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City university drops Cass name from business school over slavery links


London’s City university has removed the name of John Cass from its business school due to the 18th-century English merchant’s links with the slave trade.

The school, based in the heart of the UK’s financial district and ranked among the world’s top 50 MBA providers by the Financial Times, will be called City’s Business School while the university consults staff, students and alumni on a new title.

The move is the latest action by London-based institutions, including the insurance market Lloyd’s of London and the Bank of England, to acknowledge their roles in the slave trade.

Other British universities are also under pressure to remove the names of their benefactors with slavery links.

The University of Bristol is reviewing the names of its buildings amid criticism of those linked to its first vice-chancellor, Henry Overton Wills III, whose family made its money from tobacco farmed by slaves in the US.

Cass was a Tory MP and philanthropist as well as a businessman, and obtained his wealth in part through his role as director of the Royal African Company — whose activities included the trade of enslaved people.

City, University of London, began using the Cass name 18 years ago when the Sir John Cass Foundation, a charity founded in 1748 to support access to education, donated £5m with a legal agreement for the name to remain in perpetuity.

Cass was a Tory MP and philanthropist who obtained his wealth in part through his role as director of the Royal African Company, whose activities included the trade of enslaved people © Leon Neal/Getty Images

At the time, the university had not appreciated Cass’s links to slavery, according to Paul Curran, City’s president. “Due diligence was done on the foundation not the Cass name,” Sir Paul told the Financial Times.

The university’s council, which voted on the change, felt able to drop the epithet after the foundation announced last month it would be changing its name, according to Sir Paul.

“Removal of the Cass name by no means marks the end of the issue,” Sir Paul added, noting that the university had initiated a review of all its historic funding for possible links to slavery, which will report on August 10.

“We have listened to the concerns of the City community about the naming of the business school and we have also heard about their individual experiences of racism and inequality in today’s world.”

Other measures being enacted include reciprocal mentoring for the university’s senior management team, in which they meet regularly with black and minority ethnic colleagues to hear how decisions affect them, and mandatory staff training in racial awareness.

The university is also considering a PhD scholarship for black students to help bring more ethnic minority academics into teaching roles, but this would be reliant on further fundraising, a spokesperson for City said.

A spokesperson for the Sir John Cass Foundation admitted that the organisation had not done enough to highlight Cass’s involvement in slavery and it no longer felt it appropriate for any of its beneficiaries to use the Cass name.

“It is clear to us now, that while firmly committed to combating racism, we failed to consider whether our own 300-year-old name and history compounded the problem,” the spokesperson added.

“We also continued to celebrate Sir John Cass without explaining or acknowledging his connection to slavery and human exploitation or the hurt and anger this has caused among our beneficiaries and our community. We recognise, acknowledge, seek to understand, and apologise for the public hurt and anger.”

This article has been amended since initial publication to make clear City university’s full name is City, University of London.


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