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3rd March, 2020

UCL announces action to acknowledge and address historical links with eugenics


UCL is today announcing a range of measures aimed at acknowledging and addressing the university’s historical links with the eugenics movement.

These include funding new scholarships to study race and racism, a commitment to ensure UCL staff and students learn about the history and legacy of eugenics and the creation of a two-year research post to further examine UCL’s history of eugenics.

UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur will also recommend that the university’s ‘Buildings Naming and Renaming Committee’ start the formal process of considering the current naming of spaces and buildings after two prominent eugenicists Francis Galton and Karl Pearson. Victorian scientist Francis Galton coined the term eugenics and endowed UCL with his personal collection and archive along with a bequest for the country’s first professorial Chair of Eugenics.

The action follows the publication today of a series of recommendations by the ‘Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL’, which has been led by independent chair Professor Iyiola Solanke, of the University of Leeds.

The panel of prominent UCL academics and equality representatives from UCL and the Students’ Union spent more than a year examining UCL’s historical role in and the current status of the teaching and study of eugenics as well as any financial instruments linked to the study of eugenics which may benefit the institution. It undertook archival research as well as a survey of attitudes towards eugenics inside and outside the UCL community.

The Inquiry recommends that UCL acknowledges and addresses the university’s historical links with eugenics in a wide-range of areas including the teaching, dissemination and study of eugenics.

UCL has set up a group to produce a formal response to the Inquiry’s recommendations, co-led by Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs) and another senior UCL academic who will be confirmed shortly.

As the committee was unable to reach full consensus on the final report and recommendations, the group will consider all recommendations put forward by Inquiry members in detail and will report back with an implementation plan by the beginning of the next academic year for consideration by Academic Board and approval by UCL’s Council.

As part of its commitment to be transparent about its eugenics history, UCL is today also publishing ‘Living with Eugenics’ – a new podcast presented by Subhadra Das, Science Curator at UCL Culture. This podcast critically examines the university’s eugenics past and its legacy as a starting point for staff and students developing knowledge and understanding about the issue.

UCL is also in the process of raising funds for a new scholarship programme for students based in the UCL Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the study of Racism and Racialisation.

The university is also publishing its investigation report into the London Conference on Intelligence, which was held in secret and was not approved or endorsed by UCL.

UCL President & Provost, Professor Michael Arthur, said: “We acknowledge that UCL has a problematic history with eugenics which has, and continues, to cause significant concern for many in our community.

“It is important that we approach this history proactively and confront our role in eugenics by understanding the past. This past should not be hidden but openly and critically discussed. Racism, antisemitism, inequity and inequality of opportunity have a profound impact on the sense of belonging that we want all of our staff and students to have at UCL.

“I would like to thank Professor Iyiola Solanke, commission members and expert witnesses for their contributions to the inquiry. We respect that commission members have not been able to reach full consensus on the way forward. This is a challenging issue. But all Inquiry members are clear that UCL must take action and we are determined to take their recommendations forward.”

Professor Solanke, Professor in the School of Law at the University of Leeds, said: “UCL’s historical association with eugenics is a matter for investigation and sober reflection. It will be most effectively tackled using a multi-level approach that encompasses action at the individual, collective and environmental level so that UCL can reconcile its past with its current values and its future.

“I would like to thank all the commission members and expert witness for contributing to this report. The Inquiry’s report represents the first step creating a framework of action at UCL to acknowledge and address its history of eugenics, as well as empower those who were its targets and may experience its impact during their education at UCL.

“UCL is one of many universities seeking to come to terms with a troubling institutional past, although UCL has a unique history in relation to eugenics. It is important that this history is examined proactively, with sincerity, humility and honesty in collaboration with the BAME students who were its targets.”

Sandy Ogundele, Black and Minority Ethnic Officer at the Students’ Union UCL, said:

“We welcome the outcome of the Inquiry’s work and the range of recommendations made in the report into UCL’s historic links to research, teaching and financial gains from eugenics. The range of recommendations are practical, targeted and aim to establish a culture of care and respect to the communities historically discriminated by this harmful and destructive ideology – perpetuated in the name of ‘science’.

“The Inquiry is a significant first step of a long-term process for UCL to make-amends for its deeply troubling ties to eugenics and is the result of the tireless efforts of staff, students and elected representatives over many years. We look forward to working in partnership with UCL, and to hold UCL to account, on the implementation of these recommendations and create an inclusive environment for our members.”

UCL is already taking the following action around access and widening participation, and equality, diversity and inclusion issues raised in the report:

  • An additional £250,000 to support a three-year BME Awarding Gap Project to address the disparities in outcomes and experience of our BME students.
  • The creation of the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the study of Racism and Racialisation. The Centre – originally founded in 2019 as the Centre for the Study of Race and Racism – was the first body at UCL to be renamed in 2020 as recommended by UCL’s Buildings Naming and Renaming committee.
  • Pioneering new scholarships have been established for BME PhD students. UCL is also in the process of raising funds for a new scholarship programme for students based in the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the study of Racism and Racialisation.
  • Applications from undergraduate black students have almost doubled since 2015 from 720 in 2015 to 1420 in 2019.
  • Funding a new two-year research fellow to continue research into UCL’s historical associations with eugenics history as well as further tracing financial instruments linked to eugenics.
  • A group, led by Pro-Vice-Provost for Student Experience Professor Deborah Gill, is developing an action plan to improve the experience and facilities for disabled students at UCL.
  • In consultation with UCL’s community, adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitismand adopt a Statement on Race developed by UCL’s Race Equality Steering Group.
  • The creation of a new staff-student interfaith group
  • A three-day residential summer school for deaf and hard of hearing students in Years 11 and 12.
  • Disabled students, young carers, forced migrants, care experienced, or mature students can spend a day shadowing one of our students, going to lectures and finding out what life is like at UCL.

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