THE two most senior figures at Oxford University have waded into the row over a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes, saying campaigners cannot “rewrite history”.

Speaking at the ceremony to swear in Professor Louise Richardson as the university’s new vice-chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes made a thinly-disguised attack on the campaign to remove the statue from Oriel College, which students say promotes racism.

The college is preparing to launch a consultation next month on the issue, with a plaque dedicated to Rhodes already set to go.

But in his speech to congregation yesterday – the university’s ‘parliament’ of dons – chancellor Patten said: “Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been, according to our contemporary views and prejudices.

“We work, study and sleep in great buildings, many of which were constructed with the proceeds of activities that would be rightly condemned today.

“Because we value tolerance... we have to listen to those who presume they can rewrite history within the confines of their own notion of what is politically, culturally and morally correct.

“But speaking for myself, it would be intellectually pusillanimous to listen for too long without saying what we think.

“We do not want to turn our university into a drab, bland, suburb of the soul where the diet is intellectual porridge.”

His comments were backed by Prof Richardson, who in her first speech to congregation said students needed to understand an Oxford education was “not meant to be a comfortable experience”.

Cecil Rhodes died in 1902 and left two per cent of his fortune to Oriel College, which funded a new building on High Street.

But students have demanded the college’s statue of him be removed, describing the former mining magnate and politician in South Africa as a “racist and murderous colonialist”.