Oxford dons boycotting Oriel are themselves funded by imperialists

Several Oxford dons who have signed up to a boycott of Oriel college are themselves funded by imperialists, an analysis by The Telegraph has found.

It comes amid growing dismay at the academics’ refusal to teach undergraduate students in protest at the decision to keep the controversial Cecil Rhodes statue in place.

The dons have now been accused of “biting the hand that feeds them” after it emerged that some have benefitted from financial legacies built on forced labour. 

Four of the academics who signed up to the boycott have received funding from the Leverhulme Trust, which was created with funding from Lord Leverhulme, a soap magnate who set up plantations in the Belgian Congo in the 1910s using forced labour.

One historian has claimed that Leverhulme’s "private kingdom" in the country (then under Belgian colonial rule) was "reliant on the horrific Belgian system of forced labour, a programme that reduced the population of Congo by half and accounted for more deaths than the Nazi Holocaust".

However, other historians have described Leverhulme as having views which were much more progressive than most industrialists of the time.

The Oriel boycott’s signatories include Dr Dan Hodgkinson and Dr Zoe Cormack, both of whom are Leverhulme Early Career Fellows, a three-year post which is fully funded in the first year and part-funded in the second and third years by the Leverhulme Trust.

Dr Julia Viebach, a lecturer in African Studies, also recently completed a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship based at the Law Faculty. Meanwhile, Dr Agnieszka Kościańska is a Leverhulme visiting professor at Oxford, meaning she is eligible for up to £150,000 of funding from the trust.

Dr Kathrin Bachleitner’s research in international relations is fully funded by the IKEA Foundation.

In 2012, the Swedish company admitted that it had used East German political prisoners as forced labourers to manufacture its goods for more than a decade during the Cold War and said this was a "deep regret". 

Prof Wale Adebanwi, another signatory, is the Rhodes Professor of Race Relations. The professorship was created in the early 1950s, following a donation from the then Rhodesian Selection Trust, who requested it be named in memory of Cecil Rhodes.

“These boycotters occupy positions or hold grants made in the name of Rhodes or other imperialists which they are happy to accept whilst berating the people who actually provided the funds,” said Nigel Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at Oxford.

Oxford University's Nigel Biggar has spoken out against the boycott

Credit: Tom Pilston

“There is a certain moral inconsistency in doing that: you are biting the hand that feeds you, in effect.”  

Prof Biggar, who is currently researching the impact of Britain’s imperial past, said the broader point this shows was that trying to unpick history was “both impossible and fruitless”.

He explained: “We have institutions and scholarships that have been funded by profits made in the colonies, and we can argue about the morality of that. In some cases no doubt it was immoral. A lot of what we have inherited was built on wealth we have acquired by, shall we say, dodgy means. We just have to accept that, rather than trying to unpick history.”

Some of the Oriel boycott’s leading figures also have professorships named after imperialists.

Prof Kate Tunstall, an interim provost at Worcester college is the Clarendon Professor of French which is named after Edward Hyde, the 1st Earl of Clarendon.

A 'Rhodes Must Fall' demonstration in Oxford on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd

Credit: John Lawrence

In 1663 a royal charter granted him colonial land in North America which later became the Province of Carolina.

Prof Danny Dorling’s professorship is named after Halford Mackinder who dedicated his life’s work to the renewal of the British Empire, which he saw as viable in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Earlier this week, The Telegraph revealed that more than 150 Oxford dons are boycotting Oriel College and refusing to teach its students in protest at its decision to keep the Cecil Rhodes statue.

The rebel dons say they will refuse to give tutorials to Oriel’s undergraduate students and discontinue any assistance they give the college with its outreach work, including interviewing undergraduates.

They have also pledged to withdraw from all talks, seminars and conferences sponsored by Oriel and halt their involvement in recruiting fellows or any other appointments at the college.

Oriel controversy: the eminent academics involved in boycott 

Top row, from left to right: Kate Tunstall (Clarendon Professor of French, Worcester College); Danny Dorling (Halford Mackinder professor of human geography); Dan Hodgkinson (Leverhulme Early Career Fellow). Bottom row, from left to right: Dr Agnieszka Kościańska; Kathrin Bachleitner (IKEA Foundation Research Fellow in International Relations); and Prof Wale Adebanwi (Rhodes Professor of Race Relations
Oxford professors)

Kate Tunstall – Clarendon Professor of French, Worcester College

Kate Tunstall, an interim provost at Worcester college, holds the role of a Clarendon Professor of French in addition to a position as a Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones fellow. The Clarendon professorship is named after Edward Hyde, the 1st Earl of Clarendon, an English statesman and diplomat best known for his role as chief advisor to Charles I.

