There are "rarely simple answers" to address the complex, brilliant and sometimes flawed figures who shape great universities, writes Alice Gast.
In a comment piece for Times Higher Education, President Alice Gast reflects on the dialogue that Imperial has started with its community following the publication of an independent report on the College’s history and legacy.
No decisions have been made and the dialogue continues over the coming months.
Professor Gast writes: “Universities are communities of learning and debate. Confident forward-looking institutions like Imperial promote free speech, open dialogue and strive for a richer understanding of the history that shaped us.”
She adds: “We know that there is much more to be done beyond understanding our history. Black scientists are significantly less likely to be employed as professors than researchers from all other backgrounds. The Royal Society recently pointed to science’s institutional racism problem. For many members of our community, this is not some abstract debate about arcane historic figures; these are current realities that can adversely affect personal and professional lives.”
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Imperial and many donors are also supporting new scholarships for Black students at the College.
Writing in THE, President Gast said: “It is clear that there are rarely simple answers to how to address the past actions of the complex, brilliant and sometimes flawed figures who shape great universities like Imperial. Therefore, we steadfastly support and encourage a full and open dialogue where everyone feels free to express their views. We will protect free speech.
“Learning and understanding more about our past, as well as the values we want to reflect today, strengthens our culture. It is the opposite of so-called ‘cancel culture’.”
“Whatever we at Imperial ultimately decide to do, our community will benefit from an open dialogue that increases our understanding of our past and, perhaps more importantly, of each other. These conversations are never merely about the past; this one will illuminate our future.”
The full comment piece can be read in Times Higher Education.
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The History Group was commissioned last year by Imperial’s President and Provost to examine the history of the College, with a focus on links to the British Empire. It included broad representation of staff and students, as well as external advisors.
The whole Imperial community are now invited to join a dialogue on the History Group’s findings and recommendations, before the College decides how to respond.
The commissioning of the History Group was part of a series of initiatives focussed on addressing racial inequalities and inclusivity. As part of this, the College recently launched new scholarships for Black British students, among other initiatives.
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