THINKING ANGLICANS

Wycliffe Hall: Oxford report comments

Updated again Saturday

Bill Bowder has a report in today’s Church Times Oxford Halls report queries Wycliffe’s liberal principles.

…Wycliffe students are not getting “an Oxford experience in its essentials”, it says. Some young people come from Christian families who are looking for an Oxford education in a Christian context. But they are mixing mainly with older ordinands, and the educational environment is not suitable for there “full intellectual development”.

Although some of those at Wycliffe Hall told the panel that the Evangelical tradition was not exclusive, and that a range of opinions exists there, the report suggests that Wycliffe Hall needs to “make a determined effort to clarify these matters to the rest of the University if it is to achieve manifest harmony with the University’s principles of education”.

In its list of 34 recommendations, the review says that the University should have greater legal control over the Halls. The University’s “licence”, under which the Halls operate, should not be seen as givinhttp://thinkinganglicans.org.uk/mt/app?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=2561&blog_id=6
Wycliffe Hall: Oxford report comments | Entries | Thinking Anglicans | Movable Type Publishing Platformg them the right to move outside “the values to which the University holds, namely the values of liberal education conducted in a spirit of free and critical enquiry and debate”. If any Hall departs from such values, its licence should be “re-examined”.

The Halls should not be allowed to override the University’s policies on equal opportunities, harassment, and the protection of freedom of opinion and speech, the report says.

“The review panel believes that there should be a considerably greater say in the running of their institutions for the stipendiary academic staff, as in other parts of the collegiate University. In addition, it is not confident that all the Halls have the appropriate structures for the consideration of matters of academic discipline or the resolution of complaints.”

At present, many of those training for Christian ministry in the Halls do not receive Oxford qualifications, but the report recommends that Halls should award only Oxford qualifications, in order to avoid damaging the University’s reputation. It also suggests that some of the current students are not not equipped academically to take such qualifications. At Wycliffe, there has been a proposal that part of a Bachelor of Ministry (BM) degree would be taught at St Paul’s Theological Centre at Holy Trinity, Brompton.

The Principal of St Stephen’s House, Canon Dr Robin Ward, said on Tuesday that he was concerned how the ordination training and the requirements of Oxford University to give only Oxford qualifications would fit together, given that the average age of Anglican ordinands was 41, and therefore they were unlikely to do more than a two-year course. Even an Oxford certificate in theology could be too demanding for some, he said…

Update Friday afternoon
The University Press Office informs me that the full report will be published online in the Oxford University Gazette but no earlier than 20 September.

Update Saturday morning
The Guardian also has a report on this by Stephen Bates Oxford gives warning to theological college.

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John Richardson
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What a turnaround! Once the Universities were bastions of Christianity, now they accept the ethos of a Christian education only grudgingly. As to the ‘liberal ethos’, that phrase is enough to give me cold chills. Meanwhile, Dr Ward’s remarks show that the Anglican colleges, at least, exist for a different purpose than the conferring of a standard (or even standardised) Oxford qualification.

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Which lead to the founding of The Royal Society in London.

In 1660.

Peter O
Guest

I think it’s worth pointing out that the report critiques Wycliffe for not providing an adequate academic environment for undergraduates to engage with other undergraduates – the “Oxford Experience” of tutorials and the like. This is due to the fact that Wycliffe caters mainly for ordinands. As far as can see there is no overt criticism that Wycliffe does not teach academic theology properly and indeed, from my own experience of Wycliffe, the same syllabus of critical engagement with the text is taught as elsewhere in Oxford.

cryptogram
Guest
cryptogram

What goes around comes around. 40/50 years ago the Anglican theological colleges were not PPHs. Those coming to them with theology degrees from elsewhere tended to do a BLitt or DPhil if they had a good degree, or the Honour School of Theology if they hadn’t, and were matriculated through St Catherine’s or sometimes one of the other colleges. Those with a degree in another subject did the Theology school in six terms rather than seven, being exempt from the two terms of prelims. Others simply did GOE as it was then called. The policy of turning theological colleges into… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

It can’t be right that higher academic standards should be expected of those prospective Christian leaders who by chance happen to train in the great university cities than of those who don’t.

