The UWI – University of Glasgow sign MoU on Reparatory Justice

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KINGSTON, Jamaica —A historic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed by the Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles and a senior official of the University of Glasgow (UoG), at a ceremony held at The UWI Regional Headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. 

The document, framed as a “Reparatory Justice” initiative, acknowledges that while the University of Glasgow (UoG) lent support to efforts to abolish the trade in enslaved Africans and to end slavery, it also received significant financial support from people whose wealth was derived from African enslavement. The evidence of this history of financial benefitting from enslavement, particularly in the Caribbean context, was presented by a research team commissioned by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli.

The two universities have agreed to partner in a reparations strategy that focuses on how best to use this historical knowledge in order to fashion reparatory justice tools and research for Caribbean development. Acknowledging that universities have a duty to be at once excellent and ethical, the MoU will enable the University of Glasgow to make specific and general contributions to Caribbean problem-solving development.

Under the terms of the MoU the two universities agreed to establish the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research. The Centre, through reparatory-oriented policy research, will address the legacies of slavery and colonialism, such as persistent poverty and extreme inequality in economic relations, chronic disease proliferation, educational inadequacies, and related inhibiting factors adversely impacting economic growth and social justice in the region.

Over the next two decades, UoG commits to spending £20 million as part of its programme of reparative justice, including seed funding, benefactions and research grant income raised from grant-giving bodies.  UoG will allocate resources to support the running of the Centre, scholarships, research, public engagement, and related initiatives. UoG and The UWI will work together to attract external funding for mutually agreed projects that will benefit the communities of the Caribbean islands and other parts of the world affected by the slave trade.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles commented that he “was proud of the decision of the University of Glasgow to take this bold, moral, historic step in recognising the slavery aspect of its past and to rise as an advocate of reparatory justice, and an example of 21st century university enlightenment.” Shortly after he became Vice-Chancellor, Sir Hilary received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Glasgow for his work as a historian and was invited to advise the university on how best to address its historical links to slavery.

Signing the MoU on behalf of the University of Glasgow was Dr David Duncan, Chief Operating Officer, and University Secretary. He said, “This is a historic and profoundly momentous occasion for both the University of Glasgow and The University of the West Indies. When we commissioned our year-long study into the links the University of Glasgow had with historical slavery we were conscious both of the proud part that Glasgow played in the abolitionist movement and an awareness that we would have benefitted, albeit indirectly from that appalling and heinous trade.

“From the very first we determined to be open, honest and transparent with the findings, and to produce a programme of reparative justice. In this, we were greatly assisted by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies who was one of our external advisors. I am delighted that as a result of the report we are now able to sign a MoU between the University of Glasgow and The UWI and I look forward to the many collaborative ventures that we will jointly undertake in future.”

Another commemorative signing of the MoU is scheduled at the University of Glasgow on August 23, 2019, coinciding with UNESCO’s International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade. It will include the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in honour of the enslaved.

Meantime, a statement from Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies reads as follows: 

“It is my honour this day to welcome everyone to this historic event. It is a single, but seminal moment in the global movement for reparatory justice and I am pleased to invite your participation. 

It is a powerful, practical gesture, and significant symbolic stage in a journey that seeks fairness and fellowship for the descendants of enslaved Africans. It is for the Caribbean the first formal reparations response to the crimes of enslavement and post-emancipation plunder committed against African people in the region and beyond. 

I am proud to welcome to the Regional Headquarters of The University of the West Indies two senior officials of the University of Glasgow, Dr David Duncan, Chief Operating Officer, and University Secretary, and  Peter Aitchison, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, both representing Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli who must, this day, be celebrated for his visionary leadership of the University of Glasgow. 

The community of historians in the Caribbean, and Scotland, have long been aware of the role played by the City of Glasgow in the development and sustainability of African enslavement in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Likewise, they have been aware of the financial support given by enslavers in the Caribbean to the ancient University of Glasgow. But it was Vice-Chancellor Muscatelli who launched a formal inquiry into the exact dimensions of endowments which the University received from owners and managers of slave-produced wealth. 

This report provides an ethical context and empirical basis for this partnership between The University of the West Indies and the University of Glasgow which we shall launch this day with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Vice-Chancellor Muscatelli, and his research team, led by my colleague Dr David Duncan, have responded in a principled and purposeful manner to the evidence unearthed and presented in their report. 

They have not done, as many universities with a similar engagement with slave-produced wealth have done, that is to “Research and Run”. “Research and Run” has indeed become the norm for many universities in Britain, Europe, and North America. Rather than stand and plan, they “researched and ran”.

Not so with the University of Glasgow. It has provided for a partnership with The University of the West Indies, which is cast within a framework of reparatory justice for victims of slavery and colonialism. Importantly, it has insisted that the partnership represents a commitment to fund the search for development solutions for the people of the Caribbean as they continue to battle with the debilitating legacies of slavery and colonialism. 

Officials have accepted the principles laid out in the CARICOM Reparations Commission’s Ten Point Plan that sees reparations as part of a broad development strategy for victimized communities long in need of practical and promotional support. 

Neither did they seek with sanitized words to “apologize and fossilize”; the culture of indifference that has greeted for generations, the plight of victims of slavery. It has never been morally sufficient to issue apologies and the refusal to repair; to issue words of regret and then reject any policy of repair. 

Apologize and fossilize” is here rejected in favour of “apologize and mobilize”. Our colleagues at Glasgow have recognized that universities such as their own can never be truly excellent unless there are endemically ethical. 

And, that in order to prepare for the future they must repair the past in the present. In this regard, the MoU we are about to sign will bind the mind of The University of the West Indies and the University of Glasgow. We have agreed to jointly establish and manage an institution for collaborative research action that will mobilize historical knowledge to be galvanized to meet the development needs of the Caribbean and Africa.

This institution will be called the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research. Its collaborative research agenda will revolve around the broad areas and issues of public health, development economics, and cultural empowerment, and related themes and subjects. 

The University of Glasgow has agreed to contribute £20 million to the Centre to fund its operations and research programmes over a period of 20 years. The Centre will be administered by a joint board and its activities and allocations guided by the principle of reparatory justice. Colleagues, friends, and well-wishers, we seek your support for this Reparatory Justice Initiative and Institution. 

Two fine universities, rooted in a common history, have decided to come together to contribute to the repair of communities by doing what they know best—shed light where there has been and is darkness. And critically, to plan the best they can, for the transformation and development of this long-exploited region.”

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