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 does Dr Tracey think of this proposition ?

Indeed what do you, the reader, think of it ?

What is your reaction, 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

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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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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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