Thinking Anglicans

Christ Church Oxford: update on the Dean

In an electronic letter to former students and others, from the Development Office of the College, dated 27 August, the following information is included:

We also wanted to take this opportunity to update you on the status of the Dean. The current situation is a source of great pain and frustration to us all.  It will be even harder to comprehend for those of you looking on from afar, especially through the lens of public speculation and, at times, disinformation.

The Dean voluntarily withdrew from his duties last November, following an allegation made against him. An independent investigation into the allegation was commissioned; this allegation is now being addressed under the relevant House procedures. We are sure that you will understand that due confidentiality is essential in such a matter.

In addition, the Dean has made a number of employment tribunal claims against Christ Church, which the House is defending. Sadly, these will now not be heard in court until 2023. It had been anticipated that, through mediation, a much earlier resolution could be reached but unfortunately the current phase of mediation was halted by the independent mediator earlier in the summer, after several months of negotiation.

Christ Church remains committed to a full review of its governance structures in due course, but this cannot take place until the Employment Tribunal has concluded. We understand there may be frustration at the amount of time these various processes are taking, but they must be allowed to run their proper course. In the meantime, Governing Body is continually reviewing and updating our policies and procedures to support the smooth running of Christ Church.

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Michael H.
Michael H.
23 days ago

2023! And that is not the end date. This is madness. Surely something has to give,

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Michael H.
23 days ago

“Justice delayed is justice denied.” Whatever actually did or did not happen, the delay means that those who want to manage ChCh without the Dean are in effect getting what they want.

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Reply to  Michael H.
23 days ago

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This nonsense needs to end. The Bishop of Oxford and University Vice Chancellor should be banging heads together to resolve this.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Sam Jones
23 days ago

Fine in theory, but the Bishop and the Vice Chancellor have no jurisdiction and this has been pointed out any number of times here on TA and elsewhere by people better qualified than I who are closer to the Oxford scene and familiar with the extraordinary legal complexities at Christ Church. The only body with unqualified power to intervene, so far as I am aware, is the Crown as Visitor of both Cathedral and College. The Charity Commission might further intervene if satisfied that the stage for this had now been reached. The Ch Ch Development Office letter is not… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Laurence Cunnington
Reply to  Michael H.
23 days ago

Indeed. If the Employment Tribunal hears the case(s) in the first instance in 2023, they could then go to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, then the Court of Appeal, and then to the Supreme Court. It may take many years beyond 2023.

Froghole
Froghole
23 days ago

This has been the outcome of a parallel case in Cambridge, announced today, where the head of house was also in orders: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/aug/31/cambridge-university-master-resigns-over-handling-of-harassment-case and https://www.trinhall.cam.ac.uk/news/statement-from-trinity-hall-august-2021/. Although we shall find out in due course, I suspect that the primary reason why the mediation appears to have broken down is that someone has to cover the costs, never mind a settlement: the dean cannot do so, and the students are presumably anxious about the possibility of joint and several liability. If insurance is not available, then the corollary is that the parties will either have to fund the cost themselves (in which… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Reply to  Froghole
23 days ago

I wonder what the Charities Comission is doing about this. Are they contemplating witholding Charitable Status for The House until this saga is ended?

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Froghole
23 days ago

Jeremy Morris, outgoing Master of Trinity Hall, has also issued the following personal statement. “A joint statement from me and Trinity Hall will shortly appear on the College’s website announcing my resignation as Master. This is an additional personal statement to add more context to the announcement. The last twenty months, since an article appeared on an online news platform outlining certain allegations concerning the College’s handling of a number of complaints, have been very difficult for all concerned. The article was misleading in a number of respects and contained significant inaccuracies, but it was not possible for the College… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
23 days ago

Note that there is no mention or acknowledgement in this statement that the external investigation mentioned in para 3 recommended that disciplinary action should be taken against the Master.

https://www.trinhall.cam.ac.uk/news/statement-from-trinity-hall-august-2021/

Whilst the Master gets his statement published by the College, the original complainants have no means of presenting their side of the story because the investigation report is held confidential.

Yet again there is a mismatch in power.

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Simon Dawson
23 days ago

The outgoing Master’s personal statement is not, I think, published by the College. (Unless you know otherwise.) The mismatch goes the other way too: the complainant remains anonymous unless they choose to waive their anonymity. The person subject to the complaint is known.

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
22 days ago

I have immense sympathy for Drs Percy and Morris, and indeed all teachers who treasure the relationships that they seek to foster with their charges – relationships that are indispensable to the best kind of learning environment. I began as a university teacher in 1976 (I have always regarded myself as a teacher, a provoker of learning, rather than an academic) and within months I made the decision never to see a female student in my office with the door closed. Not long after I resolved not to see ANY student in my office unless the door was open and… Read more »

Last edited 22 days ago by Stanley Monkhouse
Dr Michael Blyth
Dr Michael Blyth
23 days ago

Utter farce. Is the dean suspended on full pay till 2023/24? Just asking for everyone expected to pay their family purse until then.