Siggi Pålsson
Guest
Siggi Pålsson

Christopher: surely ‘chance’ is far from the leading reason why prospective Christian leaders choose an Oxford college over another route.

On another topic, can anyone enlighten me regarding the status of Ripon College Cuddesdon is it not a PPH?

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Christopher, I think the point is that it is not good for a theological school to simply push one particular brand of theology, and perhaps imply that any other way is wrong, maybe even evil. Surely an academic environment is about exposing people to all the various lines of academic inquiry in one’s particular field. It is the province of fundamentalist “Bible colleges” to indoctrine people into one particular party line to the exclusion of all others. If that’s what Wycliffe wants to be, then fine, but then they cease to be at least academic in that sense, and possibly… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

What this shows is the increasing sectarianism of the Churches and that they have moved away from some of the fundamentals of academic life. This is the freedom to think and write, including out of the box, and that theology has to share this with other disciplines. Otherwise theology no longer has anything to do with the university. I was listening to the BBC 4 programme yesterday (twice, actually) about scientific advances, and the place of individuals and the imagination, and them seeing into the wealth of maths, and the experiments that confirmed the maths so far, and also very… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

This is inevitable if fringe fundamentalists are able to infiltrate theological education.

mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)
Guest
mynsterpreost (=David Rowett)

Re: “Even an Oxford certificate in theology could be too demanding for some, he said…” I remember a vocations day we did in this diocese years ago. As we examined the criteria, everyone nodded along with them – except for ‘quality of mind’. The general feeling was that being nice but dim shouldn’t disqualify one for ministry. And I worry about this. Oh, I know I’m a dinosaur who believes in compulsory Coptic for NSM’s, but my memory of the Oxford Cert is that it was pretty undemanding. I worry that, while every other discipline expects high standards, we’re lowering… Read more »

Alan Harrison
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Alan Harrison

I was a bit disturbed by one phrase in the report. The author wrote:
“Some young people come from Christian families who are looking for an Oxford education in a Christian context. ***But they are mixing mainly with older ordinands***”

This does seem to indicate a less than enthusiastic attitude towards mature students. Having gained two of my degrees at the ages of 44 amd 51, I’m a bit miffed by this. Is Oxford only for the traditional 18-year-old student?

JCF
Guest
JCF

Whereas I’m more than a bit disturbed, Alan, that in the context of the above story, “education in a Christian context” seems to be equated with the (capital ‘E’) “Evangelical tradition”. As if!

Chris
Guest
Chris

John Richardson, I suspect the “liberal ethos” refers to the “classical liberalism ethos” and not the “post-modern thought police liberal ethos.”

I know this article focused on Wycliffe, but was I the only one who got the impression a number of the private halls have issues?

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Ford It is obviously the case that people should be taught to look at all the options and weigh them, without having their minds made up for them. But when I was living and being tutored at Wycliffe, I was committed to that approach much as I still am, and was *still* told that I dismissed liberal positions too glibly. The approach we both advocate – why single out Wycliffe as opposed to St Stephen’s or Cuddesdon or anyone else as falling short of it? The real enemy is ‘ethos’. Where did ‘ethos’ come from, and what are its… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

It can be tribalism and I have heard it in Anglican quarters over the years, but it may just be that Anglican styles are so wide now that to appreciate one is to come to reject another. I can enter many a range of churches across denominations, and there are some I cannot really, and the same has to be said for Anglican churches, even though they are all in one denomination. Of course what is happening now is a kind of shake out where, perhaps one day in the future, they may not all be in the same denomination.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

