Oxbridge colleges must learn Oxfam’s lesson

The president of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, Dame Barbara Stocking, faces a showdown today with her governing body that may oust her from her post. This follows revelations about her period as chief executive of Oxfam, during which it covered up allegations of sexual harassment, prostitution and bullying by its aid workers.

The voluntary sector has long appeared to be a kind of musical chairs recruitment game, with people moving seamlessly from running one charity to heading another and appointing friends to similar posts.

This cosy club has now expanded to include the heads of Oxbridge colleges. For years, these were recruited from the ranks of eminent scholars, former cabinet ministers or senior civil servants. Now, many colleges appoint as their heads people from the media, NGOs or other bits of the metropolitan bubble who are thought to be skilled at communication and promotion — and, crucially, to have the connections to bring in wealthy donors.

As with the NGOs, this new establishment exudes the sense of an exclusive club: a tight circle of like-minded people whose mutual admiration as high-principled liberal altruists confirms them in an unchallengeable world view. This sense of virtuous entitlement risks blinding those in charge of organisations to any problems that might develop in the future.

To read my whole Times column (£) please click here.

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