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Oxford U-turns in chancellor ‘wokeism’ row

The Oxford University Examination School. Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Archive/PA Images

Uh oh. The dreaming spires are once again caught up in controversy. Ministers have accused Oxford University of attempting to ‘stitch up’ its chancellor selection process to stop another white, male politician from taking the top job. Now, after a number of senior politicians urged the uni to rethink its plans, Oxford has finally thrown in the towel and U-turned. Talk about a row back…

The publication of chancellor election rules in March was met with a heated backlash after critics accused the university of attempting to ‘vet’ candidates it did not like. The guidance stated that senior staff would, as part of the chancellor’s election committee, consider all applications, before stating:

And, having due regard to the principles of equality and diversity and the approved role specification, determine which candidates are eligible to progress to the next stage of the election process.

The equality, diversity and inclusion police really do manage to infiltrate every part of public life, don’t they? Critics fumed that the rather peculiar wording of the rules was a move by the institution to install a more ‘modern’ candidate to a ceremonial role that has existed since the 13th century and been held by former male politicians since 1715. Tory MP and Oxford graduate Neil O’Brien blasted his alma mater for ‘imposing an eastern bloc-style managed democracy’, while a Department for Education insider slammed the university for ‘wokeism gone mad’. Strong stuff.

But now, at long last, someone at the university has taken heed. In a conspicuous volte-face, Oxford will announce tomorrow that it’ll ditch its plans to allow the election committee to disregard candidates – and get rid of the stipulation that the staff group would have ‘due regard to the principles of equality and diversity’. While the university insists the altered wording doesn’t equate to a change in policy, O’Brien has lauded the U-turn as a ‘welcome victory for common sense’, adding: ‘Universities have been drifting towards too many poorly thought out equality and diversity politics. I am glad on this occasion there has been a rethink.’ Quite.

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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