Shortly before Christmas 2015, Oriel College announced its intention to remove a plaque commemorating its controversial benefactor, Cecil Rhodes, and to stage a “listening exercise” about dismantling his statue, which overlooks Oxford’s High Street. Lobbied by the local manifestation of South Africa’s Rhodes Must Fall (rmf) movement, the college publicly repudiated Rhodes’s “colonialist” and “racist” views, claiming that they stand in “absolute contrast” to “the values of a modern university,” not least diversity and inclusion.

Seven weeks later, however, Oriel made an abrupt U-turn. In the wake of an overwhelmingly hostile reaction in the press and from alumni, together with the desertion of some donors, the college reversed its position....