Kate
Kate
23 days ago

“Christ Church remains committed to a full review of its governance structures in due course, but this cannot take place until the Employment Tribunal has concluded.
 
Commentors seem to have accepted the veracity of this logic. Can I ask why? I am struggling to see a reason.

brcw2
brcw2
Reply to  Kate
23 days ago

It seems to jar somewhat with the following statement that ”In the meantime, Governing Body is continually reviewing and updating our policies and procedures” – apparently policies and procedures are fine to review in the meantime, but not structures.

primroseleague
primroseleague
Reply to  Kate
23 days ago

the only one that immediately springs to mind is that if the review recommends changes, those may weaken the defence against the Dean’s claims, as they constitute an acknowledgment that there’s an issue.

Jill Armstead
Jill Armstead
23 days ago

I hope the ET throws this unmeritorious claim out.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Jill Armstead
22 days ago

In what way do you feel the Dean’s complaint against the College is ‘unmeritorious’? And surely that’s for the tribunal to decide?

Jill Armstead
Jill Armstead
Reply to  Janet Fife
22 days ago

Of course. All claims are only accepted if they merit a hearing.

Roger Button
22 days ago

I am somewhat mystified. I was not aware that he ‘withdrew’, I thought he was told to keep away because he was a safeguarding threat. However, there is no indication on the Christchurch website that he is not in post.

Alison Baker
Alison Baker
22 days ago

Meanwhile, Christ Church is offering (on a fixed-term two-year contract) what is, effectively, the role of acting-Dean – ‘an exciting opportunity to join a friendly college’ no less!

https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/vacancies/executive-assistant-censor-theologiae

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
22 days ago

Many thanks. I guess that the censor theologiae chairs the governing body in lieu of the dean. However, if the dean is effectively suspended, the senior and junior censor (who would usually run the college with the dean) remain the main executive authority. They will be supported closely by former censors and other officials, like the steward.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Froghole
22 days ago

The Censor Theologiae is actually referred to as the Dean’s deputy in the Ch Ch announcement, which states “This is a temporary, fixed-term position for two years and is intended to meet a current standing need. The appointment therefore carries with it no expectation of permanent employment at Christ Church … The newly appointed E.A will be responsible for running the office of the Censor Theologiae, including responsibility for a range of processes. The Censor Theologiae’s E.A. will provide the highest level of professional support to the Censor Theologiae and should be willing, when workload permits, to assist in other… Read more »

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
21 days ago

‘…succeeded… by Canon Prof. Sarah Foot…’ Let’s come back to that appointment when this process is all over. For now, just tuck it into your mental pending tray.

donald reeves
Reply to  Michael Dawson
21 days ago

I have been a mediator in Bosnia and Kosovo for 20 years through the Soul of Europe an NGO which I founded after completing 18 years at St James Piccadilly where I was rector .. One thing I learnt as a mediator is that you do not give up. Time and again we came up against opposition to some of our work – namely instigating the reconstruction of the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka- but we kept on, . I do not understand that sentence in the report ‘the current phase of mediation was halted by the independent mediator earlier… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  donald reeves
21 days ago

It has been explained, time and again, that the Bishop and Vice-Chancellor have no jurisdiction. Was it last year, the Chancellor added his voice to this, saying that he was equally powerless? It’s a matter for the Crown, and/ or the Charity Commission, if they decide that they must exercise their powers at Christ Church. Otherwise, “the law must take its course”.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
21 days ago

As a postscript, can I dissuade people from the misapprehension that the lawyers in this, or any other, matter can act independently of the instructions which they receive from their client. It is the latter, not the lawyers, who has control of action to be taken. It has been held that solicitors who commenced legal proceedings, in a matter in which they were already acting, were in contempt of court for doing so without their client’s specific instructions.

Ben Simpson
Ben Simpson
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
21 days ago

Then why is it that neither the Bishop or the College make decisions without taking legal advice (that each uses the same lawyers, let us leave for the moment), and then gives their instructions on the basis of that legal advice? You are going in circles like a dog chasing its tail, and only ensuring that the coffers of the lawyers continue to swell at the expense of charitably sourced funds.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Ben Simpson
21 days ago

I’m astonished to read this. Sensible people and bodies take and act on legal advice to prevent, e.g., committing libels as just one example; exceeding legal powers as trustees is another. Taking the matter out of the hands of lawyers, which is what Donald Reeves proposed, potentially leads to precisely those kinds of thing happening. I speak from experience, having several decades of trying to extricate people from problems of their own making! Since we are being so blunt (is it really necessary to resort to personal rudeness?) nowhere have I proposed that charitable funds should be wasted. It is… Read more »

