Rhodes Scholarship Research Paper Starter

Rhodes Scholarship

(Research Starters)

Cecil Rhodes made his fortune in the diamond and gold mines of South Africa, and as part of his bequest used the wealth he gained to fund one of the world's most famous scholarship programs (Rotberg, 1988). Rhodes Scholarships fund study for one to three years at the University of Oxford for select students from various regions around the globe, including the United States (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998; The Rhodes Trust, 2007). The first African American Rhodes Scholar, Alain LeRoy Locke, was selected in 1907 but there were to be no African American Rhodes Scholars again for over fifty years (Rocca, 2003). Additionally, women were not eligible to be considered for Rhodes Scholarships until the Rhodes Class of 1977 (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998). Researchers have generally found that winning a Rhodes Scholarship may open doors but is not necessarily a ticket to success (Arnold, 2002; Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998).

Keywords Annex; Autonomous; Bequest; Cambridge; Equal Opportunities; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU); Imperialist; Oxford; Posterity; Rhodes, Cecil; Rhodes Scholars/Scholarship; Social Justice


Posthumously both praised and despised, Cecil Rhodes made his fortune in Africa from diamonds and gold and along the way accumulated substantial political power as well that catapulted him into the world eye (Rotberg, 1988). His wealth helped fund his invasions of territories in Africa that subsequently were known as Northern and Southern Rhodesia (present day Zambia and Zimbabwe; Rotberg, 1988). The riches that Cecil Rhodes acquired over the course of his lifetime also gave rise to arguably the most esteemed and well-recognized scholarship program in the world.

Rhodes earned an undergraduate degree from Oxford in 1881 (Rotberg, 1988). Considered by some to be rivaled only by the University of Cambridge in world prestige and reputation, Oxford University saw its first college founded in 1249 (The Rhodes Trust, 2007). Today, Oxford is home to thirty-nine autonomous colleges (The Rhodes Trust, 2007). Schaeper and Schaeper (1998) offered that one of the reasons Rhodes decided to study at Oxford was that "he wanted to be accepted as a gentleman and have social connections with the right sort of people" (p. 2). Rotberg (1988) stressed that evidence shows that Rhodes hardly led a studious and academic life while at Oxford. In fact, because Rhodes alternated his study at Oxford with trips back to supervise his mining operations in South Africa, it took him eight years to complete a degree that normally could be earned in three (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998). Yet, Oxford came to have great meaning for Rhodes because it represented time in which he grew personally and "constructed a plan of life" (Rotberg, 1988, p. 84).

Despite his own less than studious history with Oxford, Rhodes also came to revere the institution for "its passion for learning" (Rotberg, 1988, p. 664). As part of his plans to unite the English-speaking colonies at that time and to leave behind something to be remembered by for posterity's sake, in 1899 as part of his eighth will Rhodes created the scholarship program bearing his name that was to fund study at Oxford for future leaders (Rotberg, 1988). His ideas for the Rhodes Scholarship had actually started to take shape in his previous wills (Rotberg, 1988). The creation of what has become known as the Rhodes Trust was dictated by Cecil Rhodes in order to carry out the indications of his will (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998). Initially, scholarships were to be awarded without regard for race or religion yet only to men because Rhodes believed that women were not fit to be considered as scholars (Rotberg, 1988). Scholarships for study at Oxford would be awarded to young colonials from Rhodesia, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Jamaica, Bermuda, and the United States; scholarships for Germans were added by way of an amendment to Rhodes' will in 1901 because of Rhodes' admiration for Kaiser Wilhelm and Wilhelm's action to make instruction in English compulsory in German schools (Rotberg, 1988). Qualifications for the scholarships were to go beyond scholastic aptitude to also include leadership potential, moral integrity, and athletic prowess (Rotberg, 1988).

According to Rotberg, (1988) Rhodes Scholarships to the University of Oxford became the "main and overarching bequest" of Cecil Rhodes (p. 678). Schaeper and Schaeper (1998) described the type of experience that the Rhodes Scholarship allows students to have as one of "introspective respite" (p. 322). Rhodes Scholars are encouraged to mix academics with social life, to travel, and to engage in readings and discussion that do not necessarily relate to their planned career path (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998).


The Selection of Scholars

The first Rhodes Scholars, six South Africans and five Germans, arrived at Oxford in the fall of 1903 (Wylie, 1955a). Only South Africa and Germany were represented among the first scholars because officials in these regions managed well enough to make recommendations for scholars to the Rhodes Trustees despite a general lack at the time of "machinery anywhere for electing Rhodes Scholars" (Wylie, 1955a, p. 77). In contrast, the following year seventy-two Rhodes Scholars came into residence at Oxford (Wylie, 1955a). In addition to early problems with the process of election for Rhodes Scholars, at the beginning competition for the awards was also stymied by the necessity of passing a qualifying examination that included competencies in the subjects of Latin and Greek, which at that time were being given less and less attention (Wylie, 1955c). The requirement was finally dropped in 1918 (Wylie, 1955c).

Regarding Rhodes Scholars from the United States, selection occurs today via a decentralized process by regional selection committees (The Rhodes Trust, 2007). The selection process involves first an endorsement from a student's academic institution followed by subsequent screenings at the state and regional level (Rocca, 2003). Altogether, thirty-two American Rhodes Scholars are selected annually (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998; The Rhodes Trust, 2007). Applicants must provide academic transcripts, a personal essay, and letters of recommendation; those deemed most promising are then called for a personal interview with the relevant selection committee (The Rhodes Trust, 2007). According to the Rhodes Trust (2007), "Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead" (p. 1). Additionally, the desire for scholars to engage in 'protection of the weak' has been interpreted to mean that Rhodes Scholars should work toward social justice (Rocca, 2003).

Candidates for the American Rhodes Scholarships can choose to compete either in their home states or in the state in which their academic institutions are located (Rocca, 2003). There has been some controversy over this aspect of the process as some say that candidates from less-populous states are given an advantage (Rocca, 2003). However, a change was made to take effect with the Rhodes Class of 1997 in order to curb the perceived advantage that students applying from less populous states enjoy (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998). Specifically, the eight districts from which American Rhodes applicants apply were reconfigured so that they are closer in total population (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998).

Rhodes Scholars generally are elected to attend the University of Oxford for two years but may attend for as little as one year or for as many as three years depending upon the course of study pursued (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998; The Rhodes Trust, 2007). The Rhodes Trust covers all educational and travel costs of scholarship winners and also provides a maintenance allowance or stipend (The Rhodes Trust, 2007). Overall, each year about 200 Rhodes Scholars study at Oxford (The Rhodes Trust, 2007). While America currently has the largest contingent of Rhodes Scholars each year, the group is joined by students from numerous other regions including Australia, Bermuda, Canada, the Commonwealth Caribbean, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (The Rhodes Trust, 2007).

Black Rhodes Scholars

Although a clause in Cecil Rhodes' will indicated that neither race nor religion should be a factor in decisions about Rhodes Scholarships, it is generally believed that the selection of black Rhodes Scholars goes against the intentions Rhodes had for the program (Schaeper & Schaeper, 1998). This is because Rhodes sometimes used "race" to mean...

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