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13 Jan, 2019 15:02

Unintended PC consequences? Oxford ends women-only fellowship that breached equality law

Unintended PC consequences? Oxford ends women-only fellowship that breached equality law

Oxford University has opened a women-only fellowship to male applicants after its governing council ruled that it violated anti-discrimination laws. The decision sparked a lively debate on Twitter about how to enforce “equality.”

Oxford’s council ruled that the Joanna Randall-MacIver junior research fellowship – established in the 1930s for women studying fine arts, music or literature – was “discriminatory on the grounds of gender.”

The fellowship is funded by the estate of British-born archaeologist and Oxford graduate David Randall-MacIver, who set it up in his wife Joanna's name after her death in 1932. He stipulated, however, that the fellowship should only be awarded to female academics.

The decision marks the first time that the prestigious university has opened up a female-only fellowship to male applicants. Some of the fellowship’s former recipients have publicly criticized the new, less-discriminatory application process.

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Professor Elizabeth Cullingford, a Randall-MacIver fellow in the 1970s who is now chair of English at Texas University, told the Telegraph that it was important to have “one or two things that are special to women” at Oxford, and that a female-only fellowship doesn’t “threaten any great power structure” at the university.

“The history there is totally male – for years women couldn’t even be in the university and couldn’t be fellow of a college,” she added.

READ MORE: ‘Discredited race science’: Academics unite against ‘eugenicist’ given Cambridge fellowship

The ruling may have consequences for similar research fellowships at other institutions. Cambridge’s female-only college, Newnham, runs a number of fellowships that are only available to women. The college, however, insists that its fellowship program complies with the Equality Act – legislation passed in 2010 which mirrors the same anti-discrimination goals laid out by the European Union’s four Equal Treatment Directives.

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