History of the Scholarship 
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Selection Concerns 

Some of the issues the selection committees have faced over time include the problems of “brain drain” and the limitations of Rhodes’ will concerning the selection of minorities and women.  In some of the less developed Scholarship constituencies, the fact that many of the brightest and most ambitious Rhodes Scholars do not return to their home countries after completing their degree is worrisome — particularly given the original aims of the Scholarship to “render oneself useful to one’s country.”  So great was this concern at the beginning of the twentieth century, that the New Zealand selection committee required that candidates promise to return to the country, and, “in some cases to follow a particular profession” (Kenny 2001, 422).  Even today, the website for the South African Rhodes Scholarships states: “In view of Africa’s urgent development needs and its limited resources, it is essential for Rhodes Scholars from Southern Africa to be committed to working for the benefit of Africa in general or Southern Africa in particular.” The website goes so far as to say that those who cannot commit themselves to a future in support of their own country should not apply.

As for women and minorities, the former were not permitted to apply according to the strict wording of Rhodes’ will; the latter, while theoretically accepted under article 24, which reads, “No student shall be qualified or disqualified for election to a Scholarship on account of his race or religious opinions,”(Schaeper and Schaeper 1998, 18) were limited by the racial realities of the countries and institutions from whence they came.  For instance, although the first black Scholar from the U.S., Alain LeRoy Locke, was selected in 1907, the Scholarship was not awarded to another black American until 1962.  This racial disparity was due, in part, to the fact that the majority of the awards were handed out to traditionally white institutions.  Traditionally black institutions, meanwhile, often did not have campus representatives whose role it was to inform their students of the opportunities afforded by the Rhodes Scholarship.  As American colleges began to desegregate and admit more minority students, an increasing number of minorities applied to and won the Rhodes Scholarship.

On this issue, South Africa posed a particular problem.  Unlike any other jurisdiction to which Scholarships were allocated, South Africa had to select four out of its five Scholars from among the graduates of the four private boys’ secondary schools that had been named in Rhodes’ will.  As these schools did not admit black students, the Scholars selected from their ranks were uniformly white, and the fact that South Africa was under apartheid left little doubt that the fifth Scholar selected would be white as well.  Not until the 1960s was there any great global criticism of the South African selection process.  When there finally was an outcry, the Trustees remonstrated that they lacked the authority to change the terms of Rhodes’ will; this could only be accomplished by amending the original piece of legislation under which his will was administered.  Despite the Trustees’ argument that selecting Scholars from these schools defeated the real purpose of Rhodes’ will, the British courts maintained that it was the Trust’s duty to faithfully execute the will as written.

In the 1970s, in an effort to remedy the situation, the Trustees created four new “South-Africa-at-large” Scholarships, to which candidates from anywhere in the country could apply and be considered by a national committee made up of black, as well as white, selectors.  Additionally, the Rhodes Trust allocated monies for the creation of the Rhodes Trust Scholarships to fund the university study of promising black candidates and hopefully nurture the development of black Rhodes Scholars.  Not until the end of apartheid in 1991, however, was there a significant diversification in South African Scholars.



Women Join the Club

The rather unambiguous wording of Cecil Rhodes’ will – “male,” “his,” “him,” “manly,” “manhood” — makes it clear that the Scholarship was never intended for women.  Still, at the beginning of the twentieth century, it had been hoped the Rhodes Trustees might use their authority to alter the terms of the Scholarship to admit women.  In 1903, the year the first Rhodes Scholars were admitted to Oxford, one of the female colleges, Lady Margaret Hall, petitioned for women to be considered for the Scholarship, but to no avail.  This request was turned down yet again, in 1920, the year that Oxford finally extended University membership to women.

The women’s movement prompted reconsideration of this topic once more in the 1960s.  In 1968, having considered the possibility of opening the competition to women, the Trustees decided instead to create a Rhodes Fellowship that would allow for each of Oxford’s five women’s colleges to receive a visiting fellow from one of the Scholarship constituencies, in turn, for a period of one to two years.  Yet this scheme was a far cry from democratizing the Scholarship itself, and by the 1970s, students — male and female, at Oxford and abroad — were beginning to protest and organize petitions against what they felt to be discrimination against women.

American students and institutions, in particular, put pressure on the Trustees to admit women.  Several universities, including the University of Minnesota, endorsed female candidates and had them appear before Scholarship selection committees.  While the committees were still obliged to select male Scholars, there was a more serious concern that universities would stop sending candidates to the committees altogether.  This fear threatened to become a reality when, after the rejection of a female candidate endorsed by the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to prevent all Minnesotan higher educational institutions from participating in the program.

Much of the pressure from U.S. institutions was related to the passage, in 1972, of a series of amendments to education legislation, one of which, Title IX, stated: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  Applicants to the Rhodes Scholarship had to be endorsed by an educational institution, and the universities were in other ways instrumental in the selection process.  The passage of Title IX meant that even tangential involvement with the Rhodes Scholarship, such as merely publicizing its existence, could result in the revocation of federal funding.  This was, of course, a prospect more disastrous to universities than the loss of the Rhodes Scholarship.

Canadians, too, were concerned.  Some filed formal complaints alleging that the Scholarships were discriminatory and thus in violation of the law.  Arthur Scace, secretary of the Ontario selection committee, commented on the “strong feeling in all quarters that women should be admitted.  I suspect that the lawsuits will start fairly shortly and we will be in a comparable position to our counterparts in the U.S. … I hope the Trustees do something before we all end up in jail” (McCalla 2001, 244).

It must be noted that, in addressing the issue of extending the Scholarship to women, the Rhodes Trust faced two great obstacles.  The first, and more difficult to overcome, was that Rhodes’ most unambiguously-worded will was embodied in an Act of Parliament, and could therefore only be amended by a similar Act.  Yet, the Trustees were told by Her Majesty’s Government that using Trust funds to promote the passage of any such bill would be illegal, for the simple reason that “resources provided by a Testator could not be used to overturn his stated intent” (Barber 2000, 136). In addition, there was the problem that female Rhodes Scholars could only be housed in the women’s colleges.  As there were only five women’s colleges, compared to 26 for men, Oxford could offer about a fifth as many places to women as to men.  To accept female Rhodes Scholars from overseas would be to deny a number of already coveted places to highly competent British women.  Oxford, the Trustees claimed, was simply not “in a position to offer hospitality to women from overseas on the same generous terms it can offer to men from overseas” (Alexander 2001, 152).

By the mid-70s, several events occurred in conjunction to untie the hands of the Rhodes Trust.  In 1973, the new Labour government in Britain introduced an Equal Opportunities Bill that focused on gender discrimination in employment.  Seeing a possible solution to their problem, the Trustees wrote to the Home Secretary to request that the provisions of the anti-discrimination legislation allow trustees of educational charities to amend their trusts to provide equal opportunities to women. In 1975, the bill passed with the Trustees’ addendum, allowing educational charities thenceforth to petition the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make whatever changes were necessary to prevent gender discrimination.  In December 1976, Education Secretary Shirley Williams (a woman) removed the word “manly” from the will, allowing women to apply for and participate in the Rhodes Scholarship.  Also at this time, Oxford’s colleges began to go co-educational, easing the burden of admitting female Scholars solely to women’s colleges.  The first class of female Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1977.

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