Graduate students at Oxford University’s Magdalen College have voted to remove Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait from their gathering place at the university, claiming it symbolizes colonialism and should be replaced by art or portraits of some other influential people.
The decision to remove Queen’s portrait from College’s Middle Common Room (MCR) was criticized by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who called it “simply absurd” and described the Queen as a “symbol of what is best about the United Kingdom,” Erudera.com reports.
Following Williamson’s statements, Magdalen College President Dinah Rose said that students are the ones to decide what should be displayed in the common room and not the college, highlighting that the Middle Common Room is an organization of graduate students who do not represent the college. She added that the student group bought the photograph in 2013.
“Magdalen strongly supports free speech and political debate, and the MCR’S right to autonomy. Maybe they’ll vote to put it up again, maybe they won’t. Meanwhile, the photo will be safely stored,” Rose said.
Due to this decision, harsh criticism and threats have been made to the group of students, accusing them that they are trying to cancel the Queen.
“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,” Rose said defending her students.
Members of the College’s Middle Common Room (MCR) claimed that the portrait is a symbol of “recent colonial history.” According to the minutes of the MCR committee meeting, the move aims to make the common room more welcoming, noting “for some students, depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history.”
Williamson’s comments came following the government’s pressure on universities to protect free speech on campus. Last month, the government proposed new freedom of speech bill, which would allow students, academics, or visiting speakers to seek compensation if they suffer a loss due to a university’s policies.
The independent regulator of higher education in England, the Office for Students (OfS), would be imposing fines on universities violating the rules. According to universities, the new legislation was important to not create “unnecessary bureaucracy.”
Dozens of colleges which operate semi-autonomously are part of the Oxford University, while Magdalen College is part of the older group, which has been established in 1458.