The campaign to take down the statue has fuelled debate Rhodes Must Fall Oxford

Students and academics at Cambridge have been responding to the ongoing Rhodes Must Fall campaign at the University of Oxford, in light of its Chancellor’s comment that students who do not wish to embrace Cecil Rhodes’s legacy “should think about being educated elsewhere”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today Programme’, the University’s Chancellor, Lord Patten, went on to claim that Oxford’s current world standing is partly due to Rhodes’s contribution to the University, including through the funding he left for Rhodes Scholarships.

Responding to the recent petition to remove a statue of Rhodes from Oriel College, Oxford, Patten argued that Rhodes Must Fall campaigners should be prepared to demonstrate the “generosity of spirit” shown by Nelson Mandela when he collaborated with the Rhodes Trust to enable students in South Africa to access Rhodes’s money.

Patten said that he wanted Oxford to have “as broad a range of people as possible”, and that he wanted them to accept that a university “is about sparking ideas”, and being “confronted” with ideas that students “don’t much like”, in order that should they have the opportunity to “face up to them and try to argue them down”.

However, speaking to Varsity, the CUSU BME Campaign condemned Patten’s comments, and offered its “full support” to the Rhodes Must Fall movement, adding: “We recognise that this is a campaign to raise awareness of the systematic erasure of colonised perspectives — on imperialism, slavery, looting, famine and other injustices — from our curricula, academic discourse and public consciousness.”

The BME Campaign went on to urge Patten to consider Rhodes’s “problematic history”, especially “the injustices perpetrated to accumulate his fortune,” arguing that it is “perfectly reasonable” to support a scholarship’s existence “while being critical of its origins”.

Cambridge classicist Mary Beard has also joined the debate surrounding Rhodes, arguing that the campaign to “eradicate Rhodes from our consciousness” was “a foolish enterprise”, which could “harm” our understanding of history.

Writing on her blog for The Times Literary Supplement, ‘A Don’s Life’, Beard claimed that it is much more” important to “look history in the eye” and “reflect on our awkward relationship to it” than to “simply photoshop the nasty bits out”.

Beard did say that she had “some sympathy” with the idea that Oxford students from ethnic minorities may find it “a bit in [their] face” to have an image of Rhodes staring down on them. However, she claimed that the solution was not to remove the statue and “pretend that those people didn’t exist”, but to “empower” students to “look up at Rhodes with a cheery and self confident sense of unbatterability”.

She likened this to her own feelings when looking up at statues of “all those hundreds of men in history” who would have vehemently objected to women having the right to vote, “let alone the kind of job I have”.

Beard also addressed the issue of Rhodes’s money, suggesting that students could not “whitewash Rhodes out of history, but go on using his cash”. She argued that it was better to “celebrate what we have managed to achieve with Rhodes’s money, whatever his views”, and that “If he was bad, then we have certainly turned his cash to the better”.