By Cameron McIntosh
40 of Durham’s elected student representatives have signed an open letter to the University, urging it to reconsider its controversial plans for the naming of the 17th college.
The campaign led by Students’ Union President Megan Croll has been given public support from all JCR Presidents or equivalent, the President-elect George Walker, six MCR Presidents and a number of elected Students’ Union officials.
This strength of feeling among representatives follows over 2,500 Durham students signing a petition calling on the University to change its plans to name the 17th college after a donor. As previously reported by Palatinate, the petition suggests the newly built college be named in honour of a “notable Durham women” instead of “someone who is willing to cough up enough cash”.
The letter, written on Thursday 8th March, is addressed directly to Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, and Chair of the University Council, Robert Gillespie.
It states: “The current 16 colleges at Durham University are named after inspirational people that students can aspire to and most importantly be proud of. Take Saint Cuthbert’s for example, the patron saint of Northern England whose body is buried at our very own Cathedral here in Durham. Saint Cuthbert, Saint Aidan, Saint Hild, Saint Chad, Saint John, Saint Mary – all patron saints of this country. These virtuous people set precedent for the kind of communities we want our colleges to be.
“The Prince Bishops of Durham, Thomas Hatfield and William Van Mildert, the performer Peter Ustinov, the Prime Minister Charles Grey, the mathematician Sir Edward Collingwood, the venerable Bede, the physician Dr John Snow, the feminist social reformer Josephine Butler, the historian George Trevelyan and the railway engineer George Stephenson. What an incredible array of people to be able to look up to.
“Naming the new Durham College after a financial donor would be an insult to the 16 individuals our current colleges are named after. Durham University creates inquisitive, motivated and innovative alumni who are constantly contributing to society in a plethora of ways.
“Our unique colligate (sic) quality only strengthens the University’s ability to shape such individuals. We create academics, teachers, activists, lawyers and pioneers in society. Alumni who may follow in similar footsteps to the 16 honourable individuals we have recognised as monumental to our collegiate foundation.”
In reference to the context of International Women’s day, the letter proceeds to detail why the college should be named in honour of a Durham women: “12 of the current 16 colleges are named after men. The University is driving to promote gender equality and lists ‘inclusive’ as one of its key values.
“We think it appropriate that upon this day we ask that we not only avoid naming this college after somebody based on the content of their wallet, but that we also use this opportunity to acknowledge the inspirational women around us. What a fantastic opportunity to show how inclusive this University could be.”
“The choice before the university now is whether or not it wants to honour local scholarship, ingenuity and achievement, or whether it would rather fill its own coffers”
The author of the letter and St Cuthbert’s Society JCR President, Catriona May, explained why she believes this to be an important issue for Durham students. She told Palatinate: “It would be an insult to the 16 incredible people that our current colleges are named after, if we were to name the next after a financial donor.
“We should be naming the college after somebody who sets a precedent for the kinds of communities we want our colleges to be. Inclusivity is important. Hence I think it would be a fantastic opportunity to name the college after a woman.”
Signatory to the letter and SU representative for St Hild and St Bede, Tom Henderson, told Palatinate: “Colleges are centres of student life and student identity – since we spend so much of our university time living in them. They are also an intrinsic part of what it means to study in Durham – it is the collegiate atmosphere that makes Durham distinctive.”
He concluded with a direct plea to the University: “The choice before the university now is whether or not it wants to honour local scholarship, ingenuity and achievement, or whether it would rather fill its own coffers”.
When asked by Palatinate to confirm the decision on the naming of Durham’s 17th college, University Secretary Jennifer Sewel said: “One of the ways the University is looking to fund its new ten-year Strategy is through a fundraising campaign for Durham.
“The naming of new buildings, and the 17th college, could be an important part of this Campaign.
“In February, the University’s governing Council agreed that until a permanent name for the 17th college is chosen, an interim name should be adopted.
“Proposals for an interim name will be considered by Council in March, and the University community will be informed as to the outcome of these discussions.”
Photograph: Tom Page via Flickr