The 30 November publication of Prof Nigel Biggar’s essay on Britain’s colonial past in The Times, together with the announcement on this website of the McDonald Centre’s “Ethics and Empire” project, has provoked strong reactions from a number of students and academics in Oxford. Common Ground Oxford, a group of undergraduates protesting the ‘structures of racism, classism and colonialism’ that purportedly pervade the University of Oxford, published a blog criticising both the essay and the project. The University of Oxford responded to this with a statement, published in The Cherwell, affirming its full support for Prof Biggar’s freedom to run the project and its confidence that he possessed the qualifications and credentials necessary to do so.
This exchange prompted an open letter from 58 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and post-holders at Oxford from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. The letter has elicited press attention, including letters to the editor, an article, and a lead editorial in The Times; a brief comment piece in The Sunday Times; an op-ed essay in The Daily Telegraph; an investigative article in The Daily Mail; and articles in the international press, including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Basler Zeitung, and The Hindustan Times. In its edition of 23 December The Timespublished an interview with Prof Biggar, as well as his reply to the open letter and its criticisms. That reply is now available to read in full here.
A second open letter was published in Medium, which was discussed in articles featured in The Guardian and The Times Higher Education Supplement. On 26 December, The Times published a front-page story, subsequently reported by the BBC, which indicated that the government may impose penalties on universities that failed to discharge their statutory obligations to protect and preserve freedom of speech. The same edition featured four letters in support of Prof. Biggar’s position.