UCL renames three facilities that honoured prominent eugenicists

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  • June 19, 2020
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London university removes names of Francis Galton and Karl Pearson from two lecture theatres and a building

Francis Galton coined the term eugenics in 1883 and endowed UCL with his personal collection and archive.
Photograph: Corbis via Getty Images

UCL has renamed two lecture theatres and a building that honoured the prominent eugenicists Francis Galton and Karl Pearson.

The university said on Friday that the Galton lecture theatre had been renamed lecture theatre 115, the Pearson lecture theatre changed to lecture theatre G22 and the Pearson building to the north-west wing.

Galton coined the term eugenics in 1883 and endowed UCL with his personal collection and archive along with a bequest for the country’s first professorial chair of eugenics of which Pearson was the first holder, the university said.

It said that signs on the building and lecture theatres would be taken down with immediate effect. Other changes to the names on maps and signposts would be made as soon as practicable.

UCL’s president and provost, Prof Michael Arthur, said the move was an important first step for the university as it acknowledged and addressed its 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,” he said.

“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 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.”

Eugenics was the study of the selective breeding of humans to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable.

The decision was made by Arthur and ratified by the university’s council following a recommendation from its buildings naming and renaming committee.

The committee, made up of staff, students, and equality, diversity and inclusion representatives, will also oversee any future renaming of the areas, UCL said.

Ijeoma Uchegbu, a professor of pharmaceutical nanoscience and the provost’s envoy for race equality, 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.”

The renaming follows a series of recommendations made by members of the inquiry into the history of eugenics at UCL, which reported back 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 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 draw up an implementation plan for consideration by the academic board and approval by UCL’s council.