Pieter Garicano, Cherwell Editor-in-Chief:
Our front page this week deals with the mismarking of finals and their consequences. One student had a 64 marked as a 46. Another missed their graduation — and the family their last-minute flights — as the department failed to repair their mistakes in anything close to a timely manner. It seems, at least, that these failings represent a one-off incident for the Engineering Department. But that may be precisely the problem — in a University as decentralised as Oxford, things can go wrong for a long time in an isolated corner. Of course, the most obvious example of this is the collegiate system. Functionally independent institutions, the University has little recourse when the colleges go awry. The years-long saga where the governing body of Christ Church resorted to increasingly embarrassing options to try and force their own dean to leave is but one example. But the Engineering Department isn’t part of the collegiate University. It reports to the administration in Wellington Square (‘Central’ in Uni parlance), responsible for the University as a whole. But even Central’s powers are limited. Much is done by slow-moving committees. Individual professors carve out fiefdoms, with tenure as their shield. Positive change — when it happens — is limited not just by the good intentions of those involved, but by the sharp boundaries that denote different institutions here. A coherent plan to increase access in one department might as well be martian to another. The scandals affecting some departments — as they did History last year, when an Al-Jazeera investigation showed some professors were “alcoholics and sexual predators” — are a stain on the University as a whole. Of course, the fact that the institutions are independent complicates change of systems as much as it does change within systems. Anachronisms are part of the University’s DNA. But anachronism isn’t an excuse for complete failure. And in mismarking the Engineering finals, and refusing to help the finalists, that’s what the department is guilty of.
Leah Mitchell, Cherwell Editor-in-Chief:
October is Black History Month in the UK, which has inspired some of the articles in this week’s edition of Cherwell spotlighting Black history, culture, and achievements. Doing so feels perhaps particularly vital right now, in our deeply troubled political climate. I am a huge believer in the power of education and compassion to have a transformative effect on how we treat other people and operate as a society. As a result, representing Black stories and voices in Cherwell’s pages is important to me for the same reasons that my first real involvement with Cherwell was through banding together with some friends to establish a column about Jewish culture and identity: I am committed to the belief that when we see the full picture, and the real and rounded human beings within that picture, our capacity for meaningful solidarity and inclusion grows exponentially. Otherwise, of course, we are only seeing a half picture, a half truth; and half-truths, as history has shown us time and time again, are bendable. Manipulable. Dangerous.
To quote the peerless Black scholar bell hooks, we must “return to love”, since “to love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds”. hooks sees love as an intentional, radical act which is inextricably connected to justice and truth telling. Love, above all, requires both knowledge and empathy. This, in my view, is the most important task of Cherwell this week, and indeed perhaps in all weeks: contributing to the project – the project which belongs to all of us – of building knowledge and empathy. I’m sure we don’t always do this perfectly, but it is nonetheless a sincere goal – what else is the point of all this? Why else does it matter? We, at the core level of our shared humanity, are nothing without community – and community is nothing without love.