Decisions Made by the College Following the Completion of the Independent Commission into Cecil Rhodes and Related Issues

  • Oriel College's Front Quad and Clock tower
20 May, 2021

The independent Commission established by the Governing Body of Oriel College to consider the issues raised by the memorials and legacy of Cecil Rhodes, has delivered its report. The Governing Body has made a set of decisions and voted to accept a number of the report’s recommendations immediately.

The Commission backed the College’s original wish (made in June 2020 and reaffirmed again by the College yesterday), to remove the statue, whilst acknowledging the complex challenges and costs presented by its removal in terms of heritage and planning consent.

The Governing Body has carefully considered the regulatory and financial challenges, including the expected time frame for removal, which could run into years with no certainty of outcome, together with the total cost of removal.

In light of the considerable obstacles to removal, Oriel’s Governing Body has decided not to begin the legal process for relocation of the memorials. Instead, it is determined to focus its time and resources on delivering the report’s recommendations around the contextualisation of the College’s relationship with Rhodes, as well as improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort and academic community.

Work on delivering those measures is expected to begin immediately.

The Governing Body has agreed to:

  • Create the office of Tutor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion who will be a Fellow and Trustee of the College
  • Develop a strategic plan for improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion, ensuring it is embedded more formally in the College
  • Fundraise for scholarships to support students from Southern Africa
  • Enact a 2016 decision to have an annual lecture on a topic related to the Rhodes legacy, race, or colonialism
  • Institute an annual student prize (e.g. for an essay, artwork or photography) on a topic related to Rhodes legacy, race, or colonialism
  • Provide additional training for academic and non-academic staff in race awareness
  • Introduce further outreach initiatives targeted at BME student recruitment

Funds equivalent to that remaining in the Rhodes legacy will be used to help resource these initiatives.

The independent Commission, chaired by Carole Souter, CBE and supported by commissioners with a broad range of expertise, undertook a ten-month long, detailed and rigorous, academic inquiry into the Rhodes legacy, together with a review of how the College’s 21st Century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past.

Members of Oriel College’s Governing Body were delivered the report, in confidence, earlier this month and have had the opportunity to consider the report of the Independent Commission and its recommendations in full.

As well as considering, carefully analysing and debating evidence from a wide range of experts and stakeholders, the Commission also received and reviewed well over a thousand written contributions from students, alumni, associates of the college and the general public.

A majority of the submissions to the Commission backed the retention of the statue.  Commission members supported the wish of the College’s Governing Body to remove the memorials but did not make specific recommendations on that issue – recognising that was a decision for the Governing Body of the College.  Commission members were, however, unanimous in their support of all of the report’s recommendations.

Alongside these key findings, the Commission’s report also acknowledged the considerable planning and heritage considerations involved in the removal of the statue which is situated on the College’s Grade II* listed High Street building. Removal of the statue would be subject to legal and planning processes involving the City Council, Historic England and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  

The Commission noted that any application for planning permission to remove the memorials is not only likely to face considerable costs, but also complex challenges in the planning process, particularly since the Government’s policy, in relation to historic statues and sites which have become contested, is to ‘retain and explain’ them.

However, the Governing Body recognised the need for a lasting and visible contextualisation of the Rhodes’ legacy, memorials and historical association with the College.  It has therefore voted to take forward a number of further recommendations.

The Governing Body has agreed to:

  • Establish a task force to consider the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission, together with other ideas for contextualisation, and to oversee their implementation
  • Commission a virtual exhibition to provide an arena for contextualisation and explanation of the Rhodes legacy and related issues of relevance to the College’s objectives
  • Undertake to contextualise the Rhodes legacy and memorials, including both physical elements at the site and virtual resources

Lord Mendoza, Provost of Oriel College said: “My sincere thanks go to the Chair, Carole Souter and the expert Commission members for delivering an extensive, rigorous and considered academic body of work.  It has enabled the College to achieve a productive resolution to a complex series of issues, and most importantly, we can now set-out deliverable measures that can demonstrably improve the educational equality, diversity and inclusion of the College and its community.

“It has been a careful, finely balanced debate and we are fully aware of the impact our decision is likely to have in the UK and further afield.  We understand this nuanced conclusion will be disappointing to some, but we are now focused on the delivery of practical actions aimed at improving outreach and the day-to-day experience of BME students. We are looking forward to working with Oxford City Council on a range of options for contextualisation.”

Oriel College has already undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at improving equality and diversity, including a one-off College scholarship for a postgraduate student from Africa, and a yearly donation to the Target Oxbridge programme, which aims to increase the chances of students of Black African and Caribbean heritage and students of mixed race getting into the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge.

Oriel’s admissions for UK-domiciled BME undergraduates are slightly above the University average (21.5% compared with 21.4% in the three years between 2018 and 2020) and that for students with black African and Caribbean heritage, it is also slightly higher during the same period (3.9% compared with 3.2%).

Carole Souter CBE, Chair of the Independent Commission and current Master of St Cross College and former chief executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “I would like to express my personal gratitude to each of the Commissioners for giving freely of their time and expertise to undertake this important and painstaking work.  Each of them has made a significant contribution to the conclusions of the Commission, contributing their knowledge, and expertise into how the Rhodes legacy can best inform the future of Oriel College.

“I would also pay tribute to commission member, Peter Ainsworth and his thoughtful and conscientious contribution to the work of the Commission, he was a passionate advocate for heritage and the environment and will be greatly missed.”

The full set of recommendations can be found in the Commission’s report, published here: https://www.oriel.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/oriel_rhodes_commission_full_report.pdf

A statement released on 20th May 2021 by the Commission can be found here: 20.05.21_commission_press_statement_final.pdf

Updated July 2021: The Commission website is no longer live, but the archived version (with the final content) can be found here: https://wayback.archive-it.org/org-467/20210601071310/https://www.oriel-....