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Linacre alumni express concern over name change procedure

Charlie Hancock reports on the continued debate over Linacre College’s announcement that it would change its name to Thao College.

Linacre College, a small graduate college near the banks of the River Cherwell, has been thrust into the spotlight since it was announced it would change its name to Thao College following the receipt of a “transformative” £155m donation from a Vietnamese investment group. The donations will be used to fund scholarships and the construction of a new graduate centre.

Cherwell has heard from early alumni of Linacre College who have expressed concerns that the multi-step process of approving the name change could disadvantage the views of alumni and fellows of the College. The process, which could take as long as a year, requires the 5430 strong Congregation to approve the proposed change before it is submitted to the Privy Council for approval.

If two members of the Congregation oppose changing Linacre’s name, the Congregation will hold a vote.

The register of the Congregation from February 2021 lists around 90 staff and researchers who are affiliated with Linacre College, amounting to 1.7% of the total body. The alumni who spoke to Cherwell felt this means that people with the strongest attachment to

The Oxford Climate Justice Campaign criticised the donation because of SOVICO Groups connections to the fossil fuel and aviation industries. Although the company agreed that it would seek to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as part of the agreement, OCJC called for increased transparency over how this would be achieved.

Other concerns raised by alumni to Cherwell included discomfort over what some saw as an attempt by a foreign billionaire to associate their name with the prestige of an Oxford college.

Mrs Thao has been reported as saying she chose to donate to an Oxford college because she saw Oxford as the “right place to make [her] long-time desire to contribute to humanity through education, training and research come true”. 

A letter to The Daily Telegraph on November 2nd argued that the College’s name was significant despite its young age. Maria Kawthar Daouda, a lecturer at Oriel College, wrote: “Linacre College may have been founded some four centuries after Thomas Linacre died; but through its name, it is rooted in a tradition of learning shared among all the medieval and early-modern universities, from Cairo to Cambridge. Linacre was the paragon of a scholar of his time, but a model for ours too. What he learnt from his mentors and his travels, he did not keep for himself – he transmitted it and made it fruitful. His life is a perfect illustration of the college’s motto: “No End To Learning”, neither in time nor in space.

“The college’s founders meant his name to be a constant reminder of what scholars should strive for. Its crest bears the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end of the Greek alphabet and, to Christians, a sign of Christ as truth incarnate, the “beginning and the end” of all things. The crest also bears three shells, a symbol worn by the pilgrims who reached Santiago de Compostela; yet another image that learning is a pilgrimage and a progress towards truth.

“Some might argue that the stakes with Linacre are not as high as they would be for, say, Christ Church or Magdalen. But there is a lot in its name none the less. It bears a deep history and should not be altered just because a major gift has been made. Gratitude for Mrs Thao’s money could be expressed in ways that do not erase what the donation is meant to protect.”

Oxford University, Linacre College, and SOVICO Group have been approached for comment.

Image: D Wells/CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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