UCL eugenics inquiry did not go far enough, committee say

Nine members argue inquiry should have investigated recent meeting on eugenics

An inquiry into University College London’s historical links with eugenics has issued its final report, despite the fact that a majority of its committee refused to sign it because they felt it did not go far enough.

The report of the inquiry, which has taken a year and a half and had an independent external chair, calls for the names of scientific pioneers who supported the discredited science, including the Victorian scientist and “father of eugenics” Francis Galton, to be erased from buildings and lecture theatres at the university.

Nine members of the 16-strong inquiry team refused to sign the report, arguing that they should have investigated a much more recent secret meeting on eugenics run at the university.

The group argue that the report ignores many expert testimonies and contains scientific and historical inaccuracies. They plan to distribute an alternative set of recommendations at a UCL town hall meeting on the inquiry on Friday evening.

The inquiry did not investigate London Conference on Intelligence meetings on eugenics, which were run at the university by James Thompson, an honorary senior lecturer who has now been stripped of his title. Speakers at these meetings included white supremacists and a researcher who had previously advocated child rape.

Andrew Sabisky, the former No 10 adviser who was forced to step down last week because of a furore around his comments on race and intelligence, was listed as a speaker at an LCI meeting at UCL in 2015. Toby Young was forced to resign as a director of the government’s New Schools Network after it was revealed that he also attended one of the meetings.

Joe Cain, a professor of the history and philosophy of biology at UCL and one of the dissenting members of the inquiry committee, said: “I tried really hard to get the London Conference on Intelligence on to the agenda of that committee but I met with a brick wall. We absolutely should have talked about it – but we just didn’t.”

The university says it conducted a separate inquiry into how Thompson was able to book meeting rooms without its knowledge – which it is also publishing on Friday – and procedures have now been tightened up.

But a second member of the inquiry committee, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “We definitely should have talked about these meetings. But the big issue is not how a member of staff booked a room, but why someone with his views was a member of staff at all.”

They added: “I refused to sign the report largely because of its tendentious focus on race. I have no issue with addressing racism, but the fact is that the early eugenicists at UCL were far more focused on targeting people based on things like poverty or disability.”

Cain is also concerned that the inquiry did not probe sufficiently deeply into teaching at UCL. He says that although the report asserts that eugenics is not being taught anywhere in the university, the inquiry team did not investigate whether this was the case.

“My God, I hope that’s true, but the fact is we didn’t look. I’m sure students would let us know if the sort of crazy eugenics you see in the LCI meetings were being taught, but eugenics can also be much more subtle than that.”

Galton coined the term eugenics and endowed UCL with his personal collection, along with an endowment that funded the country’s first professorial chair of eugenics.

Cain was one of the first to call for the renaming of university buildings and already refuses to teach in the Galton lecture theatre. He said he was pleased that the inquiry has instructed the university to issue a “meaningful and effective apology” for the hurt that UCL’s involvement in eugenics had caused BME students and academics.

“The history of eugenics reminds us about stigmatisation. It says to members of our community ‘you don’t belong here and you aren’t normal’.”

Responding to the inquiry’s recommendations, UCL said it was taking action including the funding of new scholarships to study race and racism, a commitment to ensure all UCL students learn about the history and legacy of eugenics, and the creation of a two-year research post to further examine UCL’s history of eugenics.

Prof Kalwant Bhopal, the director of the centre for research in race and education at Birmingham University, said the inquiry must not be used as a sticking plaster for racial inequality. “It’s no good just ticking boxes and changing a few names. How will everyday lives change?” she said.

Dr Adam Rutherford, a science broadcaster who teaches at UCL and has just written a book on race, said: “What I’m concerned about is that the gloss of renaming buildings will overshadow the big structural issues that really matter, like why is there such an attainment gap between BME and white students? And why are there so few senior BME academics?”

Sandy Ogundele, the black and minority ethnic officer at UCL students’ union, said the report’s recommendations were “a significant first step in a long-term process for UCL to make amends for its deeply troubling ties to eugenics.”

Prof Michael Arthur, UCL’s provost, said: “We acknowledge that UCL has a problematic history with eugenics which has, and continues, to cause significant concern for many in our community. This past should not be hidden but openly and critically discussed.”


Anna Fazackerley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
UCL launches inquiry into historical links with eugenics
Staff and students want UCL to remove name of ‘father of eugenics’ Francis Galton from university buildings

Anna Fazackerley

06, Dec, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
University College London apologises for role in promoting eugenics
Links to early eugenicists such as Francis Galton a source of ‘deep regret’ to institution

Richard Adams Education editor

07, Jan, 2021 @5:20 PM

Article image
Jamaican director of UCL's slavery research centre: British racism is 'clear and sharp'
The UK continues the fiction that racial exploitation is in the past, says Matthew Smith. He hopes his London appointment will help change that

Susanna Rustin

22, Sep, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Top UK geneticist faces new inquiry over claims of research misconduct
Master of Birkbeck, University of London, Prof David Latchman to be investigated despite being cleared by similar inquiry last year

Ian Sample Science editor

03, Jan, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
UCL has a racist legacy, but can it move on?
University College London has denamed three of its buildings because of historical links with racist science. But not all staff are happy about the change

Andrew Anthony

02, Aug, 2020 @9:00 AM

'Not enough done' against campus antisemitism

Antisemitism in universities remains a major concern and the government needs to do more work to address it, an all party group of MPs has warned

Anthea Lipsett

14, May, 2008 @9:47 AM

Article image
Genetic study of eating disorders could pave way for new treatment
Researchers explore whether genes and early eating habits may trigger disordered eating

Haroon Siddique

25, Dec, 2018 @2:00 PM

Article image
Brexit could see EU student numbers nose dive, Cambridge warns
University says numbers have already fallen as higher education institutions tell MPs of significant funding risks of EU exit

Richard Adams Education editor

08, Dec, 2016 @7:39 PM

Article image
UCL row over email stating immigration-check fine of £20,000
Punishment for not reporting immigration breaches by students called draconian and discriminatory

David Batty

12, Jul, 2018 @7:09 AM

Article image
UCL tells students 'stay away for at least seven weeks' over Covid fears
University College London, UK’s largest campus, defies official call for earlier return

Richard Adams Education editor

03, Jan, 2021 @2:15 PM