The gift is £150 million, and it will go towards the Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities. It will allow for the humanities at Oxford to be relocated to a newly constructed building in the heart of the historic Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. The state-of-the-art facility will bring together seven humanities faculties and six libraries, allowing for unprecedented levels of academic engagement and making the Centre a powerful locus for deep, interdisciplinary research.
The new Centre is for all humanities staff and students and will specifically provide centres for seven faculties: English; history; linguistics, philology and phonetics; music; modern and medieval languages; philosophy; and theology and religion. It will incorporate six libraries: English; film; history of medicine; music; philosophy; and theology and religion. It will provide new amenities including a 500-seater concert auditorium, film-screening facilities, a large space for drama performance and rehearsal, a black box theatre and exhibition space. The Centre and its Knowledge Exchange Hub will increase Oxford’s engagement with local, national and international audiences for the humanities and the arts.
The new Centre will significantly improve the quality and types of space used for day-to-day research and education, enhancing the experience of students and the academics who teach them. This is significant given that humanities students represent 25% of the total student body at Oxford. A variety of work spaces, social spaces and spaces for knowledge exchange will further support the intellectual community of Oxford’s humanities scholars at all stages of their careers. We are also launching a fundraising campaign in which the University will seek to raise further donations for the building and the research and teaching that will take place within it.
The Centre will also bring together researchers in the humanities to apply their expertise to the big questions facing humanity, from technology to climate change. For example, the Schwarzman Centre is planned to be home to Oxford’s new Institute for Ethics in AI, which will build upon the University’s world-class capabilities in the humanities to lead the study of the ethical implications of artificial intelligence and other new computing technologies.
Stephen A. Schwarzman is Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone, one of the world’s leading investment firms with over $500 billion assets under management. Mr. Schwarzman has been involved in all phases of Blackstone’s development since its founding in 1985.
Mr Schwarzman is an active philanthropist with a history of supporting education, as well as culture and the arts, among other things. He has made significant donations to Yale University, MIT and the New York Public Library. In both business and philanthropy, he has dedicated himself to tackling big problems with transformative solutions.
In 2013, he founded an international scholarship programme, 'Schwarzman Scholars', at Tsinghua University in Beijing to educate future leaders about China. At over $575 million, the programme is modelled on the Rhodes Scholarship and is the single largest philanthropic effort in China’s history coming largely from international donors. In 2007, Mr Schwarzman donated $100 million to the New York Public Library, on whose board he serves.
Mr. Schwarzman holds a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has served as an adjunct professor at the Yale School of Management and on the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors.
Mr Schwarzman has chosen Oxford because of its strength in the humanities, saying: 'I'm proud to partner with Oxford to establish the Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities, which will unite Oxford’s humanities faculties for the first time, include a new Institute for Ethics in AI to explore crucial questions affecting the workplace and society, and in addition offer modern performing arts facilities that will deepen Oxford’s engagement with the public. For nearly 1,000 years, the study of the humanities at Oxford has been core to western civilisation and scholarship. We need to ensure that its insights and principles can be adapted to today's dynamic world. Oxford's longstanding global leadership in the humanities uniquely positions it to achieve this important objective.'
We will now hold a widespread consultation with students, staff, local neighbours and any other interested members of the public on what form the building should take, and after that we will bring forward a planning application for the building. If all goes well, the building could be in use for autumn 2024.
Although it has not yet been built, the Centre will soon come to life with an active programme of events. Please check back on our website in future to find out more.
We have involved students and student societies such as Oxford University Drama Society in the development of the project. In Michaelmas Term 2019 we will begin an extensive consultation process to make sure the Centre works for current and prospective students. Once built, it will significantly improve the quality and types of space used for day-to-day teaching, enhancing the experience of students and the academics who teach them. A variety of work spaces, social spaces and spaces for knowledge exchange will further support the intellectual community of Oxford’s humanities scholars at all stages of their careers. Students will benefit from longer library opening hours and collections moving to the new building, and well-equipped teaching facilities with AV and digital technologies. Music students will enjoy better quality practice rooms and studios and a wide range of rehearsal and performance spaces. The Centre will offer students opportunities to curate their own exhibitions, run outreach projects and collaborate with external partners such as arts organisations. The gift is also launching a fundraising campaign in which the University will seek to raise further donations for the building, the programmes and studentships.
In addition to providing high quality space for students from all faculties, libraries and career stages, the Centre will offer new opportunities for students and researchers from all disciplines to collaborate. For example, the broadcasting studio, drama facilities, lectures and events will have a broader benefit to staff and students of the University. And the humanities will benefit from the presence of staff and students from other disciplines in the building.
Oxford has a rich tradition of student performing arts, and students from across the University take part in productions. The Centre will significantly improve the rehearsal and performance spaces available to them.
The library will be part of the Bodleian Libraries, who will support and partner in the academic activities of the new Humanities Centre and provide enhanced services and facilities to readers.
Following recommendations from the University’s 21st Century Library study, the library will feature a mixture of study spaces. The majority will be the quiet study spaces that many Oxford students value, and there will be more informal study spaces and flexible meeting/study spaces. There will also be some specialist spaces, eg for viewing films or listening to music recordings individually or in small groups. These spaces will be complemented by other formal and informal spaces within the new Centre.
