The governing body of Oriel College has announced a U-turn and says it will not take down the statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes.
A specially appointed commission had recommended it be removed from the side of the college building but on Thursday, 20 May, the college said its removal posed “regulatory and financial challenges”' and it would instead focus on “improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort and academic community.''
The decision was immediately greeted on social media by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson who said it was a “sensible and balanced decision.”
Sensible & balanced decision not to remove the Rhodes statue from Oriel College, Oxford - because we should learn from our past, rather than censoring history, and continue focussing on reducing inequality.— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) May 20, 2021
Conservative commentator Toby Young went further and tweeted: “This is a victory for common sense over the woke Taliban.”
The campaign to remove the statue gained momentum last year during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Rhodes made his fortune in the late 19th century from gold and diamond mines where African miners labored in brutal conditions.
Congratulations to Oriel College for deciding not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes. This is a victory for common sense over the woke Taliban. We cannot cleanse our past of historical figures whose views we now find distasteful and the attempt to do so...— Toby Young (@toadmeister) May 20, 2021
The entrepreneur, who died in 1902, would eventually give his name to Northern Rhodesia (what is now Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and would also influence the British government’s thinking in South Africa.
The college’s governing body said “(We have) considered the regulatory and financial challenges, including the expected timeframe for removal, which could run into years with no certainty of outcome, together with the total cost of removal."
Oriel College's principal, Neil Mendoza, said: “It has been a careful, finely balanced debate and we are fully aware of the impact our decision is likely to have in the UK and further afield.”
Breaking: Oriel REJECTS call to remove Rhodes statue.— Save Our Statues (@_SaveOurStatues) May 20, 2021
"In light of the considerable obstacles to removal, Oriel’s Governing Body has decided not to begin the legal process for relocation of the memorials."
Will instead "contextualise". #RhodesWILLNOTfallhttps://t.co/4ZSfw7HrVq
Rhodes left £6 million - a huge amount of money in those days - in his will to Oriel College.
His legacy includes Oxford University's prestigious Rhodes scholarships, which have been awarded to international students for over a century. Famous Rhodes scholars include former US President Bill Clinton and feminist writer Naomi Wolf.
Rhodes was a symbol of colonialism and his statue was removed from the University of Cape Town in South Africa amid cheers in 2015.
Very English to apply MCC rules to whether a controversial statue has been legally bowled or not.— Heinz Brandenburg (@HzBrandenburg) May 20, 2021
Rhodes statue, Oriel: "Umpire's call. The protesters retain their review." https://t.co/QgurwG2V53
Last year statues were of Confederate generals were removed from several US cities and a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was removed from its pedestal in Bristol and thrown into the harbour.
But in September last year Britain’s Culture Minister Matt Warman said statues should be "retained and explained,” rather than torn down.