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Corpus Christi JCR calls for Parks College plans to be stopped

Corpus Christi College’s JCR Executive Committee has sent an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor objecting to the proposals for a new postgraduate college. The letter argued the University had failed to engage sufficiently with University members regarding the proposals, and suggested that “this college has no goal other than increasing student numbers.”

Parks College, a new postgraduate college proposed by the University to begin accepting undergraduates in 2020, aims to “draw together researchers from different disciplines to explore some of the big scientific questions of our time.”

The new college will use the Radcliffe Science Library site as part of the library’s redevelopment. The college will also aim to provide accommodation elsewhere. The Corpus Christi Executive Committee believe that “The “co-location” of Parks College and the Radcliffe Science Library will undermine both.  Every space is temporary: a room will one day be a library, the next, a seminar room, the day after, a public exhibition.

“How can academia flourish without a permanent space? The students and fellows of Parks College will instead remain confined to their respective Departments, defeating the ideal of interdisciplinary studies.”

Students also raised concerns about their opportunities to engage with the University on the Parks College proposals. During a JCR meeting about the letter, its author, Ed Hart, said: “I think it’s important to push against the lack of communication. It is a huge project and was pushed through within three months.”

In the letter, the committee wrote: “The proposal has been made with little to no attempt to engage with University members. The proposal was first mooted in August, in the provisional 2018–23 strategic plan, and it was presumed the creation of any college would be closer to 2023 than today.

“The plan was confirmed after the end of Michaelmas term 2018, after the publication of the final Gazette of the year, preventing serious discussion of it.

“Now, it is to be rushed through Congregation, with plans to hire fellows in just three months’ time. Meanwhile, student and faculty publications fume incredulously and faculties have been left expressing surprise that an important laboratory may become a dining hall.

“We find it concerning that such a monumental decision has been made without adequate consultation of the students you claim to represent.”

The committee also raised concerns about the purpose of the college, since it does not have an overtly outreach focus.

They said: “The proposed college fails to embrace Oxford’s long history of founding colleges to include those from marginalised backgrounds and to improve the lives of those outside the College system. Consider the foundation of the women’s colleges, the foundation of Mansfield College for non-conformist Christians and the foundation of St Catherine’s and St Cross for those without college affiliation.

“Parks College fails on both counts, its website paying lip service to “[embracing] internationalism and diversity” and the benefits of college life.”

“120 years ago, Ruskin College, Oxford, was founded to expand education access to adults with few or no qualifications. It embodies many of the qualities admired in the University’s own colleges. Parks College has none of them.

“The University offers nothing – a half-hearted college, cynically preying on outsiders’ unfamiliarity with Oxford – in return for self-aggrandisement and tuition fees. This proposal demeans the University and the Colleges. It must be reconsidered.”

Responding to the letter, Professor Lionel Tarassenko, Senior Responsible Owner for the Parks College Project, said: “Parks College addresses one of the key education priorities in the University’s Strategic Plan, which is to increase the intake of graduate students across all four divisions by up to 850 a year by 2023, while maintaining quality.

“It will enable the University to grow the number of graduate students, but without upsetting the balance between undergraduate and postgraduate student numbers in mixed colleges or imposing unrealistic targets for growth in the existing graduate colleges.

“The proposed new graduate college will actively promote interdisciplinary exchanges between researchers from across the four academic divisions. It will offer graduate students a rich and stimulating intellectual and social experience, on a par with that at the other graduate colleges.

“And, as with other graduate colleges at Oxford, it will have an outward-looking and inclusive ethos, which embraces internationalism and diversity. As with St Cross College when it was founded, the Fellows of the college will be University professors and researchers who do not currently have a college affiliation.

“Far from leading to a loss of library facilities, the Parks College project presents an exciting opportunity to redevelop the science library and its services to align more closely with the needs of scientists in the 21st century – students, researchers and other academics.

“The proposals for the new college have been discussed with graduate student representatives, the staff of the Radcliffe Science Library, and at meetings of numerous University committees, including the Curators of the University Libraries, Education Committee, Conference of Colleges Graduate Committee, Conference of Colleges, Finance Committee, Personnel Committee and Council. Throughout this consultation process, the plans have been gradually evolving to take on new ideas and to ensure that concerns raised are understood and addressed.

“The plans for the new college and the allocation of space were approved by Council on 11 March, and will now be put before Congregation in early Trinity term. The OUSU VP for Graduates is a member of the Programme Board which is responsible for the development of the plans.

“We are actively encouraging students to participate in the planning for the new college. We have been running Q&A events for students in partnership with OUSU, and we are inviting students to help shape the academic blueprint of the college at a series of focus groups, which will take place in late April and early May.”

In the motion for the JCR Committee to sign the letter, the Corpus JCR President Rhiannon Ogden-Jones was also mandated to discuss the issue with other JCR presidents and the Corpus MCR to seek their support. The motion was passed with 13 votes for and 2 against.

The University have been contacted for comment.

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