President of Oxford college defends students’ right to remove photo of the Queen
The president of Magdalen College has strongly defended the move
A photo of the Queen has been removed from a common room by a group of graduate students in Magdalen College, Oxford University. According to reports, members of the college’s middle common room (MCR) - limited to postgrad students - voted to take down the portrait as: “for some students depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history”.
Unsurprisingly, the decision has been criticised by many, including the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who labelled the removal of the Queen's photo “absurd” on Twitter.
Oxford University students removing a picture of the Queen is simply absurd. She is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the UK. During her long reign she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity & respect around the world
— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) June 8, 2021
The president of Magdalen College, Dinah Rose, was quick to respond, putting together a substantial Twitter thread in which she explains not only why it is the students' decision but why the MCR is independent of the college.
She starts by saying: “Here are some facts about Magdalen College and HM the Queen. The Middle Common Room is an organisation of graduate students. They don’t represent the College. A few years ago, in about 2013, they bought a print of a photo of the Queen to decorate their common room".
Rose then goes on to explain how it came to be taken down and why, stating that they voted to take it down and that "Magdalen strongly supports free speech and political debate, and the MCR'S right to autonomy". She added the students may vote to put it back up again in the future, or not, but that it would be stored safely until then.
The president then proceeds to explain why the decision to remove the image must be protected and the importance of allowing students to debate ideas, as well as condemning those who have attacked the college for allowing the decision to happen.
So if you are one of the people currently sending obscene and threatening messages to the College staff, you might consider pausing, and asking yourself whether that is really the best way to show your respect for the Queen.
— Dinah Rose (@DinahRoseQC) June 9, 2021
Finally, she asks those individuals to consider "whether [Queen Elizabeth II] would be more likely to support the traditions of free debate and democratic decision-making that we are keeping alive at Magdalen", as opposed to applauding online abusers.
Williamson’s intervention comes as the government has put pressure on universities to defend access to campuses for controversial speakers. Last month, it proposed new freedom of speech legislation that would see student unions surveilled by the Office for Students, a higher education regulator, and appoint a supposed “free speech champion” to its board.
The proposed bill would allow academics, students or visiting speakers to seek compensation through the courts if they suffered loss from a university’s policies but the bill has been criticised by some who suggest it could have the opposite effect on free speech.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Matthew Katzman - the president of Magdalen College's MCR - said, simply: “It has been taken down. It was decided to leave the common room neutral. That was what this was about. The college will have plenty of depictions of various things, but the common room is meant to be a space for all to feel welcome.”