The University of Oxford recently released the news that medical scientist Dr Irene Tracey, currently Warden of Merton College, has been nominated as the next Vice Chancellor of the University. #
In the announcement outlining her profile and nomination, the work of Vice Chancellor is described as:
The Vice-Chancellor is Oxford University’s senior officer, responsible for the strategic direction and leadership of the world’s top-ranked university. Professor Tracey’s nomination has been approved by the University’s Council and is now subject to approval by Congregation, the University’s sovereign body.
The critical, vital question for an incoming Vice Chancellor is this:
What philosophy or worldview will inform Dr Tracey’s approach, initiatives and projects during her 7 year term starting January 2023 ?
Will she simply assume her predecessor’s perspective and policies, as Chancellor Patten suggests when he states:
I am sure she will build successfully on the outstanding achievements of Louise Richardson and lead Oxford in coping with the big challenges which lie ahead.‘
Or will she step back and question whether her predecessor’s actions, aims and methods were entirely appropriate for a world class university ?
Will she promote the creed of “Diversity” as religiously as her predecessor by, for example, continuing the “Vice Chancellor’s awards for Diversity” ?
Will she maintain the university’s co-operation with totalitarian China ?
Will she precipitate the University into high profile and contentious projects like the race to develop a Covid 19 vaccine ?
Will she allow big corporate interests to determine the University’s ethos and projects according to their agenda, or will she ensure that a university’s primary role is sacrosanct ?
Will she demonstrate the same attitude to national traditions as Louise Richardson has manifestly done in ignoring the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee ? University reference to the Platinum Jubilee was tangential, publishing a post on May 30th discussing Golden jubilees of English monarchs in history; the tenor of that post was summed up in a comment that jubilees were contrived to hype interest in an institution otherwise not especially popular. ##
It will of course depend on whether Dr Tracey takes time to step back and consider the ethos prevailing at Oxford; to make an assessment of its inspiration and its consequences; to consider alternatives and their merits; to make a decision to change direction and lead the University into less contentious and dangerous waters.
But if she assumes that Dr Richardson had the right philosophy, then nothing will change.
I believe that would be a very serious mistake. Surely the fundamental role of a University is to maintain and communicate the vast corpus of knowledge, skills and understanding accumulated to date, and to conduct research concerned to verify and extend that vast corpus ?
My concern is that the maintenance, communication and extension of the corpus of knowledge, skills and understanding is being influenced by ideological and by commercial ends. That in pursuing such potentially conflicting aims, the university is being distracted – even perverted – from its fundamental role and purpose.
Topics highlighted by the University just this year manifest a particular worldview and mentality at work which is causing this conflict. That worldview may be characterised as internationalist and anti-patriotic; ‘progressive’ and anti-traditionalist; ideologically partisan, not objective; deductive not inductive.
There is a particular mindset associated with this dominating worldview at work in the University of Oxford. This mindset has a deductive approach which unquestioningly applies a certain progressive moral stance, via which all evidence is then assessed. The moral stance adopted is treated as the ruling point of reference according to which all else must be assessed in order to be commended or condemned.
Will the new Vice Chancellor bring to bear on this problematic mindset her valuable skills as a natural scientist ? Will she adopt an inductive approach: that is, examine hypotheses empirically by reference to what the evidence suggests, rather than assuming the hypothesis to be self evidently correct ?
The problematic mindset to which I refer is clearly at work in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Oxford. Dr Tracey’s scientific training will be invaluable in tackling a problem which sorely needs to be tested empirically.
Should she apply her undoubted skills as a natural scientist, I firmly believe that she will be successful in diverting the University away from the embarrassing trajectory it now appears to be on. She will have done both Oxford and education today an invaluable and historic service.
I am, of course, obliged to cite evidence for the problem I identify. I will take one example from three areas of university life:
- the history faculty
- a constituent college
- a university inter-disciplinary forum
1. The faculty of History
There is a blatant assumption that Ukraine is right and Russia is wrong because Russia invaded an independent sovereign state on 24th February 2022.
In assessing this, the University staff in the disciplines of history, politics and philosophy have revealed a moral predisposition which pre-determines their analysis, even to the point of censoring highly pertinent evidence.
One blatant example will suffice. The University website page for Ukraine has an “Expert Opinion” post dated March 9th written by Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History. ### Frankopan cites George Kennan’s 1946 Long Telegram about Stalinist Russia and the need for the West to contain the Soviet Union. It is demonstrable that Frankopan cites this evidence because it suits his pre-determined, moralistic thesis: the West knows best and Putin is a Soviet revivalist.
Frankopan censors from his discussion Kennan’s much later – and far more apposite – assessment published on 5th February 1997 in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times. Kennan called expanding NATO into eastern Europe “ the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post Cold War period“, that it would “impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking” and said that it was “doubly unfortunate considering the total lack of any necessity for this move“. ####
As an Oxford professor of Global History, Peter Frankopan can hardly plead ignorance about Kennan’s 1997 Op-ed !
