Will incoming Vice Chancellor Irene Tracey investigate the evidence of aberration at Oxford and take corrective action ?

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:

  1. the history faculty
  2. a constituent college
  3. 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.

Evidence ?

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 ?

 

###References###

# news of Dr Tracey’s nomination

##  Jubilee Kings post May 30th 2022

###  Frankopan’s Expert Opinion post on March 9th

####     Kennan New York Times 5th February 1997

#####   Exeter College Black Lives Matter competition

### ### Conversation on Prisons, Policing, Abolition

### ####     About Page for ‘Abolitionist Futures’

#### #### Pentecost killings in Nigeria 2022

#+# Rector and Fellows of Exeter College broke their sworn oath and what this means

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Categorized as Oxford

Is Oxford university’s role intellectual or political?

Just what does a university exist to do ? Does it exist to promote a particular philosophy or political programme ? Does it exist to make society more equal and just ?

Well, the purpose declared in documents like Statutes indicates universities exist to promote research, learning and teaching – sometimes religion too because of the Christian heritage of western nations.

Research, learning and teaching, for sure. That is what universities do. That is their niche role. They do not, then, exist to pursue campaigns. Rather, they are places where intellectuals pose questions and suggest answers based on argument and on evidence. They promote research and learning by means of the intellectual process of thinking and of acquiring knowledge of our existence, be that of the physical world [natural sciences and engineering] or of our interactions as human beings over the entire range of those interactions [humanities and social sciences].

In terms of encouraging thought and acquiring knowledge, it must surely therefore be in-appropriate for universities to pursue campaigns. A cause and its promotion are necessarily one view, reflecting a particular philosophy and the ambitions of those who adhere to that view.

My view of the world is Christian, and my politics are Burkean Conservatism. That explains where I am coming from.  I believe such transparency is both necessary and ethical.

If your politics and religion differ from mine, you may well take serious exception were my religion and my politics promoted by the University of Oxford as if they were objective truth to which everyone should subscribe.

A university must examine and assess all human activity. It does so by investigating. But as we investigate in order to seek truth, the wise person and the good academic are aware of the truth about themselves as seekers of truth, and the truth about the methodology they employ.

Historiography raises such questions for historians.  In my day, undergraduate historians were taught this in their very first term at Oxford.

But such vital self awareness is evidently neglected in certain quarters in Oxford today. Take the editorial line of the University’s website, for example. There, Ukraine has been thrust into prominence, and the editorial treatment appears worthy of the worst tabloid press.

The website has, for example,  highlighted a Guardian Op-ed by European Studies professor, Timothy Garton Ash, titled “Expert Comment: Ukraine has earned a future in the European Union”.  Ash states Russia is becoming “a satrapy of China” and is suffering “Putinian delusions of rebuilding the Russian empire.” Contrary evidence cited below is completely ignored.

Putin is assumed to be a mad monster with Stalinist era pretensions for expansion. No further explanation need be sought. What we are witnessing is the very opposite of open enquiry and assessment of competing concerns and interests of the various actors in this crisis. The West is right; Putin is wrong. End of.  Indeed one Oxford professor of Ethics has suggested that Putin is a legitimate target for assassination. I cite a transcript of Professor Dill’s contribution to an edition of the BBC’s “Moral Maze”:

So, Hitler, like Putin, they’re not innocent human beings.  If we can foresee the way in which they are going to present imminent threats to the lives of others, then killing them isn’t assassination of an innocent person. It is a defensive killing of someone who is liable to…moral harm.

Presumably Professor Dill advocates the Death Penalty for Murder !

Professor Dill is an example of Oxford thinking I find troublesome. Putin is wicked. This is proved by the shocking evidence of war in Ukraine. Wickedness is wrong and must therefore be eradicated. Ergo, get rid of Putin. Impeccable logic –  but the assumptions and predisposition must surely be questioned.

There is a marked failure in the university website content to give any thing like due consideration to the Russian perspective, concerns and thinking. Instead Putin is placed automatically in the category of evil beast for whom there is no redemption. This interpretation alone explains all.

