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Review Proposes Separating Roles of Christ Church Oxford Dean and Cathedral Head

Oxford, UK –  an independent governance review of Christ Church, one of Oxford University’s renowned colleges, has concluded that the dean of Christ Church Cathedral should no longer hold authority over the college itself. 

The review, conducted by former Conservative MP and Attorney General Dominic Grieve KC, suggests significant changes to the governance structure of the institution.

The proposal put forward by Grieve recommends that the college’s governing body be granted the power to select a preferred non-clergy member as the head of Christ Church College. This would effectively separate the roles of the dean of the cathedral and the head of the college, enabling each position to focus on their respective responsibilities.

In response to a prolonged dispute between the college’s former dean, Martyn Percy, and the governing body over allegations of sexual harassment, a comprehensive review was initiated. The case reached a conclusion in late 2022 with a settlement that included a financial payment to the former dean. The Charity Commission expressed concerns about the college’s expenditure of over £6.6 million on legal and public relations fees during the dispute.

Addressing the need for substantial change, Grieve’s review puts forward a set of reforms aimed at the college’s governance body. These proposed reforms aim to prevent the recurrence of the costly, unmanageable, and damaging disagreements that have plagued the institution in recent years.

In his statement, he said: “My review today sets out changes that Christ Church can make to ensure its structures meet the demands of modern standards of governance.

“My recommendations are substantial and would represent the first fundamental changes to its governance structure since 1867.

“In the course of this review it has become clear to me both that significant reform is necessary at Christ Church, and that it would be widely welcomed.”

The review seeks to address long-standing concerns regarding the governance and management of Christ Church. Currently, the dean of the cathedral holds authority over both the religious institution and the college, which has raised questions about the potential conflicts of interest and the effective management of the college’s affairs.

By advocating for a non-clergy member to lead the college, Grieve’s review aims to ensure a more transparent and accountable governance structure. This move could bring in fresh perspectives and professional expertise from outside the ecclesiastical sphere, potentially enhancing the college’s academic and administrative functions.

In addition to recommending a change in leadership structure, Grieve’s review also proposes that the head of Christ Church College be appointed for a renewable fixed term. This suggests a departure from the traditional lifetime appointment for the position, making it more in line with contemporary practices in higher education.

Dean designate of Christ Church, Sarah Foot, expressed her enthusiasm for the forthcoming deliberations on Grieve’s recommendations, emphasizing their significance in establishing a strong groundwork for the future, especially as the 500th anniversary of Christ Church’s foundation draws near.

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