Professor slams Imperial College London over university’s ‘astonishing’ move to consult students about cancelling eminent biologist Thomas Henry Huxley because of an 1865 essay now dismissed as ‘scientific racism’

  • In response to the BLM movement last summer, Imperial created a history group
  • The group identified controversial historical figures that the university has honored.
  • Thomas Henry Huxley (19th century biologist) is one example.
  • The group recommends that the Huxley building be renamed and that the Huxley statue found in the building’s lobby be removed.

A professor has criticized Imperial College London over a report calling for a building to be renamed after one of the most important 19th-century scientists and for a bust to be removed from the college’s buildings.

According to the investigation, the Huxley Building, named in honor of biologist Thomas Henry Huxley should have its name changed to reflect his views. It suggested that a bust of Huxley should be removed.

Students and staff are now invited to discuss the recommendations with the college before it decides what course of action to take.  

An investigation carried out by a history group established by Imperial College London in response to the Black Lives Matter movement has recommended the university's Huxley building be renamed, and a bust of biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (pictured) be removed

A history group at Imperial College London has conducted an investigation into the Black Lives Matter movement and recommended that the university’s Huxley structure be renamed. The bust of Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist, was also removed.

This recommendation is made after the university established an independent history group to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained worldwide attention last summer. It also questioned how historical figures are remembered. 

Huxley was the first to suggest that birds were closely related dinosaurs. The group recognized him as one of the controversial figures honored by the university.

It stated that the building, which houses the university’s computing and mathematics departments in Kensington, London, should be renamed to reflect the beliefs of the biologist about human intelligence and race.

The report states that Huxley’s essay, entitled “Emancipation – Black and White”, ‘espoused a race hierarchy of intelligence and a belief system of scientific racism that fed the dangerously false ideology of Eugenics; legacies which are still felt today’.

This is why the report recommends that a bust of Huxley (who was the first dean of Royal Colleges of Science between 1881 and 1985) be taken off display and placed in college archives. It is currently displayed in reception.

“The group believes that this falls far short Imperial’s modern value and, in this light, the group recommends that the busts Huxley and Huxley be removed from the building for preservation with this historical context and College archives, and that the building should be renamed,” the report stated. 

“An explanation of the renaming process should appear as an outline in the general recommendations.”

The report said that the building in Kensington, London (pictured, file photo) - which houses the university's departments of mathematics and computing - should be renamed on account of the biologist's beliefs about human intelligence and race.

According to the report, Kensington, London’s building that houses the university’s mathematics and computing departments (pictured, file photograph) should be renamed due to the biologist’s views about human intelligence and race.

But Stephen Warren, professor of astrophysics who joined the University in 1994, called the report ‘astonishing’ in a letter to The Times.

‘I am sorry that it has chosen to judge people from the past by the standards of today,’ he wrote. ‘I would say that Thomas Henry Huxley is the individual of whom Imperial can be most proud. 

The report says Huxley's essay titled 'Emancipation - Black and White' 'espouses a racial hierarchy of intelligence, a belief system of 'scientific racism' that fed the dangerous and false ideology of eugenics; legacies of which are still felt today'

According to the report, Huxley’s essay titled “Emancipation – Black and White” ‘espoused a racial hierarchy intelligence, a belief structure of’scientific racism’ that fed dangerous and false ideology of Eugenics; legacies which are still felt today’

‘Rightly, he was and is widely admired. If Huxley is to be cancelled, no one from the past is secure.’  

Other controversial figures were also listed in the report. It suggested that lecture rooms named after influential people, such as WD Hamilton, who taught at the college between 1964 and 1977, should be renamed.

It also raised questions over endowments given to the university from 19th and early 20th century philanthropists –  Alfred and Otto Beit and Julius Wernher – over their treatment of largely black migrant workers in diamond and goldmines.

The report suggested that a QR code or plaque be placed on a building or room to explain why it should be renamed. 

Alice Gast, Imperial’s president, stated: “While we cannot alter history, we can find ways that it means, and learn lessons from it so that we don’t perpetuate legacies that are abhorrent.”