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Leading donor 'snubbed' by Uni

University denies claims that relationship with Zvi Meitar has been soured.
Mary Waireri on Friday 23rd May 2008
Photograph: MOTTI KIMCHI/ISRAEL SUN

One of Oxford’s top donors is threatening to withdraw his support for the University after they did not accept his offer of a statue.

Zvi Meitar has branded the University’s actions “ridiculous” and “foolish” in an interview with The Times newspaper. He also suggested that he would be reconsidering further donations to the institution.

Meitar is an Israeli multi-millionaire who, along with his younger brother, is believed by Forbes to be worth around £250 million.

In the interview the 74-year-old lawyer commented, “There was a big future…Now the whole thing is in question.” He added, “I don’t think anybody [at Oxford] really cares about this. It’s sad.”

The statue he offered to the University was a four ton, 10ft monument of Tory MP Sir George Cooke and was carved in the eighteenth century by Sir Henry Cheere. It once belonged to Elton John, from whom Meitar is believed to have acquired it.

The University has claimed that the statue was rejected not as a personal slight to Mr Meitar but simply because there was no space for it. They have said that several potential locations were examined in order to determine their suitability as a home for the statue.

A spokesperson for Oxford University criticised The Times for misrepresenting the facts regarding Mr Meitar’s offer. They insisted that he is “a fast friend and supporter of Oxford” and will continue to work closely with University officials on matters of fundraising.

The spokesperson also suggested that Meitar enjoys cordial relations with the Vice Chancellor John Hood.

According to the University Press Office there were two barriers to accepting the statue.

Given the piece’s high value, adequate security provisions had to be provided, while its heavy weight meant that structural assessments were necessary to ensure it did not damage University property. None of the proposed sites were deemed suitable on these grounds.

This incident has thrown fresh light on the importance of Oxford University’s links with wealthy patrons who are willing to contribute massive sums towards the university’s upkeep and development.

To meet rising costs and steep competition from American universities, a new fund-raising campaign ‘Oxford Thinking: The Campaign for the University of Oxford’ will be launched later this month. Oxford currently lags behind equivalent institutions in America such as Harvard, whose endowment is in excess of £65 billion.

By contrast, Oxford’s endowment is valued at £3.6 billion.

‘Oxford Thinking’ will be launched next Wednesday by Chancellor Lord Patten and Vice-Chancellor John Hood with a star-studded event at the British Academy.

The University will seek to raise over £1 billion which will be used to refurbish a number of University sites, including the Radcliffe Infirmary site. The money will also be used to fund a new £29 million book depository, support an overhaul of the University Science area and allow remodeling of the New Bodleian Library.

In a continuing effort to attract students from poorer backgrounds, funds raised will also be used to support scholarships and grants. In addition to this there will be increased investment in teaching posts in an attempt to attract the best and brightest academics to Oxford.

The campaign hopes to appeal to successful alumni, businesses and philanthropists in an attempt to raise the funds. It is expected that it will take many years to reach the £1 billion target.

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