During this time he was one of eight Lords Proprietors entitled to the land that would eventually become the Province of Carolina.

The Lords Proprietors sent 150 colonists to the province of Carolina in 1670, and in addition to this took over from settler commanders in Bermuda, which facilitated trade between the province and the West Indies.

The Government run by the First Earl (and subsequently his son) would go on to lead forces against Indians in North Carolina, some of whom were taken prisoner to be shipped off and sold as slaves.

Danny Dorling – Halford Mackinder professor of human geography

Danny Dorling has been at the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment since September 2013, after previous stints in Newcastle, Sheffield and New Zealand.

His most recent work focuses on the “income shock” of the pandemic, the economic impact of coronavirus among disadvantaged groups, and free school meals policies across Europe.

Earlier this week, Dorling told The Telegraph that the action was intended to demonstrate to Oriel that academics were "not very happy about what’s gone on".

His professorship is named after Halford Mackinder, the first director of the School of Geography who was also an imperialist.

Mackinder is renowned as one of the founding fathers of geopolitics. Mackinder dedicated his life’s work to the renewal of the British Empire, which he saw as viable in the aftermath of the Second World War. Mackinder had done much of his own teaching at Oxford, in the university’s purpose-built museum.

Dr Agnieszka Kościańska – Leverhulme Visiting Professor

A doctor since 2007, Agnieszka Kościańska, who was born in Poland, is currently an associate professor in the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Warsaw.

Her research interests are listed as including sexuality and queerness, while her recent projects include special journal articles on gender, sexuality, and “the science of sex in a space of uncertainty [to modernise] Europe’s East, past and present”.

She has also held a residency at the Edinburgh College of Art, in which she presented LGBT performance pieces.

Dr Kościańska’s work with the University of Oxford’s Russian and East European Studies is fully funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which exists because of the financial legacy holdings of Lord Leverhulme, who set up plantations in the Belgian Congo in the 1910s using forced labour.

While not technically meeting the definition of slavery, historians have noted that many Africans died because of the working conditions on the eponymous Lever plantations.

Dan Hodgkinson – Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

Dr Dan Hodgkinson counts race and nationalism, Zimbabwe and southern Africa among his research interests, in which he strives “to explore how people represent and reflect upon their past selves and actions during periods of dramatic political and social change”.

He had previously worked as a political consultant for clients including Save the Children, the United Nations and the Council of Europe. His doctorate focused on the activism that took place among “elite” students in Zimbabwe and Rhodesia, who would use their status to their advantage in order to effect political change.

Dr Hodgkinson’s place at Oxford was secured through his Early Career Fellowship, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, with the intention of “undertaking a significant piece of publishable work”.

He is studying for three years on a full-time basis, which is entirely financially supported by the Trust.

Kathrin Bachleitner – IKEA Foundation Research Fellow in International Relations

A member of the University of Oxford’s refugee studies centre, Dr Kathrin Bachleitner is the IKEA Foundation Research Fellow in International Relations at Lady Margaret Hall. She received her master’s and doctorate of philosophy from the University, and is described as focusing on “collective identity, memory and values” within the discipline of international relations.

Prior to her work at Oxford, she had worked for the European Union, the Austrian foreign ministry and aid organisations in the Palestinian Territories.

In 2012, IKEA admitted that it had used East German political prisoners to manufacture its goods for more than a decade during the Cold War. It said that the findings of a report produced into the use of forced labour by its suppliers in the Communist bloc were a source of “deep regret”.

Cupboards, chairs and other household items were mass produced during the 1970s and 1980s by GDR prisoners who had been incarcerated by the regime for their political views.

Professor Wale Adebanwi – Rhodes Professor of Race Relations

Prof Adebanwi is the Rhodes Professor of Race Relations and a Fellow of St Antony’s College. He is a co-editor of the Journal of the International African Institute, and focuses on ethnicity, nationalism and democratic politics in relation to social thought.

The Rhodes Professor of Race Relations was created in the early 1950s, following a donation from the then Rhodesian Selection Trust who requested it be named in memory of Cecil Rhodes.

The chair has never been funded either by Rhodes himself or his financial legacies.

Earlier this year, The Telegraph revealed that Oxford University is attempting to change the title to the Professorship of African Studies. The change of name, which was recorded in the Oxford Gazette, has already been approved by the university’s council and general purposes committee and must now be approved by Congregation, meaning academics will be able to vote on it.

The full list of signatories to the Oriel boycott

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