Glasgow university paying back for slavery

Glasgow university paying back for slavery
Photo by George Alleyne

The University of Glasgow has admitted to receiving many millions of dollars earned on the blood and sweat of slaves and is now on a programme of reparations that is being hailed as the right move by the Caribbean’s lead advocate for reparative justice, Professor Hilary Beckles.

Founded in 1451 and said to be the fourth oldest university in the world this Scottish tertiary institution over the weekend acknowledged “that whilst it played a leading role in the abolitionist movement, the university also received significant financial support from people whose wealth at least in part derived from slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

“It estimates the present-day value of all monies given to the university which might have been fully or partly derived from slavery to be in the order of tens of millions of pounds (One pound sterling = US$1.32), depending on the indexation formula,” UG indicated in a statement.

This landmark acknowledgement officially made over the weekend following a report based on a study that the university commissioned, paved the way for the university to embark on a comprehensive agenda of making things right with the descendants of Trans-Atlantic Slavery whose ancestors toiled in barbarically inhumane conditions on plantations producing wealth for slave owners from Brazil through the Caribbean to the American south.

Premier among UG’s reparative plans is creation of a centre for the study of slavery and a memorial or tribute at the university in the name of the enslaved.

UG stated that it is also working with the University of the West Indies (UWI) and hopes to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen academic collaboration between the two institutions.

Beckles, University of the West Indies vice-chancellor and chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, said, “I have looked closely at the report, reading it within the context of the University of Glasgow-University of the West Indies framework for mutual recognition and respect.”

“The approach adopted by the University of Glasgow is commendable and is endorsed by the UWI as an excellent place to begin. Both universities are committed to excellent and ethical research, teaching and public service.

“I celebrate colleagues in Glasgow for taking these first steps and keenly anticipate working through next steps,” added Beckles, one of the three external advisors to the report.

In the UG statement Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “The University of Glasgow has a proud record of anti-slavery activity, including petitioning parliament to abolish slavery and awarding an honorary degree to the emancipationist, William Wilberforce. Glasgow also educated James McCune Smith, a formerly enslaved New Yorker who became the first ever African American to receive a medical degree.”

He added that although the university never owned enslaved people or traded in the goods they produced, “it is now clear we received significant financial support from people whose wealth came from slavery.”

“The university deeply regrets this association with historical slavery which clashes with our proud history of support for the abolition of both the slave trade and slavery itself.”

The university stated that it has accepted recommendations in the report for reparative action. This commits it to, among other things:

• Strive to increase the racial diversity of students and staff and to reduce the degree attainment gap, in line with the University of Glasgow’s Equality And Diversity Policy. This will include awarding scholarships to BAME students of Afro-Caribbean descent to help address their under-representation in the university.

• Pursue the negotiation and signing of a memorandum of understanding between the University of Glasgow and UWI, designed to fit the needs and requirements of UWI staff and students, while working in alignment with the educational and research objectives of the University of Glasgow.

• Create an interdisciplinary centre for the study of historical slavery and its legacies, including modern slavery and trafficking.

• Inaugurate a named professorship, a rotating post to be awarded to University of Glasgow academics undertaking significant research relevant to historical and modern slavery and reparative justice.

• Name a major new university building or space to commemorate a significant figure, perhaps James McCune Smith, with appropriate signage and public-facing information.

• Add a commemorative plaque to the Gilbert Scott Building, explaining that this was the site of the house of Robert Bogle, a West India merchant who owned many enslaved people, and who was one of a number of people who made money from slavery and who then later donated funds for the construction of the building.

• Develop a Hunterian exhibition exploring the often unknown and unexpected ways in which some items within the collections are related to the history of racial slavery; and

• Develop a creative arts and sciences series (under the auspices of the new centre) with performances, events and lectures.