Tangled up in the name change culture wars

Deputy dean Caroline Wiertz has little time for people who dismissed the title improve of her employer from Cass Company School to Bayes as the simple solution. “I say, ‘Are you ridiculous? It is so challenging.’”

It was a complicated approach to clear away the business enterprise school’s link to Sir John Cass, an 18th-century service provider and member of the slave-investing Royal African Corporation, and rename it soon after Thomas Bayes, the English statistician and philosopher. The improve, which arrived into outcome last month, angered some alumni, who launched a petition to restore the title and demanded the university repay their charges.

The rebrand tapped into a broader cultural conversation about the way historic figures are remembered and commemorated. One notable instance arrived in June 2020 when the statue of Edward Colston, the slave trader, was pushed into Bristol’s harbour.

This followed the murder of George Floyd in the US by a policeman two months before. The Black Life Make a difference protests that followed led organisations and brands to distance themselves from historic associations with racism and slavery. PepsiCo dropped Aunt Jemima in favour of Pearl Milling Corporation, and Mars rebranded Uncle Ben’s rice as Ben’s Authentic.

The toppled statue of Edward Colston lies on display in M Shed museum in Bristol
The toppled statue of Edward Colston lies on exhibit in M Lose museum in Bristol © Polly Thomas/Getty

Bayes Company School is not the only organisation to drop its affiliation with Cass. London Metropolitan University’s Artwork, Architecture and Design School did so far too, as did a City of London key college. The Sir John Cass Basis became The Portal Trust.

In other places back links to slavery have prompted organisational reflection. Past month, Haberdashers’ Girls’ School and Haberdashers’ Boys’ School in Hertfordshire each eliminated Aske from their names because of to the merchant’s back links to the Royal African Corporation. This summertime, Hardwicke barristers chambers dropped its affiliation with Lord Hardwicke, the 18th-century lord chancellor, who assisted draw up the Yorke-Talbot opinion that delivered the legal framework to legitimise slavery in Britain. It is now named Gatehouse Chambers.

Amanda Illing, Gatehouse’s chief executive, states some barristers had been of the opinion “that’s background, we have invested 30 years setting up our brand, we don’t concur with it, does that necessarily mean we need to lose our brand identity. Some others reported I cannot live [with] plugging the title Hardwicke now I know what [he] was. Some juniors had been stating, I’m fearful of setting up up a title that no one’s heard of, I joined simply because individuals realized what Hardwicke was about.” 

Illing adds: “One junior colleague reported it’s like living in a household with a Jimmy Savile [the disgraced Television presenter, now deceased] mural on the aspect [painted in the seventies] — you wouldn’t fee a new Savile mural [in 2021].”

In modern years, American universities’ histories have been scrutinised. In 2017, Yale made a decision to improve the title of Calhoun university [named soon after John C Calhoun, a US statesman and defender of slavery] to Grace Murray Hopper, a personal computer scientist. Past calendar year, Princeton dropped Woodrow Wilson’s title from the public policy college simply because, the university reported, “Wilson’s racism disqualifies him.”

For Bayes Company School, the approach of switching its title was sophisticated and protracted. As Paolo Volpin, the school’s dean, details out: “Universities are not incredibly rapidly-going beasts.” A historian scrutinised Bayes’ earlier and concluded: “The only possibility I can see is that there may well be a reaction to naming the college soon after a clergyman in what is an ever more secular modern society.”

A statue of Sir John Cass in London.
A statue of Sir John Cass in London. © Neil Corridor/EPA

The business enterprise college was named soon after Sir John Cass in 2002 soon after it received a £5m donation from its namesake’s basis, now the Portal Trust.

While the majority of employees and students had been in favour of the improve of title, some alumni had been anxious, states Wiertz. “Most of them don’t live in the British isles. If you lived in the British isles at the time, you had been involved in that conversation [and] individuals had been much additional engaged in the subject. But if you lived in Russia or China and are not portion of this, that’s not what you think about.”

This is disputed by Vishal Bagaria, who studied for a masters of science concerning 2013 and 2014, and is based mostly in Kolkata, India. “A chunk of the university’s alumni occur from countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the erstwhile colonies of the British isles and as a result incredibly much a portion of the reported earlier. The minimum a respectable organisation can do is offer each and every student, latest and previous, with a perception of belonging by involving us in vital decisions this kind of as a title improve.” He feels the title improve is bad PR.

Emil Manchev, who studied for an MSc concerning 2012 and 2013, is portion of an alumni group pushing to restore the aged title. “I individually will not be employing the Bayes title, exact same as thousands of other alumni would not use it either. We strongly believe that the title of the college has for a very long time built a brand of its personal and any affiliation with Sir John Cass is by no signifies defining the school’s identity. We had suggested that CASS turns into an acronym.”

While Gaetano Di Benedetto, a previous student and now a senior analyst based mostly in Milan, understands the university is eager to detach itself from back links to colonialism, he states he will continue to use the Cass title on his CV.

Volpin is calm about whether or not alumni use the aged title on their CVs, but states he has found out that a tiny group of folks can have a enormous impact on public opinion. “That’s the even larger lesson, the power that a tiny dissenting [group of] individuals can have.” He states it appears to be to be a common perspective that the alumni are in opposition to the title improve, but this is not correct.

Some others have argued the title improve does not go much more than enough. The Students’ Union put out a assertion stating the go needed to be accompanied by the college addressing bias in the choosing and advertising procedures, raising illustration of individuals of color as nicely as overhauling the curriculum.

Wiertz agrees that “changing the title [has to be] a signal for other factors that we are performing, normally it would just be advantage signalling”. The college has launched a scholarship programme for black British isles-domiciled undergraduates to start in the next academic calendar year. The curriculum is now less than overview and there will be lectures on Cass and the background of the City of London’s back links to slavery.

The institution’s interim title — The Company School, previously recognised as Cass — added to uncertainty. With hindsight, Volpin, states, it may possibly have been far better to use the aged title until eventually they had a new one particular. It is challenging, nonetheless, to untangle the impact on recruitment from the results of the pandemic — undergraduate apps to the college, at five,744, are down by just in excess of four hundred in contrast with the previous calendar year.

All round apps to Bayes (undergraduate, postgraduate and executive education) had been seventeen,742 for the 2019/20 academic calendar year, an increase of one,491 from the calendar year prior to.

Volpin is hopeful the advertising drive about the Bayes title will help to enhance the picture. People today “will, even if they are upset, occur again to us and see alternatives to have interaction and see that the college will continue to grow”.

Letters in response to this write-up:

A City benefactor could have wooed Bayes alumni​ ​/ ​From Peter Hahn, Graduate, Bayes/Cass, London W9, British isles

Company college provided a mathematician’s rebrand / From Michael Hobbs, Which Days Tech, London N13, British isles

This write-up has been amended to incorporate in general apps to Bayes Company School for the 2019/20 academic calendar year