concern for public welfare or corporate empire building ?

The more I look at the management of the University of Oxford, the more I begin to wonder about the philosophy informing policy. Is it objective, all round research and education, or is it promoting big ideas and corporate interests which enhance the reputations of those making the proposals ?                                              [750 words]

Yesterday the University of Oxford announced that it is launching [or looking to launch ?] a new Pandemic Sciences Centre. Taken alone, that appears to be a very good idea. But when we consider the overall context, then questions arise which require honest answers.

Under the leadership of Louise Richardson, the University joined the race to produce a viable vaccine against Covid 19. The University took £1 million from reserves to support the initiative at a time when serious financial pressures were going to arise because of pandemic counter measures.

Oxford then looked for an appropriate enterprise both to manufacture and market the vaccine. The University stipulated that the vaccine must be produced at cost, in accordance with the academic world’s preconception that private profit must be suspect. The vaccine was subsequently marketed at a fraction of the price charged by the suppliers of other vaccines.

Did Oxford’s insistence on producing at cost impact the efficacy and the marketability of the product ?

We know that the AstraZeneca vaccine had to change name in order to salve its reputation in response to issues around blood clotting. In fact yesterday, a 44 year old BBC radio reporter, Lisa Shaw, died a week after receiving the Oxford/AZ vaccine.

Now, it may or may not be the case that risk of death from Covid 19 is higher than the risk involved in receiving the AZ vaccine.  There may also be a political agenda to rubbish the Oxford vaccine following Brexit. But even so, there are serious questions to be asked and there are lessons to be learned.

Has the University learned those lessons ? Or is the University pushing ahead regardless – indeed looking to move the agenda on beyond the doubts about its vaccine ?

In view of the emerging picture about Covid 19 and questions about received scientific wisdom,  there is a particular question to pose.

What do Oxford researchers actually (a) know and (b) believe about the origins of Covid 19 ?

Do they believe that the virus leaked from a Virology research laboratory in Wuhan ? Or do they believe it arose naturally in a nearby food market ? Have Oxford scientists questioned the Orthodoxy around Covid 19’s origins, or have they simply accepted what is presented as the general scientific consensus about its origins in the market at Wuhan ? What do they make of these ‘revelations’ in yesterday’s Daily Mail ?

Chinese scientists created COVID-19 in a lab and then tried to cover their tracks, new study claims | Daily Mail Online

Given all that has happened, and given the way in which the Chinese government has behaved over the last 18 months, I suspect that the Daily Mail ‘revelations’ may well be on the right track. If it is true – and it demands attention – then major questions arise:

  1. did researchers at Oxford know what is now revealed in this latest study outlined at the Mail online ?
  2. if they did not know of such research, then why did they not ? To develop a vaccine they must surely examine the original virus and ask how it came into existence ?
  3. has the University maintained a closed mind on the origins of the virus, accepting that it was animal derived and transmitted, giving little or no credence to the hypothesis that it may have emerged from the Wuhan laboratory ?
  4. what philosophy will guide Oxford’s proposed Centre for Pandemic Science ? Indications from studies listed on the university’s excellent new Covid research list hub suggest that a definite worldview has already been taken about the importance/necessity of vaccination;  people who are opposed to [Covid 19?] vaccination are viewed as having to be persuaded otherwise, rather than as having a legitimate concern and a perspective on life to be respected and understood.
  5. Or has the role and the legitimacy of a natural herd immunity view already been dismissed ? On what scientific and philosophical basis has dismissal taken place ? Assumption, or impartial investigation ?
  6. is it the role of a university to engage itself as a major actor and player in business operations and in matters of public policy ?
  7. Or should not a University maintain an impartial approach and completely open mind towards all developments undertaken by governments and by other actors in order to arrive at a more realistic and helpful assessment ?

Centenary celebration or political aspiration ?

“Women Making History: Shaping Oxford’s Next Century” was a panel discussion with Q&A moderated by Reeta Chakrabarti of the BBC. It was held in the Sheldonian Theatre and livestreamed on the internet. [750 words]

The political and philosophical agenda was implicit in the title, the setting, the choice of moderator and the selection of panellists.

Before discussion began, there was a review of Oxford Women Graduates in each decade since the first degrees were conferred 100 years ago.  The YouTube recording is at Women Making History: Shaping Oxford’s Next Century – YouTube

Following the review of famous women, Oxford’s first woman Vice Chancellor, Louise Richardson, introduced the session with a brief historical sketch of women at the University. Professor Richardson wondered how many books, musical scores and other achievements had not been accomplished because women had no access to the university in its first 700 or 800 years. I can think, for example, of several 19th century novellists who did not let that obstacle impede them.  In reality, that obstacle applied to most men born in the wrong social circumstances. 

Reeta Chakrabarti then took over, and introduced the other three panellists. Baroness Ruth Hunt the famous LGBT+ activist; Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, the computer scientist who founded ‘Stemettes’ to inspire women to pursue the male dominated STEM subjects; and Varaidzo (Vee) Kativhu who has 200,000 people following her online campaign to encourage the underprivileged and under-represented to go to University.

So, taking care to ensure my nomenclature accords with the latest rulings from the world of minority lobbying, that makes three BME and one LGBT+ persons. I don’t quite see how that adds up to a representative cross section of women graduates over the last 100 years, or even today; but perhaps the organisers are anticipating [determining?] the future ?

