After Rhodes Falls
In a postscript to his will, dated 8 September 1893, Cecil Rhodes quoted Horace: ‘non omnis moriar’ (‘I shall not wholly die’). The phrase comes from the ode that describes his poetry as a ‘monument more lasting than bronze’. Rhodes, too, was after something more than a physical monument in his quest for immortality. He sought to memorialise himself not in poetry, but by bolstering the edifice of the British empire. One legacy was the establishment of the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford to educate future generations of empire builders. One of the doorways in Rhodes House has ‘non omnis moriar’ inscribed above it.
Rhodes also laid the groundwork for apartheid and colonial domination more generally in southern Africa. The physical monuments created in his honour included several statues. One, at the University of Cape Town, was removed after pressure from the Rhodes Must Fall protest movement in 2015. Activists in Oxford called for the statue of Rhodes adorning the façade of Oriel College to fall, too. The Oriel governors have now acceded to the movement’s demands and ‘expressed their wish to remove the statue’.
Rhodes Must Fall Oxford has always been about more than a statue, however. Its demands today are broadly similar to those first made in 2015: ‘official, public and permanent acknowledgment’ of the university’s involvement in colonialism and slavery; the immediate renaming of the Codrington Library at All Souls College; the immediate renaming of the Rhodes Scholarship and of Rhodes House; a ‘reparatory scholarship scheme for Southern Africans of African descent’ at Oriel; the ‘establishment of a review committee for the decolonisation of the curriculum’; a ‘commitment to bringing Black British undergraduate student numbers in line with the British population’; a ‘commitment to doubling the number of Black faculty’; and ‘anti-racism and implicit bias training’ for students and staff.
At the faculty level, Black people are underrepresented in the professoriate but overrepresented in the precariat. The University and College Union’s (UCU) report on precarious work in higher education shows that BAME academics are more likely to be on fixed-term contracts than their white counterparts. Worse, Black academic staff are twice as likely as their white colleagues to be on zero-hours contracts, and more likely to be on hourly-paid contracts.
Casualisation is especially rampant at Oxford, where more than three-quarters of academic and academic-related staff are on fixed-term or other casualised contracts. Oxford’s annual equality report doesn’t offer statistics on the proportion of BAME staff on such contracts. To find out, you could perhaps write to the university’s singular, unnamed policy adviser for race equality. Statistics on gender would be easier to find: there are several named administrators working on gender equality. The visibility of the Rhodes statue, towering over the High Street, makes a glaring contrast with the invisibility of BAME staff.
As the #CoronaContract campaign documents, casualised staff at universities across the UK will be hit especially hard by the fallout from Covid-19. Many have experienced financial hardship already, through the loss of promised work hours or their institutions’ refusal to furlough them. Some have had their contracts terminated prematurely. And things will get worse, as universities across the country announce the non-renewal of casual contracts, hiring freezes and redundancies. To fight racism at universities, we need to concern ourselves not only with the future recruitment of Black academics (there are only seven or so Black professors at Oxford), which the mechanisms of casualisation obstruct, but also with the urgent difficulties facing insecure workers currently in the university’s employ.
Black people work at universities in a number of non-academic capacities: in administration; in libraries; in IT; in estates services, including as catering staff; as cleaners; and more. Many of these workers, in particular those on lower pay grades, are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, both its health risks and its economic effects. Our efforts need to include not only students and faculty, but other workers, too, without whose labour the university cannot function. When the statue of Rhodes is taken down, it seems likely that the strenuous and dangerous job of removing it will be undertaken by workers of colour.