Regular readers of Steerpike may recall last month the 150 Oxford academics who made headlines by boycotting Oriel College and refusing to teach its students in protest at the decision to keep up a statue of Cecil Rhodes. At the time Mr S published a full register of the names of academics backing the stunt, with top of the list being none other than Kate Tunstall, head of the self-styled 'People's Republic of Worcester College' alongside five other members of the same college.
Tunstall, a French literature expert, is the interim provost of Worcester and a professional feather-ruffler since stepping into the post in September 2019, having tried (unsuccessfully) to end the traditions at meals of standing for dons and saying an Anglican grace in Latin. She has also sought to replace the historic ceremony readings from 'a range of set texts of thanksgiving from any world culture, religious or not' while in May, at the height of the Israel-Gaza conflict, she sent out a mass email to congratulating students who attended a pro-Palestine protest. Her social media profile meanwhile (naturally) shows support for the Labour Party, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and opposition to the anti-terrorism Prevent strategy.
However while Tunstall is obviously keen on affecting social change now, the college over which she presides appears to be less keen. Back in 2018 Worcester received a sizeable £12 million donation from the Sultan of Perak for the construction of the (modestly named) Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre. In Perak of course homosexuality is illegal, prompting accusations of hypocrisy from some previously educated at the college. Now a Freedom of Information request by Harry Phibbs has asked the $64,000 question: 'What plans, if any, the College has to return these donations?' The answer from Worcester's own staff is as pithy as it is revealing: 'We have no information to disclose in relation to this question.' As Dr Tunstall might say: 'Quelle Surprise.'
This apparent gap between noble principle and dastardly realpolitik has not gone unnoticed, with Tom Hunt MP, a member of the Commons Education Select Committee telling Mr S: 'If these dons want to make meaningful change, surely renouncing a donation today would be effective than tearing down a statue of the past?' Scorning the (safely dead) benefactors of the past while ignoring those of the present? A rich irony indeed.
Not for nothing has Worcester College been forced to distance itself from its own provost. A little-noticed statement on its website reads: 'Actions taken and views expressed by Professor Kate Tunstall in a petition concerning a teaching boycott of Oriel College were made in a personal capacity. Worcester College was not consulted in advance and remains focused on its primary purpose of educating students and protecting their welfare.'
Will Tunstall fall before Rhodes?