Scout-rage at Oxford

To the Editor:

Last April, the former director of the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University (WEPO) suggested to the programme’s 26 Williams and six Oxford students that “scouts” be hired to clean student rooms once a month. Scouts are an extremely dated Oxford institution, which, before the 1970s, was essentially a butler service for the University’s aristocratic students. In its modern form, scouts are custodians at Oxford that come into students’ rooms on a regular basis to clean and to inspect.

Our reaction was heated. We had three specific issues with the proposal:

1) It’s a complete waste of money. To effectively manage the entire WEPO compound, several new staff members would need to be hired. Given that two student places had already been cut from the WEPO programme, we did not understand why money was being diverted away from education to cleaning.

2) It’s embarrassing. Most of the students on the programme are 20, 21 or even older. Having someone come in to your room to make your bed at that age is simply awkward. Oddly enough, the same director upbraided us for a sense of “entitlement,” thus we reasoned that cleaning for yourself is not only good for the soul, but it would also reduce that sense of “entitlement”.

3) It’s an attack on our privacy. The policy is archaic and intrusive, and its primary purpose at Oxford is to “check up” on students. Such a policy does not exist at Williams because there is an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust between students and the staff. Williams students are treated like colleagues in a workplace; at Oxford the students are more like pupils at a boarding school.

We concluded, at the end of our meeting, that scouts were a relic of a by-gone age, as anyone who has read Brideshead Revisited knows, and they have no place at the Williams or the WEPO compound, with its hardworking and un-decadent American spirit.

It was certainly upsetting, then, to find out that, despite solid student opposition, the policy was carried out anyway, and now every week at the WEPO compound someone will come into your room unannounced, will change your bed sheets and have a nose around. In an age of post-recession austerity when financial aid programmes and even places on the WEPO programme at being cut, why are we being forced to fund unnecessary and archaic pastoral practices? We neither want nor need such an initiative, and we certainly cannot afford it.

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