UCL renames buildings honouring eugenicists Galton and Pearson

University College London renames two lecture theatres and a building honouring Victorian eugenicists Karl Pearson and Francis Galton

  • University heads took the decision over the two men’s ‘problematic history’
  • Galton coined eugenics term and gave UCL his personal collection and archive
  • His bequest made country’s first professorial chair of eugenics Karl Pearson
  • Signs bearing their names will be taken down immediately 

Lecture theatres and a building named after prominent eugenicists Francis Galton and Karl Pearson have been renamed, University College London has announced.

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.

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 of which Karl Pearson was the first holder, the university said.

Karl Pearson (left) and Francis Galton(right) have had their names removed from UCL buildings over their links to eugenics, the university announced today

It said that signs on the building and lecture theatres will be taken down with immediate effect while other changes to the names on maps and signposts will take place as soon as “practicable”.

UCL president and provost Professor Michael Arthur said the move was an “important first step” for the university as it and acknowledges and addresses its historic links with the eugenics movement.

He added: “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.

The Pearson building, which is being renamed over its' 'problem history' link to eugenics

The Pearson building, which is being renamed over its’ ‘problem history’ link to eugenics

“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.”

The decision was made by Prof 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.

Professor of pharmaceutical nanoscience Ijeoma Uchegbu, 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.”

University College London has renamed all the building named after Pearson and Galton

University College London has renamed all the building named after Pearson and Galton

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 implementation plan for consideration by the academic board and approval by UCL’s council.

The dark history of eugenics

In 1907, the eugenics Education Society was founded in Britain to campaign for sterilisation and marriage restrictions for the weak to prevent the degeneration of Britain’s population.

In 1931, Labour MP Archibald Church proposed a bill for the compulsory sterilisation of certain categories of ‘mental patient’ in Parliament.

Meanwhile from 1907 in the United States, men, women and children who were deemed ‘insane, idiotic, imbecile, feebleminded or epileptic’ were forcibly sterilised, often without being informed of what was being done to them.

By 1938, 33 American states permitted the forced sterilisation of women with learning disabilities and 29 American states had passed compulsory sterilisation laws covering people who were thought to have genetic conditions.

All legislation was eventually repealed in the 1940s.

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