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Review of Christ Church governance recommends major reforms

Following the completion of an independent review, Dominic Grieve KC has issued a report to Christ Church’s Governing Body which includes recommendations to separate governance of the college and the cathedral. For the first time in the college’s nearly 500-year history, the Review suggests that the Head of House does not need to be a member of the clergy.

The Review also comes after multiple incidents related to governors and the governance of the college. These include warnings from the Charity Commision and a 2019 Financial Times investigation that claimed Christ Church was “virtually ungovernable” due to the dispute between the Governing Body and the Dean. According to Christ Church, the Review was commissioned in June 2022 “to ensure that Christ Church’s governance meets the needs of a University of Oxford college in the 21st century”.

Grieve, the former Attorney General for England and Wales, has made “substantial” recommendations “that Christ Church can make to ensure its structures meet the demands of modern standards of governance”. Notably, the Review concluded that the Head of House or head of the college does not need to be a member of the clergy, giving the Governing Body the opportunity to “choose from a wider pool of candidates”. This new Head of House would be appointed on a renewable and written fixed-term contract. The Review recommends the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral cease to be the head of the Foundation and thus will no longer be the leader of both the Cathedral and college. A new Committee of Chapter has also been suggested to help run the Cathedral.

These two recommendations, if implemented, would create two separate posts for the leadership of the College and the Cathedral for the first time in Christ Church’s history. Christ Church was originally founded by Henry VIII in 1546 as a joint cathedral and college, making it the only academic institution in the world which is also a cathedral. Grieve acknowledges the magnitude of the recommendations stating that they “would represent the first fundamental changes to its governance structure since 1867”. He added that while completing the Review it became evident “that significant reform is necessary at Christ Church, and that it would be widely welcomed”.

Other recommendations of the Review include the creation of a smaller Governing Council that would meet more regularly than the current Governing Body. The Review also underscores that “reforms to the disciplinary and grievance arrangements” are needed. 

The Dean Designate of Christ Church, Professor Sarah Foot thanked Grieve for his “meticulous, thoughtful, and constructive work over the last year” his “important recommendations”, and told Cherwell that “this vital process will lay firm foundations for the future as we approach the 500th anniversary of Christ Church’s foundation”.

The recommendations will now be considered by Christ Church’s Governing Body. The process of implementing subsequent changes will require consultation with the University, the Church of England, the Charity Commission, and the approval of the Privy Council and Parliament. 

The Review can be read in full here:


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