Open Letter: No to the “Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities”

We write to express our opposition to the University of Oxford’s decision to accept £150 million from Stephen A. Schwarzman — co-founder and Chairman of Blackstone — in order to build the “Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities”.

The “Schwarzman Centre” will be built with the proceeds of the exploitation and disenfranchisement of vulnerable people across the world. In a 2018 report, UN special rapporteur Leilani Farha identified Blackstone as the main contributor to the global housing crisis. Last month, it emerged that two companies owned by Blackstone are “significantly responsible” for the deforestation of the Amazon. Deforestation has not only caused untold ecological damage but has also resulted in the displacement of indigenous peoples and the trampling of their collective rights. Closer to home, Independent Clinical Services, an NHS care provider owned by Blackstone, was found to have avoided paying around £3 million in tax in 2012 alone.

It is through association with universities like MIT, Yale, and now Oxford, that Schwarzman seeks to legitimise these practices. It is a grim irony that at a moment when parts of the University are confronting the legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery, senior management are pursuing money amassed through some of the most socially and ecologically destructive practices of the twenty-first century. Why is a public institution that claims to value the pursuit of truth, and a Humanities Division that claims to value the critical examination of representation and symbolism, willing to disregard Blackstone’s and Schwarzman’s record?

Recent controversies surrounding donations by the Sackler Family and Jeffrey Epstein have shown how institutions that have ignored the concerns of their members have gone on, deservedly, to suffer significant damage to their reputations. We believe that Oxford is leaving itself open to such future damage. At the July 18th open meeting regarding the new centre, University representatives were keen to stress that Schwarzman had passed its “rigorous” due-diligence tests regarding the ethics of his donation. We request the University release the full details of these tests and of how the decision was made to accept Schwarzman’s money.

In 2010, Oxford accepted £75 million from Russian oligarch Leonid Blavatnik, to build the Blavatnik School of Government. On the Centre’s opening in 2015, an open letter called for “new and independent due-diligence investigation with clearly defined ethical norms”. In light of Schwarzman’s donation, we also renew these calls for new transparent and democratic procedures governing the University’s decisions regarding donations. These procedures should involve students, staff, alumni, and representatives from the local community.

Finally, we note that for those of us who work and study at the University of Oxford, its most pressing issues are clear. Chief among them are 1. the increasing exploitation of casualised academics and staff (a recent UCU survey found that over 75% of academic staff at Oxford are employed on insecure contracts) and 2. the continuing inadequacy of measures to address the underrepresentation of working class and BAME students. Our opposition concerns not just where this money has come from, but what effect it will have and whose priorities it will reflect. There is good reason to think that in its willingness to spend this donation on a new building, the University is already cleaving to Schwarzman’s preferences. The University of Oxford needs investment in people not buildings.

To add your name to this letter, email oxfordhumanitiescentreletter@gmail.com or complete this form.

Signed,

Dr Tom White, Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of English, University of Oxford

Dr Sophie Smith, Associate Professor of Political Theory, University of Oxford

Dr Johannes Wolf, Lecturer in English, St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford

Dr Alexandra Reza, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford

Dr Claire Hall, Examination Fellow, All Souls College, University of Oxford

Dr Hussein Omar, Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of History, University of Oxford

Prof Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography, University of Oxford

Dr Sneha Krishnan, Associate Professor in Human Geography, University of Oxford

Dr Tae-Yeoun Keum, Tower Junior Research Fellow, Christ Church College, University of Oxford

Dr Suzan M.R. Kalayci, Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of History, University of Oxford

Dr Carol Atack, Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford

Dr Roxana Willis, Postdoctoral Fellow, Law, University of Oxford

Prof James McDougall, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, University of Oxford

Dr Dan Weatherill, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Department of Physics, University of Oxford

Dr Matt Mandelkern, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

Dr Chimene Bateman, Lecturer in French, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford

Prof Christina de Bellaigue, Associate Professor in History, University of Oxford

Dr Matthew Kilburn, Associate member, Faculty of History, University of Oxford

Prof Derek McCormack, Professor of Cultural Geography, University of Oxford

Prof Deborah Gill, Professor of Gene Medicine, Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford

Dr Faridah Zaman, Associate Professor of History, University of Oxford

Dr. Karen Margrethe Nielsen, Associate Professor, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford

Dr Amber Murray, Associate Professor of Human Geography, University of Oxford

Dr Peaks Krafft, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Dr Liam Shaw, Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Medicine, University of Oxford

Alejandra Costra, Lector, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford

Miriam Schwarz, Staff, University of Oxford

Anna Ploin, Graduate Student, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Mohammad Amir Anwar, Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Aizuddin Mohamed Anuar, DPhil Student in Education, University of Oxford

