Donors were so furious at Oriel College’s cowardice in the face of this student activism that they threatened to withdraw millions of pounds in bequests.
Right decision; wrong reason.
The Oriel College authorities could have said no to #RhodesMustFall because it was orchestrated by a bunch of chippy, ungrateful, politically correct, spoilt, vexatious, posturing bullies with connections to some of the most viciously unpleasant elements in the cess pool of South African politics.
They could have argued that Cecil Rhodes was a man of his time and that it’s quite ludicrous to judge a hero of the Great Imperial Age by the standards of the age of safe spaces, “Islamophobia” and Caitlyn Jenner.
They could have stood up for the principle that students may come and go but the fabric of the University and the generosity of its benefactors must remain inviolate from wanky posturing by early twentysomethings whose frontal lobes haven’t been properly formed.
Instead, though, Oriel College’s decision was motivated not by high principle but by terror and desperation at losing so much money.
At a meeting on Wednesday the governing body was told that because of its ambiguous position on the removal of the statue, “at least one major donation of £500,000” that was expected this year has been cancelled.
One of those who has already cancelled their legacy was going to leave a “seven figure sum” and the college is aware that “another major donor is furious with the College… whose legacy could be in excess of £100m”.
The report warns that there will now “almost certainly” be “one or two redundancies” in its Development Office team because of the collapse in donations. And it has cancelled an annual fundraising drive that should have taken place in April. The report also warns that Oriel’s development office could now make an operating loss of around £200,000 this year.
In addition, a “potential £750,000 donor” has stopped responding to messages from the college, and several alumni have written to Oriel to say “they are disinheriting the college from their wills”.
This may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Certainly the man responsible for fundraising at Oriel isn’t mincing his words about the damage that has already been done.
Sean Power, Oriel’s development director and the man in charge of fundraising, told the governors in a report that the college was unprepared for the national and international condemnation of the suggestion that the statue might be removed, described by the classicist Professor Mary Beard as a “completely barking” plan to “erase” history.
Mr Power wrote that: “The overall reaction has been significant, much more than any in the College predicted. It has also been overwhelmingly negative of the College’s position and its actions.
“The likely long-term impact on development and fundraising, assuming our current course of action regarding the statue, is potentially extremely damaging…our alumni do not need many excuses not to give, and for many this will be such an excuse for years to come.
“The current situation is generating a media storm that is right at the limits of what the University can deal with, and support us in.”
In other words, the pusillanimity of Oriel College’s governing body has ended up costing several innocent people their jobs and potentially millions in lost donations.
For Oriel College’s Provost Moira Wallace this really should be a resignation issue. By pandering to the demands of this tiny minority of students she has brought the college’s name into disrepute and caused many alumni to wonder whether their alma mater deserves their support.
And who can blame them?
If Oxford University goes the way of so many other universities and becomes a sort of padded creche for Social Justice Warriors then none of the older generation — who valued it as a bastion of free speech, free thought and intellectual rigour — will think it’s worth the candle.
Anyone appointed the head of an Oxford college really ought to have the nous and background to understand this very basic point.
Ms Wallace, it seems, does not because she’s not made of the right stuff. As Christopher Booker noted the other day, she’s just another member of the Fat Cat, Quango Queen Sisterhood — a career civil servant who has benefited from the revolving door policy whereby the new Establishment rewards its own.
She was formerly the top civil servant at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Of course she was going to do the wrong thing: its in her PC DNA!
The only good thing to come out of all this is the nuclear reaction of all those furious Oriel millionaire alumni. Nice to know that outside the Establishment there are some people out there — doers, achievers: not parasitical government apparatchiks — who cleave to the old values and the old principles.