But of course it doesn’t – not in the real world. Yet at Oxford, the only evidence being allowed to count comprises current atrocities in Ukraine. The history of Russia over the last 30 years has been censored and we jump directly back to the horrors of the Stalinist era. Evidence ?  Global History Professor, Peter Frankopan, cites the “Long Telegram” analysis of George Kennan, US diplomat to Moscow in 1946.  But Frankopan blatantly ignores Kennan’s later and more pertinent warning about the persistence of NATO and the Cold war paradigm in a New York Times Op-Ed, on February 5th, 1997.

And where do we read about U.S. and NATO “activities” over the last 30 years ?  There is no Julian Assange; there is no Edward Snowden; there is no American imperialism reinforcing American domination of the world economy since Bretton Woods in 1944 – a domination leading to western claims, inter alia, on Ukraine and Taiwan …

The only historical and geopolitical evidence being admitted confirms the political predilections of Oxford dons – a predispositon treated as indisputable and axiomatic.

Indeed Professor Dill expresses this disturbing predisposition and closed mindset in the conclusion of the interview cited above.  Her comments demonstrate that the mentality produced by a certain mindset in Oxford today contradicts the very purpose of a university as a place where we pose questions and posit answers. She says:

Now that we are here, our chief moral concern must be the prevention of nuclear escalation and nuclear war. There is really no greater moral evil than that sort of escalation and I think we should not morally be distracted by the question of how did we get here, who is to blame? We need to look forward and try to prevent with everything possible that greater moral evil.

How we got here is a distraction !  With that comment, Professor Dill trashes an entire academic discipline called History…

Thankfully,  South Africa’s President is far more realistic – see this report

GRC

Garton Ash Op-ed

Peter Frankopan Global History professor’s view

Kennan Op-ed 1997

Professor Dill interview

University of Oxford Ukraine crisis page

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Categorized as Oxford

Should Oxford dons keep their word or are they privileged ?

Should we keep our word, our promised commitment? We all know that we should, and we all know that there are times when we don’t. Sometimes we have reasonable excuses, but they tend to revolve around releasing ourselves from our obligations or duties. In doing so, we fail to consider others – their interests, their needs; we place our own convenience first.

Should university teachers keep their word ? May we expect a higher standard of personal morality from such people, or should we cut them the same slack we allow ourselves ? Does their position of trust as educators of the young oblige them to maintain a more exemplary standard regarding their moral, educational responsibiliites ?

Should the heads of Oxbridge Colleges be expected to keep their word ? Does their position oblige them to operate according to an even higher standard of personal trustworthiness than their academic colleagues ?

When we reinforce our word with a solemn declaration or oath, should there be a higher standard required and therefore a greater sanction imposed when we fail to keep our word ?

When a person witnesses in a court of law, they are required to make a solemn declaration – or an oath before God – obliging them to tell the truth. Is it reasonable of us to expect that they should therefore tell the truth as far as they know it ? Or are they then permitted to forget their declaration or their oath, and say whatever they please ?

Most people have a moral conscience. They don’t need doctorates in ethics to know what is right and what is wrong.

But the Governing Body of Exeter College in the University of Oxford evidently have their own particular view of such matters.

All the dons on the governing body of that College were required to take a solemn, and presumbly binding declaration before taking up their posts as Fellows of the College and therefore as custodians responsible for the administration of the College according to the Statutes and the intentions of the Founders and Benefactors of that College.

The Statutes required them to retire at a certain age, normally before the age of 68. The head of College known as the Rector was also required to make such a solemn commitment and to retire before the age of 68. As the person who is effectively the College’s executive leader, the Rector has particular responsibilities under the Statutes to settle disputes and make critical decisions.

The Rectorship carries a particular responsibility, then. As you might expect.

What are we to think then, when the person who occupies that position is still in post 5 years+ beyond his required retirement ? What are we to think when such a person takes the view that he is not required to uphold and maintain the Statutes of the College with regard to his own position and his own retirement ?

