Students at Oxford's Magdalen College have sparked a row after voting to remove a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from their common room, on the basis that she is regarded as a representative of colonial rule.
A committee from its "middle common room" (MCR), made up of graduates, voted with a substantial majority to remove the colourised print of a photograph of the Queen from 1952, the year she was crowned as the monarch. The portrait will now be replaced with "art by or of other influential and inspirational people," while the decision to hang portraits of any other member of the royal family in the future will always be put to a vote. Other portraits of the royal family that are on display in many areas of the college will remain intact, but the Queen's common room portrait will be safely stored in the MCR's art collection.
MCR President Matthew Katzman told Mail Online that their move to take the painting down does not "equate to a statement on the Queen," but simply meant that "there were better places for this print to be hung." He also noted that the voting was influenced by their hope to create a "welcoming, neutral place for all members regardless of background, demographic, or views." Meanwhile, one student commented that "patriotism and colonialism are not really separable."
The committee's decision has been opposed by many on social media, including Education Secretary Gavin Williamson who dubbed it "absurd." He tweeted: "Oxford University students removing a picture of the Queen is simply absurd. She is the Head of State and a symbol of what is best about the UK. During her long reign she has worked tirelessly to promote British values of tolerance, inclusivity and respect around the world."
Meanwhile, the president of the college Barrister Dinah Rose distanced the institution from the decision, noting that the students in the committee were not representative of the college. However, she defended their right to make the decision, saying that the college "strongly supports free speech and political debate, and the MCR'S right to autonomy."
"A few years ago, in about 2013, they bought a print of a photo of the Queen to decorate their common room. They recently voted to take it down. Both of these decisions are their own to take, not the College's....Maybe they'll vote to put it up again, maybe they won't. Meanwhile, the photo will be safely stored," Rose clarified in a series of tweets.
In the end, Rose hit back at the widespread criticism of the move, writing, "Being a student is about more than studying. It's about exploring and debating ideas. It's sometimes about provoking the older generation. Looks like that isn't so hard to do these days."
Magdalen College, founded in 1458, is one of the wealthiest and ancient Oxford colleges, boasting of several notable alumni including authors CS Lewis and Oscar Wilde. The Queen had visited the college in 2008 on the occasion of its 550th anniversary.