Glasgow University reveals it benefited by tens of millions from slavery

Published

Credit: Glasgow University Library

Georgina Hayes
Editor-in-Chief

The money the University received from slave-related wealth has a present-day value of between £16.7 and £198 million

Glasgow University is to launch a “reparative justice programme” after discovering that it benefited by tens of millions of pounds from slavery.

In total, the money the University received from slave-related wealth has a present-day value of between £16.7 and £198 million, which included money for bursaries and endowments. Donations to the 1866-1880 campaign to build the University’s current campus at Gilmorehill found that 23 people who gave money had financial links to the New World slave trade.

The University has today published a report into the institution’s historical links with slavery, with the study acknowledging that while playing a leading role in the abolitionist movement, the University also received significant financial support from people whose wealth derived from slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The report, co-authored by Professor Simon Newman and Dr Stephen Mullen, both from the University, follows a year-long investigation into bequests, support and other ways the University might have benefited from slavery-related wealth.

In light of the study, the University has now agreed a “proactive programme of reparative justice” which includes a creation of a centre for the study of slavery and a memorial or tribute at the University in the name of the enslaved. The University 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.

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.

“This report has been an important undertaking and commitment to find out if the University benefited from slavery in the past. 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.”

Professor Simon Newman, the University of Glasgow report’s co-author, said: “The University of Glasgow has made history in the UK today by acknowledging that alongside its proud history of abolitionism is an equally significant history of financially benefiting from racial slavery. In doing this, Glasgow follows in the footsteps of leading American universities which have confronted the role of slavery in their histories.

“The University of Glasgow is an institution that grew in a city tied to the trade in tobacco, sugar and cotton, all of which were initially produced by enslaved Africans. Launching an in-depth investigation to look at how the University might have benefited from the profits of racial slavery was, in my opinion, a brave decision. But it is a decision rooted in the core values of an educational institution dedicated to the pursuit of truth and social justice.

“I am delighted that we have acknowledged our past, albeit indirect, ties to racial slavery and been inspired to develop new and exciting opportunities and collaborations for students and academics alike as part of a rolling programme of reparative justice.”

The University has accepted the recommendations of the report. This commits it to:

  1. 1) Publish the Senior Management Group’s statement of July 2016, along with the final version of the report detailing the research and conclusions of the research into how the University benefited from the profits of historical slavery, and a statement describing the reparative justice actions to be undertaken by the University.
  2. 2) 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.
  3. 3) Pursue the negotiation and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Glasgow and the University of the West Indies, 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.
  4. 4) Create an interdisciplinary centre for the study of historical slavery and its legacies, including modern slavery and trafficking.
  5. 5) 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.
  6. 6) Name a major new University building or space to commemorate a significant figure, perhaps James McCune Smith, with appropriate signage and public-facing information.
  7. 7) 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.
  8. 8) 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.
  9. 9) Develop a creative arts and sciences series (under the auspices of the new centre), with performances, events and lectures.