The report into Permanent Private Halls is in no way impartial and objective, but is the product of four very specific people with very specific partialities: (1) Colin Lucas (chair): has spent his working life in Oxford’s second most Marxist college. In fairness to him, the students are a lot more Marxist than a lot of the dons! (2) Sue Gillingham: (3) Judith Maltby writes for the Guardian, and has through that organ made her views on the ‘persecution’ of revisionist ‘Christians’ (re the homosexuality issue) well known. I am not stopping her doing so, but this is beginning to… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

The point being: could Stephen Bates make clear in his future writings that the report issued from 4 very specific individuals rather than being the voice of (as he grandly puts it!) ‘Oxford’.

Pluralist
Guest

A case above of going for the person (people) and not for the ball? The issue, the ball, is the divergence between the expectations of university standards and the use of the University to provide some sort of training away from that ethos. If Wycliffe Hall wants to pursue a different ethos then perhaps it ought to do it from a different institutional arrangement.

stephen bates
Guest
stephen bates

Unfortunately for Mr Shell, the report is an official one, commissioned by the university and already accepted by its executive council (what used to be called hebdomadal council in my day as an undergraduate and then reporting on the university as a specialist correspondent – I think I probably know at least as much about Oxford University and its working as Mr Shell does). It will, further, be published, as the university has made clear above, in the official Oxford University Gazette next month. So this is not some random gathering of malign individual academics who have got together to… Read more »

cryptogram
Guest
cryptogram

I think Mr Shell’s personal attack on Dr Gillingham’s private life with its implication that her motive was anti-evangelicalism is simplistic, inappropriate, and shamefully lacking in any kind of charity or politeness. I am surprised that the moderators allowed its posting.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Has Christopher Shell actually read the report then?

NP
Guest
NP

I am glad to see Dr Turnbull is still in charge at Wycliffe…I am sure he will meet the requirements of the University after his main priority of turning out well-trained and prepared vicars for the huge demand from CofE evo churches.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Stephen B- The logical error in your comment is that you imply that the report’s official status somehow diminishes the fact that it emanates from very particular individuals. this is obviously false. It is both/and: It is both an official report and very different from what would be produced by a different set of individuals with different worldviews, backgrounds and understandings. There is also a second error. I am not in the slightest implying that the 4 got together under their own initiative (how could *that* be the means of producing official reports?) – nor, of course, am I… Read more »

Paul Frost
Guest
Paul Frost

Has Stephen Bates actually read the report then?

A bit of further digging around would have revealed that Wycliffe topped other PPHs in the Norrington table as well as eight other colleges such as Corpus Christi and Exeter. Was Stephen really unaware of this when he wrote his article or did it just weaken his tenuous ‘Wycliffe must improve its academic standards” argument?

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

Stephen simply reported the outcome of another report, Paul.

If Wycliffe wishes to act as some sort of fundamentalist cabal, they really shouldn’t try and claim any academic credibility – after all, conservative theology by its very nature has no academic credibility, since it refuses to take a critical approach to the authority of the Bible. Such theology should be taught in American degree mills, not respected universities.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Merseymike- If Wycliffe were as you say it is, they wouldn’t be doing so well in the Norrington table in the first place. Therefore it must be your perception of Wycliffe that is wrong. In Dick France’s final year as principal in the mid-90s, all 5 (from memory) Wycliffe students entered for Theology BA got firsts, ie were in Oxford’s top 10-15% academically. Prof McGrath has maintained the high international reputation since. For all I know the report may be utterly accurate. That is not the point. The point is that there is no warrant for regarding official reports… Read more »

Viv Faull
Guest
Viv Faull

Like cryptogram I am very concerned about the comments made by Christopher Shell about members of the working party for this still unpublished report. Discussion of possible bias is one thing, personal insinuations and smears (when authors are under embargo and unable to answer) are very different. Thinking Anglicans seems a devalued resource for having descended to this.

