Oxford students take down portrait of Elizabeth II, a symbol, they say, of Britain’s “colonial past”

Students from Magdalen College have decided to take the portrait of the Queen of England from their common room. Their president supports them, the Minister of Education is furious, and the controversy shakes the whole of the United Kingdom.

«How dare they ! (How dare they, Editor’s note) »title Wednesday June 9 the front page of Daily Express, specifying: “Oxford students cancel our Queen“. The conservative tabloid refers to a decision taken by a student association at Magdalen College, one of Oxford University’s most prestigious institutions, responsible for managing the common room for postgraduates. They voted in the general assembly to withdraw a portrait of the Queen of England, which they had acquired in 2013 to decorate one of the walls, on the grounds that “the British monarch and monarchy represent recent colonial history” from the country, as relates The Guardian .

This change of decoration which seems to be driven by something other than simple aesthetic considerations, therefore, ended up causing a stir. Tuesday night is the Secretary of State for Education himself, Gavin Willliamson, who got angry in a tweet against a decision “Simply absurd” , describing the reign of Elizabeth II as “a symbol of the best of the UK».

The historical reading carried out by the students, moreover very summary, did not fail to be pinned down either. “The queen presided over British decolonization!», Alan Sked chokes, a professor emeritus of international history at the London School of Economics, who himself served as chairman of the common room of an Oxford college during his studies.

SEE ALSO – Colonization: should we rewrite our history?

Supported by the director of the college

But the Oxford iconoclasts are far from having unanimous support against them. Almost at the same time, the president of Magdalen College, Dinah Rose, defended on the contrary the “right to autonomy“Of the common room of the campus, of which she specifies in passing that the decisions do not however engage the direction of the college, and even insinuates that, far from being moved by it, the queen”would probably uphold the traditions of free debate and democracy” of the establishment. As for those who are worried about what will become of the portrait, she reassures them: “Maybe the students will vote to hang it up, maybe not. During this time, the portrait will be kept in a safe place.It is the continuation of his message which set fire to the powders. She adds : “Being a student is not just studying. It is exploring ideas, debating them. It is sometimes provoking the older generations. Notice that at the moment it is not very difficult.Some will appreciate it.

The trouble is that in order to explore or debate ideas, there also have to be opponents. This seems less and less the case at the university, judges the British government, which has embarked on a campaign for freedom of expression on campuses. Last month, the minister thus tabled a bill aiming to force British higher education institutions more than before to respect pluralism and to guarantee real freedom of expression for all. This law provides in particular to appoint a “director of freedom of expressionWithin the higher education administration, as well as to demand guarantees from student unions to ensure that they do not silence anyone or face sanctions.

A law “excessive“Given the tolerance that reigns in British universities, judge his opponents. Tolerance from which the queen, obviously, therefore seems excluded for the moment.

SEE ALSO – Can we stop cancel culture at university?


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