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Wealthy alumni won the battle to keep Oxford’s Cecil Rhodes statue

Reuters/Eddie Keogh
Not going anywhere.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

In the face of “overwhelming” objections from alumni, the University of Oxford’s Oriel College has nixed a proposal to remove its statue of Cecil Rhodes. The decision angers current students, who say the statue glorifies a racist imperialist.

“Cecil Rhodes is responsible for all manner of stealing land, massacring tens of thousands of Black Africans, imposing a regime of unspeakable labour exploitation in the diamond mines and devising proto-apartheid policies,” one Oxford student told The Guardian in December.

Debate over the statue has generated a media storm in the UK and exposed the conundrum that many private universities face: how to balance an institution’s ideal purpose of serving current students with the practical reality of needing funding from powerful former students.

Oxford’s history is deeply intertwined with 19th-century alumnus Rhodes, who left much of his fortune to the university and afforded thousands of foreigners the opportunity to study there under the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. But contemporary students have called him “the Hitler of South Africa.”

In 2015, a ”Rhodes Must Fall” campaign started by students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa resulted in the removal of a Rhodes statue there. That December, Oxford students voted to campaign for the same. Oxford administrators agreed to remove a plaque in Rhodes’s honor as a preliminary step and to consider removing the Rhodes statue on campus.

Now leaked documents obtained by The Telegraph show that multiple alumni threatened to cancel large-sum donations to the university, worth more than £100 million total, when they found out a six-month consultation process was underway to evaluate removing the statue.

Oxford’s Oriel College, which owns the statue, released a statement intimating that finances were not the primary factor in the decision to drop the proposal after just one month. Since December, the online statement says, “We have received an enormous amount of input, including comments from students and academics, alumni, heritage bodies, national and student polls and a further petition, as well as over 500 direct written responses to the college.” It adds that ”the overwhelming message we have received has been in support of the statue remaining in place, for a variety of reasons.”

In addition:

Reports that the college is preparing to make redundancies and is facing an operating loss are categorically not true. The College is actively recruiting to its fundraising team. It does not depend on donations to fund its operations.

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