UCL formally apologises for its eugenicist history and legacy

They have said their eugenic links in the past bring them “deep regret”

Yesterday UCL released a formal public apology for the part the University played in the development of eugenics. The university has expressed “deep regret” for its role in the propagation of the advocacy of selective breeding of the population often to further racist or discriminatory aims.

This statement comes as part of a range of actions taken by the University to “acknowledge and address” its involvement with the eugenics movement. The university is seeking to acknowledge those lecturers such as Francis Galton who have previously funded professorships in eugenics at UCL.

Other examples of these actions were the denaming of spaces named after famous eugenicists, Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, on the UCL campus in June last year, but UCL has released plans for more comprehensive institutional change in the future.

UCL’s apology can be read below.

UCL acknowledges with deep regret that it played a fundamental role in the development, propagation and legitimisation of eugenics”.

“The legacies and consequences of eugenics still cause direct harm through the racism, antisemitism, ableism and other harmful stereotyping that they feed. These continue to impact on people’s lives directly, driving discrimination and denying opportunity, access and representation.”

“UCL considers its history of involvement in eugenics to be in direct contradiction to its founding values of equality, openness and humanity. As a community, we reject eugenics entirely.”

“We apologise fully, and with humility, to all those who have suffered and to those who are still suffering because of our role in creating the conditions that enabled eugenics to become established and acted upon.”

UCL apologises for their delay in fully interrogating the history of eugenics at UCL and for honouring proponents of the movement through the naming of spaces on campus. They acknowledge a future commitment of the University to prevent the legacy of eugenics developing unchallenged and pledge to confront the University’s history with the movement critically from now on.

All of this follows an independent Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL in 2018. Led by Professor Iyiola Solanke of the University of Leeds, this Inquiry aimed to uncover UCL’s historical role in the teaching and study of the history of eugenics, as well as their current methods of addressing/teaching eugenicist history and any benefits UCL still receives from financial instruments linked to the study of eugenics.

The findings of this Inquiry were published in February 2020. UCL’s planned actions in response to these findings have been guided by the recommendations of the Inquiry team as well as by a sub-group of the initial Inquiry team who published separate recommendations.

As well as the formal apology, these are the actions that UCL has declared they will take :

• Investing in improvements for the experience of disabled students and staff at the University, including “addressing physical and digital accessibility issues, collecting more robust data on disability at UCL, improving institutional understanding of the spectrum of disability, and tackling discrimination and unconscious bias”.

• Improving access for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

• Placing “greater prominence” on UCL’s involvement in the history and legacy of eugenics in their teaching and learning activities.

• Improving the way students can “engage with the subject of eugenics, through activities including a specific module in the induction programme for new students, improved access to archives and special collections, and an ongoing programme of exhibitions and engagement, supported by a digital hub.”

 Additionally, the UCL Response Group, comprised of academic staff, the Student’s Union, equality experts and UCL’s equality network have been working with UCL’s Race Equality Implementation Group. Together they have agreed that UCL will implement these changes in the future: tackling “inequalities in staff recruitment, retention ad progression, including improving representation at senior levels”; addressing the degree-awarding gap and working towards a more “diverse and inclusive curricula”.

UCL also refer to the actions they have already taken to confront the issues of equality, diversity and inclusion raised by the 2018 Inquiry. These include:

• Investing £250,000 to support a three year BME Awarding Gap project “to address disparities in outcomes and experience”.

• The creation of the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the study of Racism and Racialisation

• The generation of “an action plan led by Pro-Vice-Provost (Student Experience) Professor Deborah Gill to improve experience and facilities for disabled students”.

• The adoption of “a Statement on Race-developed by UCL’s Race Equality Steering Group and of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.”