Imperial College London has come under fire from a professor over a report that called for one of its buildings named after one of the greatest 19th century scientists to be renamed, and for a bust of him to be removed.
The investigation said the Huxley building, named to commemorate the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, should have its name changed because his views might now be considered to be racist. It has also suggested a bust of Huxley be removed.
Staff and students are now set to be consulted over the recommendations before the college determines what action to take next.
An investigation carried out by a history group established by Imperial College London in response to the Black Lives Matter movement has recommended the university’s Huxley building be renamed, and a bust of biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (pictured) be removed
The recommendation comes after the university set up an independent history group in response to the Black Lives Matter movement that gained global attention last summer and questioned how some historical figures are commemorated.
Huxley, who first suggested that birds are closely related to dinosaurs, was identified by the group as being one of the contentious figures honoured by the university.
It said that the building – which houses the university’s departments of mathematics and computing in Kensington, London – should be renamed on account of the biologist’s beliefs about human intelligence and race.
The report says Huxley’s essay titled ‘Emancipation – Black and White’ ‘espouses a racial hierarchy of intelligence, a belief system of “scientific racism” that fed the dangerous and false ideology of eugenics; legacies of which are still felt today’.
Citing this, the report has said a bust of Huxley, who was the first dean of the Royal Colleges of Science from 1881-85, should be removed from display and placed in college archives. It is currently displayed in the building’s reception.
‘The group believe this falls far short of Imperial’s modern values and, in light of this, the group recommend that the bust of Huxley should be moved from the building for preservation with this historical context to College archives and the building should be renamed,’ the report said.
‘An explanation of the renaming process should be visible as outline in the general recommendations.’
The report said that the building in Kensington, London (pictured, file photo) – which houses the university’s departments of mathematics and computing – should be renamed on account of the biologist’s beliefs about human intelligence and race.
But Stephen Warren, professor of astrophysics who joined the University in 1994, called the report ‘astonishing’ in a letter to The Times.
‘I am sorry that it has chosen to judge people from the past by the standards of today,’ he wrote. ‘I would say that Thomas Henry Huxley is the individual of whom Imperial can be most proud.
The report says Huxley’s essay titled ‘Emancipation – Black and White’ ‘espouses a racial hierarchy of intelligence, a belief system of ‘scientific racism’ that fed the dangerous and false ideology of eugenics; legacies of which are still felt today’
‘Rightly, he was and is widely admired. If Huxley is to be cancelled, no one from the past is secure.’
The report also named other controversial figures. Lecture rooms named after influential people who advocated eugenics, like WD Hamilton – a lecturer at the college from 1964 to 1977 – should also be renamed, it said.
It also raised questions over endowments given to the university from 19th and early 20th century philanthropists – Alfred and Otto Beit and Julius Wernher – over their treatment of largely black migrant workers in diamond and goldmines.
Should a room or building be renamed, the report suggested that a plaque or QR code should be placed on the site to explain why.
Alice Gast, Imperial’s president, said: ‘While we cannot change history, we can find ways to clarify what it means, learn lessons from it, and ensure that we are not perpetuating legacies that we find abhorrent.’