The University of Winchester in the UK has treated itself to a life-size bronze statue of climate protection activist Greta Thunberg . “As the University for Sustainability and Social Justice, we are proud to honour this inspiring woman in this way. We hope that your statue will help to inspire our community and to remind us that we can change the world for the better, no matter what life throws at us,” Vice Chancellor Joy Carter proudly announced at the unveiling. But her students were not happy.
The position and timing of the statue, emphasized the professor, are both perfect. “The statue is a symbol of our commitment to the fight against the climatic and ecological emergency in the run-up to the United Nations climate change conference, which will take place in Great Britain later this year.” Earlier, the English university had set itself the goal of being climate neutral by 2025. A “climate emergency” was therefore declared in 2019.
One would imagine that this outpouring of admiration would elicit at least exuberant gratitude. But student representatives did not welcome the bronze figure. They described the statue as a “vanity project”. The President of the Winchester Student Union, Megan Ball, criticized the move to the BBC: “We are in a Covid year, many students did not really have access to campus, many are trying to study online and urgently need support. Instead of spending almost £24 000 (around 28 000 euros) on the statue, the money should better be made available for student support services across the campus.”
The university administration denied that funds for student support or staff had been used, but it did not seem to convince the disgruntled students. The whole debacle however shows where the priorities of the students lie in Winchester.
The statue is the first life-sized depiction of the 18-year-old Swedish girl, who gained international attention in 2018 with the help of a widespread PR campaign.
With the statue, the University of Winchester joined the series of remarkable events that have recently been unfolding at Anglo-Saxon educational institutions. The University of Oxford recently announced, also because of pressure from Black Lives Matter, that it would question “white supremacy” in the curriculum and reform the orientation of the courses. Incidentally, the first victims of these measures were the composers Beethoven and Mozart, as their music reinforces “colonialist patterns”.
And another first from the ivory towers of academia: Columbia University in New York is offering special Apartheid graduation ceremonies for students of a certain racial origin so that every ethnically defined group can celebrate their degrees in a “more intimate setting” in the future. In addition, people with low incomes or members of the gay and transsexual community can also wish to have their own celebration.