Oxford University's chancellor has slammed calls for the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue, condemning the proposal as an attempt to rewrite history in order to pander to "contemporary views and prejudices".
Lord Patten, speaking at the ceremony to install Professor Louise Richardson, the first female vice-chancellor in the university's history, argued against removal of the statue, declaring "Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been according to our contemporary views and prejudices."
Cecil Rhodes, an English-born South African entrepreneur and statesman, made his fortune in the diamond mines
The students' Change.org petition calling for the removal of the Oriel College statue says "As long as the statue remains, Oriel College and Oxford University continue to tacitly identify with Rhodes’s values, and to maintain a toxic culture of domination and oppression.
"This statue is an open glorification of the racist and bloody project of British colonialism. An architect of apartheid in Southern Africa, Rhodes is the same apartheid colonialist who said: 'I prefer land to niggers...the natives are like children. They are just emerging from barbarism...one should kill as many niggers as possible.'"
Patten attacked this theory, condemning the movement as an attempt to challenge the university's principles of "freedom of argument and debate", and said students should be encouraged to engage with views they find uncomfortable.
The campaign has received both huge support and major opposition, including one prominent emeritus fellow of Oxford University R W Johnson, who went so far as to compare the Rhodes Must Fall campaign to "what Al Qaeda and Isis are doing in places like Mali when destroying statues".
Further controversy has arisen since Ntokozo Qwabe, the co-founder of the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford campaign, was found to be a Rhodes scholar. Around 200 of his fellow students responded by publishing a statement declaring the scholarship would not buy their silence: they claimed "There is no clause that binds us to find ‘the good’ in Rhodes’ character, nor to sanitise the imperialist, colonial agenda he propagated.”
The members of the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford campaign have not yet responded publicly to Lord Patten's criticism.
The campaign echoes a similar one at the University of Cape Town, who pulled down its statue of Cecil Rhodes in April following a student campaign.