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Christ Church votes to separate Dean position from head of College

The Governing Body of Christ Church has approved a proposal to separate the responsibilities of the Dean into two roles, allowing non-clergy to head the College. In an email to students this morning, the College described the proposal as representing a “historic change for both the Cathedral and the College”. The proposal follows two internal tribunals against Very Rev Prof Martyn Percy, the College’s former Dean over pay and conduct concerns.

Currently, the Dean has charge of a single Foundation comprising both a Cathedral and a College of the University of Oxford. In future, the Dean will only lead the Cathedral, working beside a separate head of the Foundation.

In an email sent to students the College said: “​​The proposal would enable future Deans of the Cathedral to dedicate themselves exclusively to leading the mission, ministry and management of the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Oxford, overseeing its prayer and worship.”

Both institutions will, however, remain within the single Foundation of Christ Church Oxford, despite separate leadership of the College and Cathedral.

The change could be seen as following a lengthy row with the previous Dean, Very Rev Prof Martyn Percy. In 2018, Percy faced a pay tribunal. Despite being cleared of the initial tribunal, Percy would later find himself caught up in a four-year-long saga of disputes and accusations, leading up to a second tribunal against him after he was accused of inappropriately stroking a woman’s hair in Chapel.

The conflict, which involved student protests and intervention from the University’s chancellor, cost the College £6.6 million in legal and public relation fees. It concluded early last year when the former Dean stepped down. A Financial Times investigation in 2019 called Christ Church “virtually ungovernable.”

Percy was replaced by Very Revd Professor Sarah Foot who, when talking about the vote, said: “It is no longer appropriate that the leadership of an Oxford University college should be reserved exclusively to ordained priests. The Governing Body’s decision will ensure that future appointments to the headship of the Foundation can be drawn from the widest range of applicants. 

“The deanship of the Cathedral is a senior office in the Church of England with significant responsibilities. Future Deans will be able to dedicate themselves to leading the mission, ministry and management of the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Oxford, overseeing its prayer and worship.”

This proposal is one of the many recommendations from an independent governance review that Christ Church is considering. Despite the result of this indicative vote, the proposal’s implementation is subject to a future formal vote.

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