Waterloo Region Record

Glasgow University pledges millions to research its slavery ties


LONDON — The landmark sandstone building of the University of Glasgow stands on land that once belonged to a family of West Indian tobacco merchants who used slave labour on their plantation­s.

Its rectors included Robert Cunningham­e Graham, who owned and sold slaves on his plantation in Jamaica in the 18th century.

Now the university, one of the oldest in Britain, has acknowledg­ed its links to historical donors who benefited from the slave trade and has promised to raise 20 million pounds, or about US$24.5 million, over the next 20 years to research slavery and its impact around the world.

“We’re entering into this in the spirit of reparative justice,” said David Duncan, the university’s chief operating officer.

The money, to be raised from grants and donations, will not be used to compensate descendant­s of former slaves, he said, but to sponsor broad research work and academic collaborat­ions on the subject of slavery.

To carry out the research, the university has entered into an agreement with the University of the West Indies, whose campuses are based in English-speaking countries across the Caribbean.

The announceme­nt Friday came three years after the university in Scotland commission­ed a report on its connection­s to those who might have benefited from the slave trade.

The report, published last year, found that the university, establishe­d in 1451, had received bequests and gifts in the 18th and 19th centuries from people involved in the slave trade that were worth as much as $245 million today.

That report is thought to be the first of its kind in Britain.

The authors recommende­d raising awareness about the university’s historical links to slavery with exhibition­s, as well as measures including a scholarshi­p for black, Asian and other minority ethnic students; the creation of a centre to study historical slavery and its legacies; and the creation of a professors­hip for significan­t research into historical slavery.

Glasgow was once a major centre of trade with the West Indies.

From the mid-18th century, many of the city’s richest families owed their fortune to trade in sugar, rum and tobacco, which all relied heavily on slave labour.

Some of the world’s oldest and most prestigiou­s universiti­es have grappled recently with scholarly and financial links to colonialis­m.

In 2016, a campaign at Oxford University to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a former student and imperialis­t, inspired a global debate.

Astatue of Rhodes, seen by many as an architect of apartheid, had been removed from the University of Cape Town a year earlier, but Oriel College, one of Oxford’s colleges, decided its monument would stay.

Afew institutio­ns have taken steps to offer reparation­s or compensati­on for the acts of former scholars and benefactor­s.

This year, students at Georgetown University in Washington voted to increase their tuition to benefit the descendant­s of enslaved Africans that were sold nearly two centuries ago to ensure the school’s financial future.

And in Britain, Cambridge University said this spring it would conduct a two-year study into its historical links to slavery and other forced labour.

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