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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Chris Patten on Rhodes Must Fall

University of Oxford chancellor defends Cecil Rhodes statue - BBC News

"[On allegations that he called it treason] 'What I said was that to deny freedom of speech and freedom of enquiry would be a treason to the sort of values which universities should represent and which thank heavens, Oxford has represented over the years so I'm delighted to engage in a conversation, a discussion with the student you mentioned just now about history.

But I don't think this issue should focus simply on Cecil Rhodes whose endowment has produced 8,000 scholarships over the years, including scholarships for some of the greatest campaigners against apartheid and for civil liberties.

And incidentally the Rhodes scholarships were endorsed by Nelson Mandela. He regarded Rhodes and himself as having a common cause. Nobody is talking about Mandela--Rhodes must go.

I think the focus on Rhodes is unfortunate but it's an example of what is happening on American campuses, British campuses where the whole - one of the points of a university, which is not to tolerate intolerance, to engage in free enquiry and debate is being denied. People have to face up to facts, facts in history that don't like and talk about them and debate them.'

'But what if they are... hugely offended, having to pass the statue every morning... Put it somewhere else, don't put it where it is going to offend us'

'But our cities are full of buildings that were built with the proceeds of activities: the slave trade and so on, which would nowadays be regarded as completely unacceptable.

The building on which the statue... stands was put up with Rhodes' money. So do you knock the building down?

Do you go around Oxford and Cambridge and elsewhere. What do you do about Trinity College at Cambridge? What do you do about other colleges which may have been founded by somebody who killed 3 of his wives? I mean, what do you do about our history?

Any views that Cecil Rhodes had about the British Empire, about race, were common to his time. I don't imagine that they were very different from Winston Churchill's views at the time, but what actually Rhodes did at the end of his life was to leave his whole fortune to a scholarship programme which has helped to insure that Oxford University manages to be a university for the whole world'

'So this whole idea of safe spaces in universities, which everybody seems to be talking about these days-'

'What a terrible terrible idea. Universities, university should be about debate. They should be about people sparking one another. I was taught by one of the greatest Marxist historians of the 20th century. I never suggested that I should have a safe space. It's complete madness'

'But come on, you're white and rich and hugely successful and you run the world, you're one of those people who-'

'I was a scholarship boy. I was the first in my family to go to university, like so many of the people who would go into the last ditch to defend free speech'

'But you weren't a minority, you weren't black'

'I'm not black. I'm a grandfather to 3 wonderful mixed-race children... and I understand the sensitivities. I understand the importance of having more racial diversity and other sorts of diversity at university. I think that campaigns like Black Boys Can... some of the other campaigns get more kids from a wider social background into university are really important...'

'That could be regarded as patronising'...

'You don't think they've got a point at all, those people who say that they really do feel threatened, they hear language that they don't like. This thing about no platforming certain people, you don't think that-

'Can you imagine a university where there's no platforming? I mean a bland diet of bran to feed people. It's an absolutely terrible idea.

If you want universities like that you go to China where they're not allowed to talk about 'Western values' which I regard as global values.

No that is not the way that a university should operate but I do believe that we should discuss these issues. I believe that we should discuss in particular how to promote greater diversity... all that is up for discussion'...

'Well I think that we're giving them the respect of listening to their views, even when we don't agree with them.

But if people at a university aren't prepared to demonstrate that generosity of spirit which Nelson Mandela showed towards Rhodes and towards history, if they're not prepared to embrace all those values which are contained in the most important book for any undergraduate, Karl Popper's Open Society, if they're not prepared to embrace these issues then maybe they should think about being educated elsewhere but I hope they'll embrace these values and engage in a debate...

I want to have as broad a range of people as possible. And I want them to accept that a university is about sparking ideas off one another, it's about being confronted with ideas which you don't much like. But facing up to them and trying to argue them down'...

'We know you don't like, you rich successful white people don't like the sort of stuff that we're talking about here but hard luck. We ought to be listened to.'

'But Oxford and every university is full of people saying and arguing things which I wouldn't agree with. That's absolutely right. That's what should happen.

What we shouldn't do is to deny the debate, is to insist, for example, an Iranian feminist can't go in and speak at a university because she'll be shouted down by extremists.

That's the sort of thing which has been happening and it is wrong on our universities. It should not be allowed to happen. We should tolerate freedom of speech right across the board, freedom of enquiry. That's what a liberal open society is all about'"

Isn't it patronising to hold minorities to different standards and think they're so fragile they can't be offended?
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