On 4 November, students and residents of Oxford found city and University buildings dotted with posters criticising the University’s alleged “complicity with the arms trade.” The posters were placed by the relatively new group Disarm Oxford. Disarm Oxford seeks to “[lobby] the University — departments and colleges — to sever ties with arms companies, to stop taking research funding from such companies and to cease Careers Service advertising for them”.
One such poster features the image of Wafic Saïd, the namesake of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, referring to him as a “world-famous arms dealer.” Saïd, one of Britain’s wealthiest men, fixed the Saudi purchase of British arms in 1985, known as the Al-Yamamah deal. It is considered one of the largest-ever arms deals in history.
“Having a business school after someone called an arms dealer honors an industry we think deserves nothing but dishonor,” said Matt Rosen, a student activist with Disarm Oxford.
Disarm Oxford activists are not only criticising the names of buildings. Another poster read, “Oxford doesn’t invest in tobacco because it puts lives at risk. But it’s happy to work with the arms trade. Enough contradiction. Disarm Oxford now.”
“There are ties of research, ties of funding, ties of career advertising, which deepen the University’s ties to the arms trade,” said Rosen. Oxford receives “millions of pounds of research funding,” from major arms companies and dealers, according to a press release released by Disarm Oxford on 4 November.
The University disagrees with Disarm Oxford’s blanket characterization of all defence-related research. A University spokesperson told Cherwell:“All research projects with defence sector funding aim to advance general scientific understanding, often with a wide range of generic, civilian applications.
“All funding must first pass ethical scrutiny and be approved by the University’s Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding”.
Oxford’s Careers Services is a particular target of Disarm Oxford’s criticism. “Long-term, one of our main concerns has been the role of the career service, which advertises jobs in arm companies and doing research designing autonomous lethal weapons systems,” said student activist Rosen.
The Careers Services office told Cherwell: “The Careers Services offers an impartial service which allows students to make informed choices about their futures through access to employers and professional networks”.
Despite only being founded in 2020, Disarm Oxford members see themselves as part of a long tradition of voices critical of the military-industrial complex on Oxford’s campus. “There was a debate at Oxford about whether Truman should receive an honorary degree, and some then said one should never do evil so good may come. Like them, we want a transparent conversation, but we are far from that,” said Rosen.
Saïd Business School has been contacted for comment.
Image: Disarm Oxford