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1st July, 2020

UCL denames buildings named after eugenicists


UCL has today announced it will dename spaces and buildings named after two prominent eugenicists Francis Galton and Karl Pearson.

The decision was made by UCL’s President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur and ratified by Council – the university’s governing body – following a recommendation from UCL’s Buildings Naming and Renaming Committee.

Signs on the Galton Lecture Theatre, Pearson Building and Pearson Lecture Theatre will be taken down with immediate effect. Other changes to the names on maps and signposts around the UCL estate will take place as soon as is practicable.

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. Karl Pearson was the first holder of this chair.

The move is one step in a range of actions aimed at acknowledging and addressing the university’s historical links with the eugenics movement. It follows a series of recommendations made by members of the Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL, which reported earlier this year.

A Response Group of senior UCL representatives – including academic staff, equality experts and the Students’ Union – is being formed to consider all the recommendations from the Inquiry.

The group will be chaired by Professor Dame Hazel Genn and will look at action such as 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 research post to further examine the university’s history of eugenics. It will report with an implementation plan for consideration by Academic Board and approval by UCL’s Council.

Any future renaming process will be overseen by the Buildings Naming and Renaming Committee, which is made-up of a broad representation of academic and professional services staff, students, and equality, diversity and inclusion representatives. It will involve an open consultation with the UCL community.

In the meantime, the names have been changed to Lecture Theatre 115 (formerly the Galton Lecture Theatre), Lecture Theatre G22 (formerly the Pearson Lecture Theatre) and the North-West Wing (formerly the Pearson Building).

The university will contextualise the decision to dename these buildings and spaces with plaques or signs that communicate this decision and the reasons underlying it, linked where appropriate to other contextual material elsewhere in UCL or online.

Professor Arthur said:

“I am delighted that the recommendation to dename the Galton Lecture Theatre, the Pearson Lecture Theatre and the Pearson Building has been ratified by Council. This is an important first step for UCL as we acknowledge and address the university’s historical links with the eugenics movement.

“This problematic history has, and continues, to cause significant concern for many in our community and has a profound impact on the sense of belonging that we want all of our staff and students to have.

“Although UCL is a very different place than it was in the 19th century, any suggestion that we celebrate these ideas or the figures behind them creates an unwelcoming environment for many in our community. I would like to pay tribute to members of our community who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue – particularly our students union.

“I am also clear that this decision is just one step in a journey and we need to go much further by listening to our community and taking practical and targeted steps to address racism and inequality.”

Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu, Provost’s Envoy for Race Equality and Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanoscience, said:

“I cannot begin to express my joy at this decision. Our buildings and spaces are places of learning and aspiration and should never have been named after eugenicists. Today UCL has done the right thing. I would like to acknowledge all my colleagues and students who worked so hard to achieve this result. These individuals held one thing in common – the belief that all peoples are of equal value.”

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

“This is just the first step of a long-term process for UCL to make-amends for its deeply troubling ties to eugenics and institutional racism. Thank you to all the students, activists and staff, whose tireless efforts over many years made this a reality. We’re sad that protests, countless petitions and a year-long inquiry was needed to change the names of a building and two lecture theatres. Now let’s sustain and channel this energy into our education, into our research, into our hiring practices and into all of our decision making at UCL.”

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