The University of Oxford has retained top spot in world rankings for the 6th consecutive year, declares the university’s website on September 2nd. That does depend, of course, on the criteria, but we’ll assume for present purposes that such criteria are both appropriate and applied justly.
It begs the question therefore when we read of the personal comments made by the current Vice Chancellor, Louise Richardson, about an alumnus of the University, namely Michael Gove, a senior minister in Boris Johnson’s government. It begs the question as to her personal idea of appropriate comment; about her attitude to her role as vice chancellor of the university; and not least about the relationship of elite educational institutions to political ideology and campaigns.
On September 1st 2021, the British Guardian newspaper reported:
The University of Oxford’s vice-chancellor has said she is “embarrassed” that Michael Gove studied at the institution following his infamous comments during the Brexit campaign that people have “had enough of experts”.
The chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster was criticised over the remark made three weeks before Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016.
Prof Louise Richardson, the university’s vice-chancellor, said the development of Covid-19 vaccines, such as the one devised by Oxford, illustrated the importance of experts.
Speaking on a panel alongside vice-chancellors from across the world at Times Higher Education’s World Academic Summit, Richardson said: “Michael Gove, the British cabinet minister who I am embarrassed to confess we educated, famously said after it was pointed out to him by a journalist that all the experts opposed Brexit, he said: ‘Oh we’ve had enough of experts.’
“With the vaccine, it seems like the public can’t get enough of experts. Many of our scientists have become household names.
Like me, you may wonder what on earth Gove’s comment about a constitutional issue during a political campaign 5 years ago has to do with the scientific development of measures to deal with a major health issue today ?
But the comments make perfect sense when you realise that Louise Richardson is a politically motivated campaigner who uses her position at Oxford as an opportunity to put the world to rights. According to her view of the world, of course. The world’s top University is evidently a tool for her to proclaim and implement her politics. No holds barred. Not even common decency or respect for her position as Vice Chancellor with all the responsibilities and obligations which must necessarily go with that position.
If you look at the University’s website, you will find there evidence of the failure to accept Brexit [see post script below]. There is a blatant refusal to “celebrate” British Sovereignty and independence as voted democratically by the electorate in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, confirmed by an outright 80 seat majority for Boris Johnson following his “Get Brexit Done” campaign in the general election of December 2019.
Richardson resorts to the tackiest tactics of political smearing in her comments to the World Academic Summit hosted by the London Times. Such tacky tactics betray a mindset of psychological warfare pursued regardless of any evidence to the contrary. The experts Gove dismissed were all Remain minded researchers who found exactly what they set out to find: ie that the British economy would collapse outside the EU. The actual record of events shows that Apocalypse did not occur. Indeed the record on vaccination rollout demonstrates the flexibility and speed possible in conditions outside the EU’s regulatory straightjacket. Even EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged this with her ocean going liner/ speed boat analogy about the EU and the UK respectively.
It must surely represent the crossing of a red line when the most senior executive Administrator of a University chooses to comment negatively on an alumnus. Every university should be proud of the success of their alumni. But no university can be blamed or embarrassed by the failings of alumni, actual or perceived. That is ridiculous. A university can hardly be held to account for anti-social actions [or worse] committed by alumni. Alumni are responsible for their own lives and it would be absurd indeed for them to do the converse of what Louise Richardson has done by blaming their alma mater for their failures or foolishness in life.
You may be tempted to believe that Louise Richardson is a political innocent who simply trespassed into foolishness with an attention grabbing quip. Unitl you discover her own field of expertise …
She has a Masters degree in political science and a doctorate in government from Harvard. Her research thereafter has specialised in international terrorist movements. Her understanding and awareness of politics should therefore be second to none. She is one of those experts she proudly promotes. She is also a career academic . Yet she fails to appreciate the most elementary principles and procedures of conduct for a person in her position.
The reason is simple. It has nothing to do with her intellectual capacity, rather her attitude – her psychology. A psychology which we all recognise as belonging to the Social Justice Warrior Left. The normal rules of common decency and respect for established customs and procedures do not apply to these people. They are the self righteous. They award themselves blanket exemption from the rules the rest of us live by. They do so because they are so manifestly moral and right; whereas those who oppose them are so obviously immoral that no further proof need be sought. After all, Social Justice Warriors stand up for the downtrodden and the oppressed against the wicked Tories and the nationalist reactionaries who deceived the People about Brexit. They even stand up for free speech, as Louise Richardson did at the conference. But free speech on whose terms – the Ideological Left’s or the realistic Right’s ?
Louise Richardson no doubt thought that her Gove comment would resonate well with her audience. That, in itself, indicts academia as politically prejudiced and active.
By exploiting an alumnus, Louise Richardson merely embarrasses herself and betrays her political agenda.
For just how low her Gove comment was, see the Daily Mail article of 1st September.
PS The University of Oxford’s attitude is made clear in its official statement on Brexit. Significantly that statement has not been updated for several years, suggesting that it has not accepted actual Brexit. Where is the update re outcome of negotiations, or about the actual passing of the final date of UK exit. The statement is remarkable and I reproduce it in full as evidence of the attitude and mindset of those running the world’s foremost University.
NB the conclusion in the official statement that Oxford has been an international university for centuries contradicts their own thesis that EU membership is necessary to the University’s success as an international institution. I quote verbatim the statement as accessed on 3rd September 2021 – link given for reference below:
University statement on Brexit
Oxford’s international character has allowed it to prosper as one of the world’s leading universities, renowned for the quality of its teaching and research. In recent decades, its scholarly activities have been sustained by the UK’s membership of the European Union and the opportunities that has provided to recruit high quality staff and students and to access both research funding and research networks. Oxford’s outward-looking character is confirmed by high numbers of international partnerships, staff and students. Currently 18% of Oxford’s staff and 16% of its students are from elsewhere in the European Union. In 2015/16, it received £74m (14% of its research funding) from the EU.
Following the outcome of the 2016 referendum, the UK’s relationship with the EU will change significantly. Over the course of the Brexit process, Oxford will work with Universities-UK, the Russell Group, and other relevant bodies, such as the learned societies, to ensure the rights of current and future EU staff members and students, and to ensure that it can continue working as effectively as possible with its European partners in the years to come.
In addition, Oxford will seek to inform the conduct of the Brexit negotiations through advice to government and parliament on strengthening the UK’s world-class universities, which have been such an asset to the UK in terms of education and research, and economic growth. Oxford will also assist in the development of strategies to enable the UK to adapt as effectively as possible to its future position outside the EU.
Oxford’s desired outcome from the Brexit negotiations is a continuing strong relationship with the EU, one that will sustain its ability to:
- participate in future EU Framework programmes and conduct world-class collaborative research with EU colleagues
- host European Research Council grants
- co-ordinate and host collaborative European projects and infrastructures
- recruit and retain the best staff regardless of nationality
- recruit the best students regardless of nationality
- influence future research agendas.
Oxford has always welcomed international staff and students, and will continue to do so now and in the future. It will sustain and develop its links with universities within the EU and around the globe and will forge new links. Oxford has been an international university for centuries. It is our intention that it should remain an international university for centuries to come.