NP
Guest
NP

Don’t see why knickers are being got in a twist….it is hardly news to anyone that authors have their views and are by definition biased…..Dr Shell is not being rude or controversial

Pluralist
Guest

>one that has in the past sometimes had more to do with differences in social class<

So now it is class entering into it!

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Christopher, I’m sure you have worked in large organizations where committees, often of less than four people, are constituted to look into an issue and report back to the governing body of that organization, also, usually, formally constituted of representatives of the organization, not the entire membership. Organizations, as a matter of course, give their “view” on something based in this model. It’s even the way Western democracy works! We’re not consulted on every single statement our governments make. To suggest that, in order for Oxford to give it’s view on what is happening at Wycliffe, the entire membership of… Read more »

Paul Frost
Guest
Paul Frost

With the greatest respect Merseymike, Stephen was not simply reporting the outcome of another report. It was another piece of spin and rehash of old material.

Of course it is only liberals who can claim any academic credibility… I keep forgetting that.

Hannah
Guest
Hannah

Re: Ripon College Cuddesdon – no it is not a PPH, but has a historic agreement whereby its students can matriculate as members of the University. Those studying for Masters courses apply to the University not to the college (as do all graduate students in Oxford). Re: the committee set up to report on PPHs – to take only the comments about Wycliffe, and thereby to judge the report on the basis of perceived agendas of the committee’s members is highly unhelpful. Can anyone indicate what was said about all the other PPHs? If they too came in for the… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

hi Ford- Yes, precisely. And that is why any claim to be an ‘official’ report in all these instances – if this implies that this is a faithful representation of the mind of a much larger body – should be taken with a pinch of salt. One could, for example, read David Alton’s illuminating account of how Baroness Warnock and so on constituted a self-perpetuating and utterly unrepresentative succession of working parties. Or Patricia Morgan’s work on how OTT types of ‘child-centredness’ and children’s rights in various areas of modern British life stems largely from a small coterie, even from… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

Amazing the excuses people come up with to excuse a college which clearly isn’t up to the mark.

Matthew Firth
Guest
Matthew Firth

There seems to be much discussion on this site about comments made by Stephen Bates. One only needs to look at a list of his published works to find that he is strongly against evangelicalism, so it is no surprise at all that he has gleefully jumped on the Wycliffe Hall story to do a bit more evangelical bashing. I like Paul Frost`s quip above about liberals assuming that they are the only ones with any academic credentials. That is certainly in much doubt given that Wycliffe has just topped the PPH Norrington table!: I wonder what Giles Fraser is… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

I wonder how many cheer-leaders for Wycliffe on this thread are its conservative evangelical students…?

Hugh of Lincoln
Guest
Hugh of Lincoln

Have you not read Bates’ A Church at War? A stunning forensic analysis of our perennial strife, which should be on the first term reading list of Wycliffe freshers. Evangelicals come out worse than others because of attitudes to gays. That’s not evangelical bashing – after all he’s married to one! – but a statement of reality. I’ve yet to read a convincing rebuttal of his account of events and quotes, and the conculsions that can be made.

Daniel Inman
Guest
Daniel Inman

The use of the Norrington Table to defend the College by Matthew and Dr Turnbull (the latter in his recent press release) is questionable. Although Wycliffe is indeed ranked at the top of the PPH section of the Norrington Table, this only reflects the work of 14 students out of a college of well over a hundred. Furthermore, of these fourteen students, many would have taken the B.A. as a second degree (unlike the majority of students taking the B.A. at St Benet’s, Regent’s Park, Greyfriars etc.) and would have received a significant part of their teaching from either staff… Read more »

Paul Frost
Guest
Paul Frost

Daniel, you write “In light of the treatment of…the restrictions placed upon students and staff to speak openly about the current situation, and the appointment of a man to be Vice-Principal who does not believe in a woman’s right to teach or lead, it would seem that Wycliffe still has plenty to explain to the University authorities… “ I’m not sure about restrictions to staff speaking openly – although the existence of some kind of confidentiality policy whereby employees cannot disclose inside information is certainly not unusual in any institution. However, students have never had restrictions placed upon them –… Read more »