John Fitzgerald, DPhil Student in Mathematics, University of Oxford

Dr James O’Donovan, DPhil Student, Clarendon Scholar and ESRC Scholar, University of Oxford

Jannis Hussain, Graduate Student in International Relations, University of Oxford

Moritz Reithmayr, DPhil Student in Politics, University of Oxford

Samuel Achberger, Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Mia Liyanage, Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Dane Rogers, Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Josh Lappen, Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Emily Dyson, Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Thomas Fay, DPhil Student, University of Oxford

Jan Eijking, DPhil Student, University of Oxford

Nahema Marchal, DPhil Student, University of Oxford

Anna Olerinyova, Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Veronika Schuchter, Staff, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford

Jane May-Martin, Sociology Department, Goldsmiths, University of London

Dr Boyda Johnstone, Borough of Manhattan Community College

Megan Whitlock, Student, University of Oxford

Martin Babička, Student, University of Oxford

Achas Burin, Student, University of Oxford

Mary Oboh, Student, University of Oxford

Rhea Arora, Student, University of Oxford

Rebecca Jackson, Student, University of Oxford

Julianne Kier, Student, University of Oxford

Olivia Ganderton, Student, University of Oxford

Rashma R, Student, University of Oxford

Olya Makarova, Student, University of Oxford

Kiera Johnson, Student, University of Oxford

Sophie Lewis, Student, University of Oxford

Jacob N. Fremantle, Student, University of Oxford

Krisztina Jedlovszky, Student, University of Oxford

Bertie Harrison-Broninski, Student, University of Oxford

Rebecca Inglis, Student, University of Oxford

Jack Hartley, Student, University of Oxford

Filip Ivanovic, Student, University of Oxford

Frances Whorrall-Campbell, Student, University of Oxford

Tom Duncan, Student, University of Oxford

Heather Woods, Student, University of Oxford

Naomi Miall, Student, University of Oxford

Milan Mušo, Student, University of Oxford

Stephanos Iossifidis, Student, University of Oxford

Lara Adamczyk, Student, University of Oxford

Lydia Ludlow, Student, University of Oxford

Neetu Singh, Student, University of Oxford

Ben Jacob, Student, University of Oxford

Amelia Cant, Student, University of Oxford

Lily Westcott, Student, University of Oxford

Nemone Richards, Student, University of Oxford

Freya Hanley, Student, University of Oxford

Charlotte Hall, Student, University of Oxford

Emily Wilkins, Student, University of Oxford

Queen’s College JCR, University of Oxford

Mansfield College JCR, University of Oxford

Amy Dunning, Lincoln College JCR President, University of Oxford

Conrad Kunadu, Trinity College JCR President, University of Oxford

Peter Corti, Pembroke College JCR President, University of Oxford

Marcel Llavero Pasquina, Graduate Student, University of Cambridge

Ahsan Memon, Graduate Student, University of Cambridge

Mike Rowley, Labour City Councillor for Barton, Sandhills and North-East Headington

Richard Howlett, Oxford City Councillor for Carfax Ward

Dick Wolff, Oxford City Councillor for St Mary’s Ward

Sam Casey-Rerhaye, Councillor for Sandford and the Wittenhams & Oxford alumnus

Craig Simmons, Oxford City Councillor for St. Mary’s Ward (Green)

Alex Towler, Oxford resident

Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign

Oxford Anti-Racist City

Oxford Climate Justice Campaign

Common Ground Oxford

Oxford Migrant Solidarity

Oxford University Labour Club

Free Education Oxford

Extinction Rebellion Oxford

Cambridge Zero Carbon Society

Cambridge Defend Education

Sue Shaw, Oxford resident

Laura Collins, Oxford resident

Jessica Hyslop, Oxford resident

Flo J, Oxford alumnus

Margaret Miller, Oxford alumnus

Emma Becirovic, Oxford alumnus

Dr Lucy Whelan, Oxford alumnus

Brita Bergland, Oxford alumnus

Prof Diane Watt, Oxford alumnus

Tasha Alden, Oxford alumnus

Alexander Coupe, Oxford alumnus

Hugh Miall, Oxford alumnus

Anna Stelle, Oxford alumnus

Owen McKnight, Oxford alumnus & resident

Niamh Walshe, Oxford alumnus

James Waddell, Oxford alumnus

Clare Ferguson, Oxford alumnus

Sofija Stefanovic, Oxford alumnus

Debapratim Jana, Oxford alumnus

Sally Outen, Oxford alumnus

Sebastian Atay, Oxford alumnus

Claire Ewing-Nelson, Oxford alumnus

Florence Walker, Oxford alumnus

To add your name to this letter, email oxfordhumanitiescentreletter@gmail.com or complete this form.

Oxford Humanities Centre Open Letter

Written by

An open letter in opposition to the proposed “Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities”.

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