The initial introductions and comments to Reeta Chakrabarti’s questions were interesting. All three said that they had enjoyed their time as undergraduates at Oxford, and were positive about their experiences and personal development.

It was therefore remarkable when they then suggested that the University is still failing to achieve equality and diversity.  Ruth Hunt even suggested that Oxford needs to be innovative in determining what normal looks like. From her comments, I infer that Oxford’s new “normal” should accord with her personal conception of “normal”.

The panellists were all of a similar mind about achieving radical change in accordance with minority interest agendas, and they all appeared predisposed to the desirability of social engineering as both policy and practice.

Ruth Hunt said that debates about statues and bathroom [ie toilet] facilities/access were evidence of the underlying and continuing impact of historic colonialism and oppression.

In her turn, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon expressed concern about the influence of “dead white dudes” at Oxford. She thereby appeared to eliminate history, being white, and being male from having any relevance to civilised thinking and behaviour. I find such sweeping simplicity disturbing;  the assumption of binary thinking and application of mathematical logic to human issues, I find chilling…

Ruth Hunt spoke of the continuing influence of white men on the examination system. How can it be that with all the advances in equality and diversity, men still take 59% of Firsts ? The problem must lie in the influence of white male thinking on the examination system.


But from her monochromatic approach,  Ruth Hunt also questioned the technique of discussing both sides of a question, or taking opposing perspectives, in order to arrive at a reasoned assessment. This “normal” of course, encourages a student to consider a matter in the round; it requires a flexibility of mind, a willingness to adapt intellectually; to consider data from different perspectives. In science, to test a thesis by reference to the evidence. To make an informed judgement. To be willing to allow for the possibility of another idea or perspective and to test a different proposition.

Personally I regard this technique as fundamental to the educational process. But for this particular panel, it probably looks too much like the dialectic mentality of a dead white dude. 

The contemporary intellectual Orthodoxy of Social Justice was manifestly the perspective and paradigm articulated by this particular panel of Oxford women. The academic practice of examining all aspects and dispositions was manifest by its absence. But then that is not, perhaps, surprising.

Vice Chancellor Louise Richardson is proud of her anti apartheid activism as a student.  This event undoubtedly reflects her personal political and philosophical beliefs.

Dissenting voices and academic circumspection were manifest by their absence.

Oxford needs a new Vice Chancellor.

Equality and inequality at Oxford

[650 words]  What is the role and purpose of a University ? Academic research and education ? Social engineering and political indoctrination ? Indeed, is it possible to make a clear distinction between the academic and educational on the one hand, and the implementation of a philosophical agenda on the other ? Doesn’t history indicate that the University of Oxford often reflects the intellectual climate of the times ?

What then is to be ascertained from a sample of announcements and news items on the University website today, May 11th 2021 ?

One item reports the results of research revealing that Chinese government officials have been deliberately manipulating social media. Chinese officials even resort to using western type identities to hide their true identity, and so their actual agenda.

But where is the reference in this research to any form of comparative research. Is the Chinese government really the only organization behaving like this ? 

But of course for a western institution like the University of Oxford, the Chinese government is totalitarian. It has a particular world view and any deviation from its norms is wrong and must be eradicated. Whereas Oxford is a free and open western institution entitled to pass judgement. 

But looking at the University of Oxford’s website for May 11th, what do we find ? 

Regarding vaccination, the news and events page has this assertion:

“But we’re not protected until we’re all protected: by getting vaccinated, you’re joining the fight too. We continue to follow through on our commitment with AstraZeneca to protect everyone everywhere, with tens of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine being made available at no profit to 146 low- and middle-income countries through the COVAX programme.”

Not protected until we are all protected ? To protect everyone, everywhere ?  [Incidentally, is it legitimate to ask whether the non profit, Socialist economic philosophy applied by the University to the contract with AstraZeneca has caused the recent problems for their vaccine ? ]

It is, of course, a feature of totalitarian regimes that they control every aspect of society, economy and polity. They intervene according to their particular worldview in order to ensure that Society will reflect and maintain their way of thinking and behaving. Obstacles must be overcome in order to implement their particular, preconceived agenda as to how the world must work.

And Oxford ? According to this item posted yesterday, Oxford is doing its very best to ensure social equality among its student intake. The proportion of incoming students from State schools is at a record 68.6%; the proportion “ identifying as” Black Minority Ethnic has risen to 23.6%; and the proportion of incoming women is 54.2% of all admissions.

The University is so successful in its social engineering efforts that it has succeeded in ensuring that the socially deprived groups labelled “BME” and “Women” enjoy a higher proportion of places at the University of Oxford than they do in the UK population as a whole. Bravo !

Referring to this success, the vice Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson is cited saying:

“..the pandemic has …. not weakened our commitment to diversifying the make-up of our student body. The progress evidenced in this, our fourth annual Admissions Report, is a testament to the dedication of our Admissions Teams …. “

While Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at Oxford University, said bluntly:

“we remain resolute in stamping out inequality in access to Oxford”

Indeed !

Stamping out inequality !

Really ?

Then what was the thinking which informed the choice of panellists for the Event  titled: “Women making history: shaping Oxford’s next century” scheduled for May 19th 2021 ?

Of the 4 panellists, 3 are BME and one is “a leading LGBT+ activist“. This by no means reflects the social makeup of either the University or United Kingdom today, nor of the University or UK in the last 100 years.  Does it then reflect the organizers aspirations for the University in the next 100 years ?  What thinking does the panel composition reflect ?

But then what should we expect from Semantics and Academics ?