What are we to think when he makes himself judge in his own cause ? What are we to think when he refuses to acknowledge his obligations to the College – freely entered into with solemn declaration – and chooses instead to remain in post; to remain entitled to receive a 6 figure salary with rent free accomodation and certain expenses paid by the College Charitable Trust ?

What are we to think of the Fellows of the Governing Body of the College who refuse to trigger the Statutory process for removal of a man in breach of his obligations under the Statutes of the College ?

What are we to think when both the Fellows of the Governing Body of Exeter College, Oxford and the person occupying the Rectorship agree together to revise radically the Statutes of the College, using that occasion to legitimise a circumstance which is in breach of their obligations under the pre-existing Statutes ?

Are we to view this as observing the Rule of Law ? Or is this a breach of the meaning of the Rule of Law ?

Is this an example of how business should be done in our Universities – is it a worthy and just way of doing business in what is arguably the nation’s principal University ?

Is this an example to emulate ? Is this what we should set up as an example to the young and to future generations ?

Is it ‘legitimate’ for dons already extremely privileged by virtue of their natural gifts and their exceptional position in this world, to claim yet more personal  advantage by pleading their own personal Rights under Equality law ?

Graham R. Catlin

alumnus of Exeter College, Oxford

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Categorized as Oxford

Review and repent – or persist and pay an even higher price ?

University of Oxford Vice Chancellor, Louise Richardson, moves on from Oxford at the end of her seven year term on December 31st 2022. She will then be 64 years old, but has been engaged by the Carnegie Corporation as its first female President from January 1st 2023. She is also the first woman to hold the top executive job at the University of Oxford. She is capable,  successful and her PhD in politics is from Harvard where she also taught.

Congratulations to her. But why did she choose to move on rather than remain at Oxford or, indeed, retire?

Her departure, however, affords the University of Oxford  the opportunity to review thoroughly what this dynamic, ideological and career minded lady has done and has overseen during her time at Oxford. The appointment of a new Vice Chancellor  is a critical opportunity to review the direction in which Oxford is now moving – and take corrective action.

A number of initiatives have been taken during her vice chancellorship which make the CV of a dynamic, career minded person look irresistible, but which leave the University of Oxford with a legacy it may come to regret.

Precipitating the university into Covid vaccine development has already begun to look like a mistake. Prime Minister of France, Jean Castex,  was televised taking the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine in March 2021 in order to restore confidence in it.#  He failed, and confidence in Oxford’s jab collapsed.  Now, 9 months later,  Castex has again tested positive for Covid 19.## The Oxford vaccine was rebranded because its reputation became so toxic. Even so, developing nations are now being sent the vaccine which the developed world does not want.  And it has emerged that AstraZeneca plans to raise prices well above the “at cost” charge so publicly vaunted at the launch of the vaccine.

But before Covid came OSCAR – a project founded in November 2018.  The university website states:

OSCAR is Oxford University’s first overseas centre for research in Physical Science and Engineering, established in China’s Jiangsu Province in partnership with the Suzhou Industrial Park. As a multidisciplinary research centre, focus is on research questions and technologies that capitalise on its location in the Suzhou Industrial Park and beyond, as well as Oxford’s particular research strengths. The aim is to create innovative solutions with commercial potential.###

What obligation is the University under to the Chinese Government ?

Did anybody in the University of Oxford stop to consider what the real world ramifications of engaging with contemporary China actually mean ?

Did anybody stop to consider the fate of the people of Hong Kong ? Did anybody stop to consider the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Uighur muslim people at the hands of the Chinese authorities ? Did anybody stop to consider the utterly dehumanizing and totalitarian Social Credit system being rolled out in China ? Did anybody stop to consider that the current Xi  Jinping regime bears the hallmarks of Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany or Maoist China ?

I am staggered that an anti-Apartheid campaigning Vice Chancellor allowed herself to be associated with such a project.

No doubt the business interests and the scientists will retort that this is not politics but scientific research, commercial co-operation, and personal bridge building. To which I reply, that is not how the people of Hong Kong, the Uighur Muslims and human rights activists in China itself will see such actions.

