Second World War.”
Oxford University and the two colleges involved have defended accepting the money. They state that the donations were reviewed by a committee in a ‘robust’ manner, taking ‘legal, ethical and reputational issues into consideration’. Lady Margaret Hall said the money “enabled a cohort of students from very diverse and low-income backgrounds to attend Oxford.”
St Peter’s said the trust’s “generous” donation will make a “transformative” difference to students.
Cherwell has obtained communications between the St Peter’s faculty and students. The email, sent to the entire student body, tells them that “If you are considering adopting any public positions on this, we do encourage you to ensure you are well informed, and that your information is accurate, before you do so.” The St Peter’s JCR chose not to comment to Cherwell when asked for their opinion on the college’s handling of the donations and subsequent public outcry.
Several St Peter’s students declined to comment on both the donation and the communications they have received from college. However, a student who did wish to comment told Cherwell that “I fully support the college, and I have the sensation that within College, nearly everyone feels the same. This outcry feels manufactured, or at least feels external to the college community. The money is separate from the man, and Alexander Mosley wasn’t part of what happened before him”
November has so far shown that Oxford’s complex relationship with donations and endowments is far from a historic issue. As the University navigates this topic, serious questions remain over how the issues of financial support and concerns over morality and ethics can be balanced. St Peter’s College is the latest, but undoubtedly not last, institution to face these questions.
St Peter’s College told Cherwell: “In 2019, St Peter’s College received a gift of £5m from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, a regulated charity that was set up in memory of a former student of St Peter’s. Alexander is remembered with warmth in College. He died tragically young. The money was given to fund a student accommodation building that will be built in the latter half of 2022 and early part of 2023. The building is due to open in Spring 2023.
“To ensure that the donation can do good for the College and its students without distraction, the Trust has invited the College to choose a name for the building in consultation with its students. This is a welcome offer which the College has accepted. Since the building does not yet exist, there is time in hand to develop the process and run these College conversations in thoughtful and exploratory ways that will have a lasting legacy. Student representatives have welcomed the naming project ahead.
“The AMCT donation was reviewed and cleared by the University’s central and independent committee to review donations, ahead of being approved by the College’s Governing Body.”
The Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust has been approached for comment.