Ben Simpson
Ben Simpson
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
21 days ago

Dear Rowland, please forgive me if you took this personally. Perhaps you should not be so sensitive. Rudeness was never intended. However you must acknowlege that neither Bishop nor College w/could act without the advice of their lawyers, so one thing leads to another. However there is one case (no names, I’m afraid) to my personal knowlege, when one much respected Bishop, by using his initiative and authority over-rode what would have become a sour and unhappy legal argument between a College and the Diocese that could have lasted a long time. But probably not as long a time as… Read more »

Ben Simpson
Ben Simpson
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
21 days ago

I apologise if you thought this was personal. It was not. There was nothing rude about it, I hope. It is almost inevitable that a Bishop or a College would (cannot) act without legal advice in such matters. However I do recall the decision (no names, I’m afraid) of a much respected Bishop over-riding legal advice and ensuring peace and good relationships between one university institution and its diocese in recent times. But we have wider considerations here – congregations, accused, ‘victims’ and so on. And they are all victims, apart from the lawyers.

Ben Simpson
Ben Simpson
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
21 days ago

Of course the law can be changed. Even ancient statutes can be over-ridden, and there are many that should be. And maybe it is time to over-ride at least one of them.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Ben Simpson
21 days ago

Not sure which statute(s) you are referring to, but in general what you call over-riding is done by Parliament. Any change to the Christ Church Statutes would involve both the Privy Council and Parliament. Can we leave it there? This discussion isn’t taking the present matters any further.

Ben Simpson
Ben Simpson
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
21 days ago

Of course, that is why Parliament is there, and it may have to come to that… stay well, let us leave it there. Martyn Percy seems to be clearly one of the named victims but there are many others.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Michael Dawson
21 days ago

That is a very, very astute comment…!

Mark Beach
Mark Beach
Reply to  Alison Baker
15 days ago

Not a particularly attractive remuneration package for a nest so lined with thorns.

αnδrεw
αnδrεw
21 days ago

Christ Church cathedral is the mother church of the diocese of Oxford. The diocese holds the second largest investment portfolio (after London) in the CofE, generating £27 million per annum. As independent charities, the affairs of the diocese are separate from those of the college, also very substantially endowed. But it would seem odd, to say the least, to retain an absent dean for potentially years ahead. I can’t think of any other organisation where such a standoff would be allowed to persist indefinitely – let alone a charitable one where the governing body has an overriding duty to uphold… Read more »

Last edited 21 days ago by αnδrεw
Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
Reply to  αnδrεw
20 days ago

There is a growing sense of inertia and hand wringing present in so much of what the Church of England does. In an attempt to rebalance the share of power and create more accountability we have created a culture of legalism to hide behind. One of Oxford Diocese’s buzz words is ‘courageous’! The governance structures of the Church of England are many and varied and work well when people can be bothered to invest time in building relationships. But because no one wants to make a decision the Church of England abdicates its responsibilities to others. The topics chosen for… Read more »

αnδrεw
αnδrεw
Reply to  Stephen Griffiths
20 days ago

Yes, a few quiet words in cloistered corridors amid the dreaming spires could nip this thing in the bud – before it gets completely out of hand (as if it hasn’t already). As you say, the Church’s governance structures might be perfectly capable of putting an end to this nonsense, if only the participants didn’t resort to the law. The same could be said of the University. Surely it would be an abuse of the tribunal system to resolve what, on the face of it, appears to be the type of dispute that is normally remedied by internal procedures –… Read more »

Last edited 20 days ago by αnδrεw
αnδrεw
αnδrεw
Reply to  αnδrεw
20 days ago

Correction. The diocese’s total income for 2019 was £27 million, of which £4 million was investment income. Mea culpa. By contrast, the college’s income last year was £36 million, of which no less than £20 million was derived from its investment portfolio (five times greater than the diocese).

Dave
Dave
16 days ago

Surely the time has now come for the Bishop and Vice Chancellor to ask the Visitor to officially intervene.

Mark Beach
Mark Beach
15 days ago

Why is this deeply significant piece being sent out by the Development Office? Of course CC must be very worried about the impact this is having on their alumni and other supporters, but to relegate this item to a begging letter adds insult to injury.

αnδrεw
αnδrεw
Reply to  Mark Beach
13 days ago

The Times reports that the Charity Commission has written to the governing body asking them to respond by the end of the month while it considers next steps. Sadly, positions are now so polarised, and costs astronomical, that only an external nudge from the regulator seems likely to have any hope of breaking the impasse. It’s remarkable that the combined brain power of academics couldn’t expedite the matter sooner. The letter from the development officer starts off by referring to some of the outstanding achievements of staff over the last eighteen months, most notably the development of the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine.… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by αnδrεw
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