It is high time for institutions like the University of Oxford to get real about what matters most in this world.  Is it forming associations with interests which suit their personal, their commercial and their corporate agendas ?  Or is it human rights, the rule of just law, and the moral as well as reputational integrity of the Institution for which they have responsibility ? Will they see themselves in the role which they actually occupy, i.e.  as stewards entrusted with the oldest University in England by the people of the United Kingdom ? Will they realise that they will be judged before the court of Human History ?

The appointment of a new Vice Chancellor from 1st January 2023 is an opportunity then to

  1. radically and honestly review the last 6 years
  2. face up to the University’s wider responsibilities
  3. appoint someone who will take corrective action and avoid leading the University into yet more dubious ventures and activities

GRC

# Jean Castex AstraZeneca vaccination report at

https://www.france24.com/en/france/20210319-french-pm-castex-to-get-astrazeneca-shot-in-bid-to-restore-public-confidence

Jean Castex tests postive for Covid just months aftetr receiving the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine – see

https://www.euronews.com/2021/11/22/french-pm-jean-castex-tests-positive-for-covid-19

University website report on OSCAR is at

https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2021-11-19-oxford-suzhou-centre-advanced-research-oscar-celebrates-three-years-innovation

Congratulations Oxford but beware hubris

The University of Oxford has again been awarded “top spot” in the Times Higher Education global rankings for Universities. This is the 6th year running and coincides with Louise Richardson’s term as Vice Chancellor.

Cause and effect ? Coincidence ? 

I do not doubt that Louise Richardson herself will see this as a team effort; and recognise too that in 2016 she inherited a situation for which she could not have been responsible.  In any case, today there is far too much focus on particular individuals; an accolade of this nature must be the aggregate of the efforts and achievements of the hundreds of staff at Oxford, in all capacities. 

Of course, the top spot ranking must be analysed. What were the criteria used, and what was the evidence used in the assessment of meeting those criteria ? Who formulated the criteria and according to what philosophical principles ? 

Both rankings and indicators are at the THE website

It must be said that the rankings are compiled by the Times Higher Education – an institution which is patently not based in China. Does that explain why the Top Ten positions in the new 2022 world rankings all go to English speaking Universities. Indeed, English speaking universities dominate the top 50. 

If we accept that the % of high calibre academically capable people is evenly spread throughout the world’s population of human beings, then we must ask why China and India are not routinely represented in the THE Top Ten rankings for universities. Off the top of my head I would offer at least 3 candidates for explanation: 

  • cultural perspectives and priorities
  • resources deployed to academic work in given nations
  • many of the most gifted Chinese and Indians go to western universities to study and/or work

Oxford does have one of the highest levels of international student intake at 42% which must have a beneficial effect on performance. But that does then raise at least two questions. 

  1. how many international students are not able to access such quality education in their native land ?
  2. how far should Universities focus on providing education for international students in relation to the resident population in their own country – in this instance, England and the United Kingdom ? 

Regardless, Oxford still has problems. It would be a serious mistake to ignore them and bask instead in the glory of 6 years at Number One. Continued success must surely require facing up to issues, and then applying appropriate counter measures where needed. Hubris must be the number one enemy in response to current success. 

It is heartening therefore to read certain remarks by the Vice Chancellor to the Times Higher Education World conference this week. According to a report by The Guardian, Louise Richardson said:

 “Increasingly people are seeing that they haven’t gone to university and yet their taxes are paying for these utterly overprivileged students who want all kinds of protections that they never had and I think we have to take this seriously.”

She added: “I think we need more ideological diversity. We need to foster more open debate of controversial subjects. We need to teach our students how to engage civilly in reasoned debate with people with whom you disagree because, unless we do that, we are going to lose the public argument.”

Clearly she is aware of the need for universities to realise that they are part of society, with a responsibility to the rest of society – especially the 99+% of the population who can never qualify for Oxford. 