Daniel Inman
Guest
Daniel Inman

Paul, whilst I accept your point about the VP (I’d never thought of it like that…at least Wycliffe gives women the opportunity to study in the first place!), I distinctly remember reading on Wycliffe’s noticeboard when Dr Wenham resigned a notice which said that students should not speak to the press… though I would happily accept correction. My hyperbole aside, I still think my point about the Norrington Table stands…the Principal needs to do more if he is to win back the confidence of the University which has for many years held Wycliffe in very high esteem (Wellington Square will… Read more »

Robert Klein
Guest
Robert Klein

>I wonder how many cheer-leaders for Wycliffe on this thread are its conservative evangelical students…?<

I wonder how many Wycliffe-bashers on this thread are liberal catholics (who may or may not have been booted off Ship of Fools for being rabidly anti-evangelical)?

By definition, Wycliffe’s students, including it’s non CE ones, are going to have input into this discussion as they will know the situation 100 times better than armchair-based report readers. I have spoken to non-CE Wycliffe students and they are far from upset with the changes that are happening there.

Paul Frost
Guest
Paul Frost

Daniel, now you mention it I vaguely remember some kind of notice at Wycliffe. IIRC it was a request from the principal to direct press enquiries to himself to avoid further fabrications / exaggerations in the midst of what was then a mini media frenzy. I saw it as a sensible request and not a restriction on open speech and I cannot even remember any eyebrows being raised by the request by my fellow students – many of whom, shall we say, are slightly more opinionated than your average lap dog. I agree that the Norrington table isn’t knock-down proof… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“booted off Ship of Fools for being rabidly anti-evangelical”

As someone who frequents SoF, I’d like to say that I have witnessed a lot of Evangelicals crying “anti-evangelicalism” when all that has happened is that people have been defending themselves from the smug, self-righteous attacks of Evangelicals, rather like what one sees here. Those who get banned, and there have been people on both sides who have been banned, cross the line, and deserve their banishment. Why is it that anyone who defends themselves from rude, insulting behaviour on the part of Evangelicals is always accused of being “anti-evangelical”?

Matthew Firth
Guest
Matthew Firth

I am not a `conservative evangelical`, but as a current student at Wycliffe I am supportive of the changes that are being made. The college is really improving its ministerial training and is putting in place proper management which was effectively non-existent until Dr Turnbull took up his post. As for accusations that the college is academically narrow, that is utter nonsense. I am on the internally taught BTh course (an Oxford University Degree course) and for each of my essays my tutors have always stressed the importance of fully engaging with all strands of scholarship. Even though the Norrington… Read more »

Matthew Firth
Guest
Matthew Firth

Robert Klein assesses the situation well.

bertie g.
Guest
bertie g.

Matthew Frith simply shows he has been taken in by the propaganda of the Principal. The college has NOT improved its ministerial training but it has taken a rapid downward turn with the resignation of Geoff Maughan, who had improved it under Alister McGrath. And as far as management is concerned – I have yet to talk to anyone who feels the management style of the present principal is anything other than high-handed and dictatorial. I have been shown examples of the threats issued.

Chirstopher Shell
Guest
Chirstopher Shell

For my previous comment on this thread, read: ‘Stephen Bates would be well within his rights to complain if…’.

Is one factor the current trend to seek managers rather than professors when appointing college heads? This in turn is the result of the government’s exerting financial pressure on Oxford, Cambridge, Durham because of their collegiate structure.

Matthew Firth
Guest
Matthew Firth

bertie.g – the ministerial training has improved at Wycliffe, and so has the management of the college. I have been there one year now, and even in that space of time I have noticed good improvements.

Ken Hyde
Guest
Ken Hyde

Where is the love of Christ in all this?