The new library will have a floor area of 2,100 square metres, the same figure as the combined floor area of the libraries moving in and similar to other major libraries of the University, such as the Sackler Library and Taylor Institution Library.
The library will be open to all members of the University and Bodleian Libraries card holders. It is possible for certain groups to access the Bodleian Libraries, including NHS workers in Oxfordshire and participants in summer school programmes. For more information see the Bodleian Libraries' information on getting a reader card. Special arrangements are in place for outreach schemes.
The building will be on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, neighbouring the Mathematical Institute and the Blavatnik School of Government. We have appointed Hopkins Architects to design the building, and a widespread consultation on is underway so that the building’s users and neighbours get a building of which they are proud. You can read more about the architect appointment here.
A key aim of the Centre is to bring as wide an audience as possible to the humanities. It will bring the world’s leading performers and artists to Oxford, hold exhibitions of priceless collections and put on plays, films and musical performances in its facilities.
The Centre will take humanities research to new audiences, and the research coming out of the Centre will make a major contribution to the biggest challenges facing humanity, like AI and climate change.
We have already started a dialogue with Oxford City Council about the building; as part of the project, we will be developing an attractive, open, green space on the site that will be open to the public.
We have not yet chosen an architect for the building, but when we do we will consult extensively with our neighbours as to how we can create a building that they too are proud of. Alongside its academic aims, the Centre will be a resource for the community. The Radcliffe Observatory Quarter is opening up a new area of Oxford with walkways, public art and places to eat and drink.
The plot of land has been vacant for the last decade, but before that it was used for a hospital so we expect the amount of noise and traffic would still be less than that. There will be little parking on the site, and we will encourage staff to use public transport or cycle to work. We will provide more cycle parking on the site and we operate a cycle-to-work scheme.
As part of the building, we will make a Section 106 contribution to local infrastructure. During the construction of other buildings on the ROQ site we were able to minimise disturbance, and we aim to do the same here.
We plan to create an open, welcoming and large public space with a café and with a welcome desk and visitor induction for those new to Oxford.
We will have a lively programme of cultural and academic events and exhibitions open to the public, fully accessible for all visitors with disabilities.
This investment in the Centre is only the beginning; we are seeking support for academic posts, graduate scholarships and cultural programmes to help realise this transformational project. If you would like further information about the Centre and how you can support the project, please contact our Development Office.
We are engaging extensively with staff and students about our plans for the Centre. We have set up user groups with representatives from the faculties and libraries which will be using the building. More than 150 staff attended three open ‘town hall’ meetings. These consultations are already providing us with new ideas, and we will update these FAQs as further questions arise during consultations.
We will make sure the views of student societies are taken into account, such as those who will perform in the building including the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Oxford University Music Society. We are engaging with the student newspapers and the Oxford University Student Union to keep them informed and updated as the project progresses. We are planning to have a marquee on the ROQ site in May 2020 for a range of events, including a session with students to brainstorm what their vision is for the future of the humanities in the new building.
The very idea of the building has been shaped by students because annual student surveys regularly have low satisfaction levels regarding workspaces for graduate students. That is one of the things we want to tackle with the new building. We began gathering students’ requirements for a new building in 2012/13 when we surveyed all humanities students about facilities and support, and students are represented on each Faculty User Group to ensure their views directly feed into the development of the plans.
The governance of the Institute is through usual Oxford procedures. The Institute is part of the Faculty of Philosophy and all academic posts are established, released and appointed in the normal way. A Steering Group consisting solely of leading academics is developing the vision for the Institute. The donor will not be involved in academic appointments or scholarship selection. There will also be an Advisory Board with external experts from industry and elsewhere, which will meet twice a year to provide high-level advice and ideas.
All decisions about donations are made by the University’s Committee to Review Donations, whose members include Oxford academics with expertise in relevant areas like ethics, law and business. This committee considers whether donations or research funding are acceptable under University guidelines, and turns down proposals which do not meet this standard. The Committee reviews all the publicly available information about a potential donor and can take legal, ethical and reputational issues into consideration. We don’t publish more detailed criteria than this, in part because the circumstances in individual cases can be very different, and because ethical issues are not black and white – what is considered ethical can change over time. Auditors have looked at our process and found it to be robust and effective, and we are confident in its ability to determine which sources of funding are acceptable under our guidelines.
The Committee has five members of the University’s Congregation who represent the Divisions and bring relevant academic expertise in areas such as ethics, public affairs and law. The Committee consists of senior University academics, heads of colleges and at least one external member. We protect the names of individual committee members to allow them to make their decisions without any external influences.
Donors expect privacy and confidentiality in their dealings with the University. The public release of documents relating to the vetting process could damage the University’s relationship with an individual or body that has been subject to that process. This could also deter prospective donors, who would be encouraged to support other causes or institutions.
We made sure that the announcement went out in June 2019 during term time, and we have since held meetings open to all staff and students in term time. We also sought the views of some staff and students prior to the announcement.