Elites must realise that they have responsibilities… 

But she also demonstrates the need to face down the pernicious threat to the very foundations of university work: free speech and honest dialogue. There are worrying reports about the mindset of some students at Oxford – and no doubt elsewhere – these days. NB an interview with Alan Rusbridger, recently retired head of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford [linked below]. It is disturbing reading. It sits uncomfortably alongside the award which the University of Oxford celebrates today. It reminds us of the need for continual review and reflection, followed with appropriate, concerted action. 

Which brings me back to the Guardian piece about Louise Richardson’s comments to the THE world conference.  Why did the VC of the Number One university say she was embarrassed by famous alumnus, Michael Gove, and use his 5 year old Brexit comments to a political purpose ? 

She must surely reflect and regret abusing an alumnus as she did. She must surely reflect on why such comments are inappropriate. 

Indeed we must ask: what responsibility does she bear as vice chancellor since January 2016 for the problems which have emerged at the University around free speech and cancel culture ? Has her own ideological agenda contributed to the fundamental threat which emerged at Oxford during her term ?

A change of VC is a vital first step.

I close with words from the Alan Rusbridger interview cited above:

“I think this idea of my right not to be offended, my right to have a safe space, is one that’s crept up in the last five years,” he said. If you mention John Stuart Mill’s arguments on free speech to “a bright 19-year-old in Oxford, they look at you a bit blankly. When you say, ‘Isn’t the best response to speech, more speech?’ it’s a new idea to them.”

Rusbridger understands the urge many young people may have to belong and feel safe in their identity. The question is what that urge requires: to belong, do you need to ostracise others who think differently? At Oxford, Rusbridger has debated with students “whose first instinctive position is, ‘But we want this to be a safe space, I feel threatened. Your job is to protect me.’”

His response is well-worn: there are no safe spaces in the world. You are supposedly the brightest of your generation – if you can’t defeat those you disagree with in an argument, who can? “It’s a bad thing,” he explained, “if the right not to feel offended overshadows the call of reason.”

cited from https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2021/05/alan-rusbridger-young-have-no-grounding-classical-view-free-speech

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.

Perhaps.

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 ?

Does St George embarrass Oxford ?

[750 words]    Prime Minister Boris Johnson wished everyone a Happy St George’s Day yesterday. He felt, however, the need to reassure people that it was alright to celebrate St George’s Day and raise a glass, “without embarrassment and without shame”.

Most people will understand why he felt the need to issue such a reassurance. People know that the thinking called ‘political correctness’ now enjoys the status of religious Orthodoxy among western intellectuals.

You will therefore look in vain to find any endorsement of St George’s Day on the University of Oxford website. In fact St George’s Day does not figure, even though the University of Oxford is set in the heart of England, with a distinctly English and Christian heritage – Dominus Illuminatio Mea is the university motto, a citation from the first line of Psalm 27 in the Bible.

English heritage, however, appears to be a source of embarrassment and shame.

Why ?

English identity is evidently heresy at a University of Oxford dedicated to today’s religious Orthodoxy. In fact, Oxford is a centre of evangelism for this Orthodoxy, with cutting edge apostolic credentials and intentions.

On St George’s day, the University website home page carried the headline announcement about a new bursary scheme for Welsh students. Earlier in the week, it carried the announcement of new studentships for BAME students.

One week ago today, an online conference was due to be held titled, “Dismantling Whiteness: Critical White Theology”. The explanatory notice opened with the words:

‘Whiteness is a claim to power, it’s a claim to rightness, it’s a racialized claim and there is no such thing as being white and being a Christian, you have to resist that identity.’ 

I wonder how that statement accords with the provisions of the Equality Act 2010.

I also wonder

  1. how such a statement accords with logic and
  2. how it accords with reality.

