UCL renames buildings named after eugenicists

Buildings and lecture theatres across campus are no longer named after eugenicists as part of the UCL Eugenics Inquiry

From Friday 19th June, UCL has announced that buildings on campus that once commemorated eugenicists Francis Galton and Karl Pearson will be ‘denamed’. This is following a recommendation from the UCL Buildings Naming and Renaming Committee and an online petition signed by over 2500 people.

All signs will be taken down with immediate effect and the buildings and lecture theatres in question all have new temporary names.

The decision comes as a response from the Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL which is chaired by Professor Dame Hazel Genn. The aim of the Inquiry is to acknowledge and address the university’s historical links with eugenics and a response group of senior UCL representatives will be forming to consider all recommendations from the inquiry.

Galton Lecture Theatre, Pearson Building and Pearson Lecture Theatre will all be renamed from today with temporary names: Lecture Theatre 115, the North-West Wing and Lecture Theatre G22. All signs will be removed and altered as quickly as possible in line with social-distancing guidelines. UCL has also warned that some of the buildings in question are listed so it may take more time to have some of the signs removed as it has to be approved first.

Francis Galton was a Victorian Scientist who first coined the term eugenics established the first professorial Chair of Eugenics, a position which Karl Pearson went on to hold. Galton was also honorary president of the Eugenics Education Society. This society went on to chair the First International Congress of Eugenics in 1912- an event which Winston Churchill and Carls Elliot attended.

The Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL included this suggestion in their report on actions the University should be taking earlier this year. The university has stated that the denaming of these buildings was ‘one step in a range of actions’ aimed at addressing the University’s ties with the eugenics movement. These ties were still present until 2017 when UCL hosted what was described as a ‘secret eugenics conference’ convened by honorary UCL professor James Thompson and included speakers such as Richard Lynn.

Provost, Professor Michael Arthur has responded to UCL’s troublesome history with Eugenics:

 “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, the Provost’s Envoy for Race Equality and Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanoscience has 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.”

In the Provost’s letter on the matter, he insisted that ‘we must do better every single day, and work tirelessly to make our reality match our aspirations’ and that the denaming is just a beginning to the work that needs to be done at UCL.