London, Oct. 22 (Reuters): Oxford University is to disband an institution that has been keeping a beady eye on its students for almost 800 years.
The Bulldogs — a suited, bowler-hatted private police force whose traditional role was to keep students out of pubs and in the libraries — have fallen victim to cost and safety concerns, the university said today.
“It’s the end of an era in the university’s history, but we have to move on,” Marshal Richard Hartley, commander of the 23-strong force said.
“It’s a nice cuddly image but it’s not appropriate for modern policing. A stab-proof vest under a suit looks ridiculous.”
The Bulldogs were founded in 1215, and probably picked up their nickname in the 1950s when their uniform was modernised from Victorian frock-coats to bowler hats associated with British bulldogs, he said.
The university decided to scrap the historic force because of new accountability laws that would require them to hire an inspector and a superintendent to supervise three full time employees.
“We have got public money to spend and we are aware of that,” said Hartley. “The cost of implementing the measures was too expensive.”
Civilian officers with limited powers will replace the Bulldogs, but will call in regular police to cover events that require official presence.
The Bulldogs are currently responsible for overall student safety, stewarding events like award ceremonies and exams and policing celebrity visits to the university.
But until the end of the World War II they exercised almost parental powers.
“They would chase you out of pubs and catch the male students trying to climb into women’s colleges,” Carol Stewart, an Oxford undergraduate in the 1930s said.
Student union president Will Straw, who is the son of foreign secretary Jack Straw, said he welcomed the decision, as long as the Bulldogs’ replacements could ensure student safety.
“We think in their current state they’re a costumed pantomime and not accountable, but there is definitely a call for student safety to be upheld,” he said. “Just as long as they get rid of the bowler hats — the way they dress is a relic.”
But the bowlers could live on. Hartley said uniforms for the Bulldogs’ replacements were “still in the discussion stage,” and there might be more bad news for students.
From next year, the police will supervise demonstrations and post-exam celebrations, when students throw eggs, flour and champagne at each other.