All academic institutions like to see themselves as a cut. But there is probably no institution in Britain as grand as Christ Church, Oxford.
Founded by Henry VIII in 1546, it is one of the wealthiest of Oxford University’s 39 colleges, with an architecture designed by Sir Christopher Wren and an endowment of nearly £ 600 million.
The 600 famous students run around in the beautiful sandstone quadrilaterals, which radiate an atmosphere of peaceful self-esteem.
Among the alumni are 13 prime ministers, including William Gladstone and Anthony Eden, a Nobel laureate, six Olympic gold medalists, poet W.H. Auden and Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice In Wonderland.
Eighteen months ago, Venerable Prof Martyn Percy was suspended after being charged with “immoral, outrageous or disgraceful” conduct before being restored
That’s the rarefied atmosphere, the creators of the Harry Potter films have set up Hogwarts’ dining room on their own.
Oh, and her patron (or “visitor”) is the queen. However, the gilded serenity is rocked by scandal: a dispute that threatens to tear apart the structure of the college and has profound implications for the future of how the university – still ranked No. 1 in the world by the TES – is run.
Now the charity watchdog is facing calls to help remove its dean, who is engaged in an extraordinary feud with academics.
Reverend Prof Martyn Percy was suspended eighteen months ago after being charged with “immoral, outrageous or disgraceful” conduct before being restored.
The unworthy dispute included arguments over Prof. Percy’s request for a raise in wages and attempts to change the college’s protection rules.
This week, 41 of the 64 members of Christ Church’s governing body wrote to the Charity Commission urging the Dean to accept a settlement and leave – or be removed.
It all started in 2016, when Christ Church student Lavinia Woodward argued with her then-boyfriend.
In response, Prof Percy changed the college’s protection protocols – but his proposals met with resistance from academics.
In February of this year, leaked emails revealed that Oxford down had described Prof Percy (pictured) as a ‘little Hitler’ who was ‘filthy’ and had a ‘personality disorder’
The Dean then complained that his £ 90,900 salary was lower than the average earned by the heads of Oxford colleges.
He was suspended in November 2018 for 27 allegations of inappropriate conduct, but these were dismissed after an internal tribunal hearing by a Supreme Court judge, Sir Andrew Smith, and he was reinstated last year.
In February of this year, leaked emails revealed that Oxford down had described Prof Percy as a “little Hitler” who was “dirty” and had a “personality disorder.”
An academic became so angry that he joked, “[We] must get rid of him. Just think of the episode of Inspector Morse we could make if his wrinkled, withered body is found. ‘
The dean himself, who has attended the college he is still leading to an employment court, has reportedly “almost declared bankruptcy” with legal fees to defend his case.
Prof Percy’s strongest supporter is former Tory cabinet minister, ex-prisoner, and church minister Jonathan Aitken, a graduate of Christ Church.
But the strength of the opposition to him is evident from the letter from the members of the governing body to the Chairman of the Charity Commission, Baroness Stowell.
They write, “It is our sincere opinion that since his recovery, Martyn Percy has violated his legal and fiduciary duties and has shown both an unsound judgment and a consistent lack of moral compass.”
Many are now wondering whether our best higher education institutions should be run by brilliant academics or by professional administrators.
The deans’ opponents maintain that the dispute stems from his efforts to secure a raise in wages. But Percy supporters say the fight is much more than just his salary.
They point to what they say, a furious, often vicious battle between the modernists and the old guard, fueled in this case by a big blob of snobbery.
Like most students who pass through the gates of Christ Church today, the Dean comes from a completely normal background.
Percy, who started his job in 2014, is seen by some as a trendy pastor who has disrupted the feathers of traditionalists in the church by calling for female bishops (he is married to a female pastor) and wades into the transgender debate (he strongly advocates trans rights) and has liberal views on the sanctity of marriage – he has said that some people have “to keep their marriage together”.
Many left-wing academics would undoubtedly welcome his opinion. An elderly don who wanted to see him said, “Percy’s going to cast this argument between liberal modernists and the stuffy old guard, but that’s just not the case.
Most of the down is terribly left-wing and sympathizes with his views of Christianity.
“They don’t like him because he did the college terribly. He has made the dean of his own position and status and placed it well above the institution he is to lead. ‘
The supporters of Prof. Percy say it has enraged his efforts to modernize the administration of the college, the so-called “censors”, academics who lead the most important aspects of the college. A series of leaked emails revealed that many of the censors personally disliked Prof. Percy.
For their part, the censors considered that job descriptions were not necessary and that sufficient safeguards and policy measures had already been taken.
In a vicious e-mail, emeritus professor David Hine claimed that the dean was “dirty and stupid … he must go.” In another poorly reviewed post to colleagues in late 2017, Hine wrote, “ I’m always willing to think the worst of him … we need a reset.
Does anyone know of good poisons? Colleague Karl Sternberg wrote to Hine saying Percy was’ a manipulative little t ** d ‘and adding’ little Hitler ‘,’ We’re all doomed with this miserable man in place. . . he is incorrigible, fat and a narcissist. ‘
He later joked about the drowning of the now 57-year-old clergyman. In order to dismiss the dean, the university’s statutes must demonstrate “conduct of an immoral, outrageous or disgraceful nature” or “failure or persistent refusal or neglect or inability to” demonstrate his duties.
Seven members of the governing body of Christ Church filed a formal complaint in September 2018, and the governing body voted to suspend Percy prior to a formal internal tribunal.
At that point, the icy atmosphere in the college turned into a real nuclear winter, insiders say.
Several academics refused to sit next to each other at ‘High Table’ or face each other when they saw each other crossing Tom Quad, the largest in Oxford.
Many old boys and girls were so shocked by the navel-gazing scandal that donations – a lifeline for any charity – fell by as much as £ 2 million, according to a source.
The internal tribunal ruled that Professor Percy could stay. But he will not remain silent. He is now calling for a new investigation to investigate the events that led to the tribunal.
Meanwhile, he wants his £ 400,000 legal fees to be paid by the college – and if that means prosecuting a tribunal against his employer, then he should. A tribunal is scheduled for 2021, guaranteeing that this rancorous dispute will continue for a long time.
Prof Percy declined to comment, but a trustee who did not want to be named said on his behalf: ‘There will be an employment court in 2021, which will address the misconduct of others towards the dean, and many are convinced that the court finds advantage of the dean.
“The dean has also asked the Charity Commission to intervene in this dispute.”
In a statement, the college said, “Christ Church is fully committed to achieving a solution through independent mediation, avoiding the significant costs that would otherwise be incurred by responding to the dean of the Dean of Labor Law’s allegation.
The opponents of Prof. Percy have clearly said unpleasant and even imbecile things about him.
But many neutral observers may wonder how long he can expect to continue playing the role, given their weight of opposition to him.
The dean’s enemies once thought they were in an Inspector Morse novel while joking about murdering their boss.
But even the great detective at Oxford could never have come up with a story about such intrigues and poison.