Oxford snubs $34 million for new business school


OXFORD, England -- What university would turn down a gift of $34 million for a new business school? Hardly any -- except, that is, Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

The dons of Oxford, to which the bright and the well-born have flocked since the 12th century, recently said no to the money of Wafic Said, a Saudi billionaire of Syrian origin.

The Daily Telegraph, a conservative paper, called the 259-to-214 vote Nov. 5 against the offer an elitist bias against business. It is, it said, "an old British disease that lies behind much of our industrial decline into not-so-genteel poverty."

Opponents of the project to build a "world-class School of Business Management" said it was a triumph for "the historical values of the university."

The two camps are gearing up for a new battle. The university is resubmitting the proposal to a wider congregation of dons -- 3,200 academics -- who are to vote by mail early next year. Between now and then, lobbying is certain to be furious.

In conversations all over the university's many colleges, it was clear that the issue is not so much business studies -- which already exist at Oxford -- but enshrining business management in a majestic new school destined, as Oxford administrators assert, to become a major center for management research in Europe.

Business schools in the United States graduate about 80,000 master of business administration students a year. By contrast, Oxford will graduate its first class of 49 MBA students this year.

But Professor Anthony Hopwood, deputy director of the existing School of Management Studies, said since business has become the most powerful institution of the 20th century, "can it seriously be argued that we should be any less interested in its workings than we were in the church, the monarchy, or government in previous generations?"

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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