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Artillery Row

Miserable managerialism at Magdalen

Gimmicky stakeholder management is failing the spirit of the university

Is that another University scrapping English Tradition? Oxford University’s most deep-pocketed College, Magdalen, has come under fire from the usual reminiscent alums in the press. Magd man at the Turn of the Century, Douglas Murray, lamented in that Proustian gale of his,”there doesn’t seem to be a cross of St George in sight” when the College scheduled a banquet to mark the end of Ramadan while excluding a celebration worthy for Georgie.

Magdalen has developed an adverse PR lure, attracting media entanglements in what now appears to be an annual ritual. The previous year sported an Eid formal dinner on the Saints’ Day. Eerily similar backlash inside the College, led to a nom de guerre, “academic”, briefing the Papers on “the deep antipathy that the leaders of so many of Britain’s academic institutions seem to feel towards the country that built and maintains them.” This last Samurai stands strong in rallying the not-so-silent majority of culture warriors — but they seemed to have failed considering this year’s recurrence.

Even going back to the Covid years, the postgraduate students voted to remove a portrait of the late Queen. The College’s failure to whip the American revolutionaries who caused the incident into shape led to a similar press storm.

Noticeably, the Times has not been part of the customary blood-letting of the front pages, considering their own lashing by the College President, who sued over a hit-piece. Dinah Rose, KC, had her professional obligation to represent the Cayman Islands government in opposing same-sex marriage questioned (wrongly, it seems).

The Collegiate system, a feature at many of the UK’s world-thrashing universities, haphazardly caves into pressure group fads and trends

The Collegiate system, a feature at many of the UK’s world-thrashing universities, haphazardly caves into pressure group fads and trends. Any systematic approach to religious marking has been declared anathema. What the mob demands, the mob gets. The foundations built by leading bishops and the devout laity of the mediaeval age, meant for the edification of the sacred as well as the development of the intellect, are left to crumble in favour of navigating towards whatever the latest movement demands. This may work in the moment, but over time, the directors forget what constituted the institution’s eschatology before the attempt to appease the crowds transpires.

Eid and St George’s Day deserve to be marked. Intellectual pursuit demands theological respect. The more pots of spirituality, the better. To replace, or overshadow one sect — in this case, the patron Saint of the country you inhabit — is pure Orwellian The Lion and the Unicorn dictum. Do not look down upon the nation or its people you seek to inherit and lead. 

The dons’ excuse that they do not “offer Special Events outside of Term time” seems flimsy. During the vacation, for example, the College Chapel had hosted a St Patrick’s Day dinner service. Corporations often use abstruse justifications when they realise they have not kept up with their consumers’ hip trends. The centre of World education, on the other hand, must transcend the market and its disciples. Even if they were to follow the increasing consumerist trend of tertiary education, the fact that a second notice for the celebrations was issued was a clear sign from the beginning of the lack of actual interest. Regardless, even if no interest was had for the St George’s Day event, the transcendent is unconcerned with numbers

The Eid event went ahead with bureaucratic sanguinity. The atmosphere was accordingly straight, with limited attendees and the food middling at best. More staff than students seemed to be in attendance, a rarity for “special events”. By 9:30 pm, the scholasticus had retrogressed to their library dwellings, ending a night of supposed bang with unadulterated fizz. The reasoning between the Christian Dragon slayer’s absent memorial and the Islamic Sugar Feast was left mysterious.

The mismatched media defence of the College derives from non-existent systematic event organisation. Yes, unannounced “St George’s”-styled food was quietly served — indistinguishable from the usual slop — but a lack of tokenism is not the problem: unwitting negligence is instead the issue.

The annual “Restoration Dinner” of the College’s scholars is a reminder of the rise of the new mentalités. The celebration of the expulsion of a Catholic President and fellow fellows supportive of the See of Rome had once been a rejection of superstitious religion in favour of the rational Anglican tenants. As with most of the seeds planted by our transcendentally focussed predecessors, mere spectacle and carnival had been made of the matter. It is another event to celebrate for tradition’s sake rather than an uplift of theosis the banishment of hard-wrung faith towards plastic functionalism that has taken root in our institutions. Catholics do not complain about the nature of anti-popish tradition nor seek to remove or secularise the event. Instead, we all learn about how eminently distressed our ancestors thought our souls to be at stake from false teaching.

“Special Events” of faith are removed, secularised, and then eventually forgotten. I do not assume the malicious purpose Murray’s ilk suggests. Still, a nasty, complacent, uncultured amnesia has seeped into Oxford life, abandoning the sacred in favour of stakeholder management. The universities should take a page out of the King’s adaptation of his historical obligations. How about they become the Defender of All Faiths, not capitulators of our past?

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