Whether Russia is right or wrong, is not the concern of historians. The basic business of the historian is a comprehensive review of all the evidence and interpretations thereof, before arriving at a representative assessment in order to explain what has happened. Like the natural scientist, the historian should be examining every hypothesis against the full weight of all the evidence.
Perhaps natural science expert, Dr Tracey, will help Oxford’s aberrant history faculty get back on track and leave moralising to the politically partisan etc.
Frankopan manifestly fails his basic duty as historian. He does so because he is subject to the pervasive, moralistic mindset at work in Education today. If something is un-just, it must be put right, whatever the cost, and whatever the counter claims, arguments and evidence.
2. A constituent College of the University
Exeter College is indulging the same Righteous Rectitude as Dr Frankopan with its recently announced Black Lives Matter “competition”. ##### There is a clear intimation that all students are expected to demonstrate their commitment to this Cultural Revolution and participate. There are even funds available for those who lack the means. Ergo, students have no excuse for failing to confess conformity…
Now, it should not be necessary for me to point out that George Floyd’s death in May 2020 was a disgrace in a civilised society. Indeed I have blogged elsewhere about it. But George Floyd’s murder has been made an iconic and ideological reference point.
I would like to know why this man’s death is being held out as an opportunity for everyone to express their conformity to the expected ideological line – as if it is not self-evident that murder is evil and that racism is indeed obnoxious.
I would also like to know why the focus is on one man’s death because he is a blackman in the USA, and not the murder of innocents wherever they may be. Is there a campaign anywhere in the University of Oxford about the brutal, ideologically motivated slaying of teacher Samuel Paty, also killed in 2020 ? Would that not be more pertinent, given that he was an educator, killed for doing his job ? And where is the Oxford campaign for the slaughter of black people attending a Pentecost church service in Nigeria last weekend ? This is but the latest bout of murderous attacks on Christians, a social group with by far the worst lethal persecution rate on the planet ?
This is disturbing. It betrays an ideological paradigm which values certain people, but is prepared to discount others. Samuel Paty is ignored because he is a White Man murdered by a fanatic adhering to a fundamentalist, political interpretation of Islam. Indeed black people in Africa slaughtered and maimed while attending a church service are also overlooked in this ideological paradigm simply because they are Christians – a religion blamed for its association with the evil of European colonialism. #### ####
Such hypocrisy arises from a closed, censorious and intolerant mentality. This directly undermines the traditional academic quest for the truth. It is a direct threat to the civilised and open debate so vital to the academic pursuit of truth. But it is being treated as Orthodoxy entitled to judge other views as dangerous heresy. In fact, it is – itself – dangerous.
Interestingly, the Rector of Exeter College is in breach of his own sworn oath to retire from office in 2016. He is required under the College Statutes to uphold those Statutes – as are the Fellows of that College’s Governing Body. However, they lay claim to Equality law concerning “ageism” to excuse their dereliction of duty. The offending Statutory provision to retire was removed last year by the same Rector and Fellows who chose not to provide explicit Statutory limits to their terms of office in the same way specified in other colleges and posts at the university. #+#
3. An inter-disciplinary forum
My evidence is an event held the same week as the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Oxford’s showcase website completely ignored the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. But Oxford did take the trouble to host an event called, “A conversation on policing, prisons and abolition”, held on 1st June as part of the “Race and Resistance Programme”. ### ### This programme is conducted by TORCH – the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities.
One of the two speakers at the event was Dr Sarah Lamble who is “a Reader in Criminology and Queer Theory at the School of Law, Birkbeck, with a focus on gender, sexuality and imprisonment, as well as alternative and transformative justice“. Lamble is also an organiser with “Abolitionist Futures”.
When we go to the link for Abolitionist Futures we find an explicit and uncompromising campaign demanding, I quote,
a future without prisons, police and punishment
### #### The website also states:
It’s time to imagine and build
the world we want
Indeed – pure imagination which has no grounding in the realities of human experience. Previous experience is evidently rejected as unquestionably corrupt and useless.Therefore only an abstract vision of what ought to be will suffice. Evidence is irrelevant: the fundamental component of scientific enquiry is annulled…
This qualifies in my humble opinion as extremist, highly contentious political activity. Yet it is held out as a serious discussion.
If this is indeed an academic enquiry into a particular ideology or campaign, then presumably Oxford will be hosting other extremist and highly contentious political debates. For example, why not host a seminar on Mein Kampf, presented by a dedicated white supremacist ? After all, that would
- be extreme
- deeply troubling to most people’s idea of societal norms and
- present a vision of the world wholly divorced from the reality of how to maintain a civilised society
What do you think of this proposition – and why ?
#### #### Pentecost killings in Nigeria 2022