For the logic, my research led me to this at Inside Higher Ed titled Dismantling Whiteness in Academe. Salvador Vidal-Ortiz explains:

It bears repeating that the dismantling of whiteness (as structure) is different from white (as race). When we talk about race in the classroom, I always make sure to distinguish between a race, a group of people, and the system that races encode. Here, I talk about whiteness as a discourse that enables a set of practices, which activates, with its own set of codes, certain responses and actions. But I am not speaking of white people… 

I still did not understand why there should be a reference to the colour “white” when this does not concern white people, as such. Then I realised that the clue to the logic being applied here lies in the words,

the system that races encode

I see. The objection is to white ways of looking at the world, ie the way in which white people think and behave – a mindset which contrasts with the way in which non-white people think and behave.

But they have already determined that whiteness is bad. Seeing themselves as anti-racist, Inside Higher Ed cannot be guilty of being seen as racist themselves. So they contrive an academic looking justification to advance and justify their predisposition. 

Once you understand that the logic applied is psychological rather than rational, then the meaning becomes clear.

Of course, such logic is false, indeed disingenuous. But then my response is prima facie evidence that I am applying the mentality of whiteness. Mea culpa !

Well, that’s the logic. How does the assertion about ‘whiteness’ compare with reality ?

We know that there is a great deal to regret and to be ashamed of in the history of White European colonialism. A great deal indeed. Applying the normal, accepted standards of morality which every human being recognises, that history is indeed littered with White European abuse – shocking abuse. Much academic research is now assiduously devoted to exposing and recording all this abuse.

Quite rightly.

But there appears to be a distinct dearth of research concerning any possible benign effects of European colonial rule.

Evidence for the benign ?

Which system do young Hong Kong democracy activists prefer ? The one inherited from British colonial rule – the one with the rule of law which guaranteed individual liberty and property, and so enabled Hong Kong’s astounding success ? Or the one the Chinese government has recently imposed ?

Presumably the new Chinese system reflects the mindset of “yellowness”, while the system Hong Kongers patently prefer reflects  the “whiteness” which accompanied British imperialism.

Or is this really about human beings, ideas and power – not racial stereotypes.

Predisposition masquerading as academic assessment

[450 words] The Oxford University Press publishes a blog. OUP defines the blog as “Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World“. But that is not how I would describe one post I read. Dated 5th April 2021, the post is titled “Anti Asian violence: the racist use of COVID 19“. The third paragraph opens with the words:

From the outset of the pandemic, President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “China Flu” and “Kung Flu”—both terms that cemented the association of the virus with Asian bodies and thus racialized a pathogen that respects no national borders.

I invite you to reflect on that sentence dispassionately and rationally. After all, it is an example of OUP’s “academic insight for the thinking world“.

So, what strikes you about it ?

Allow me to share what I think.

Firstly, I should point out that I regard Donald Trump as a conceited individual and that I am relieved he is no longer President of the United States of America.

That said, Mr Trump won the Presidential election in November 2016 and he also obtained the votes of more than 74 million Americans in November 2020.

My view of Donald Trump must therefore be put into another perspective. It is my opinion. It is evidently not the opinion of the millions of Americans who voted for him.

With reference to the comments about Covid 19, the following goes unrecognized:

  1. Covid 19 originated in China in late 2019
  2. the World Health Organisation sent a team of investigators to China recently to investigate the nature and origins of the virus
  3. the WHO team went to the market in Wuhan, the location believed to be the source of the outbreak
  4. a year ago, the Chinese authorities themselves identified Wuhan as the location of Covid 19’s first appearance
  5. the WHO investigation has concluded that the most likely explanation for Covid 19’s origins was a transition from animals to humans
  6. health concerns have been raised in previous years about Chinese markets dealing in exotic animals for human consumption – however
  7. local cultural resistance to reform has prevented the suppression of this dubious practice

None of this accords with the thesis advanced by Daryl Joji Maeda,  the author of the April 5th post at OUPblog. This suggests to me that the post reflects the worldview and predisposition of the author who fails to take account of the points raised above. To me,  it fails as academic insight for the thinking world – indeed it constitutes a predisposed political viewpoint passed off as academic insight.

So, I find myself asking:  Why does the publishing arm of the University of Oxford see fit to give a platform to such comment ?

OUPblog Reference:

Anti-Asian violence: the racist use of COVID-19 | OUPblog