By Tania Chakraborti
A Durham Students’ Union petition against Durham University’s decision to name its 17th college after a donor has already reached over 670 signatures within a few hours of its launch.
The petition states:
“Last term a policy was passed by Durham SU’s Assembly suggesting how students would like the new college to be named. This represented a unique opportunity for us. How great would it be for Durham’s 17th college to be named after a woman of the North East or a pioneering person of colour? It also gave the student body some ownership of an element of a masterplan which we weren’t part of creating, and feel somewhat alienated from.
“But University Council has not been supportive of our input. Initially, the name for the new college was to be voted on in a Town Hall meeting, where staff and students could have their say and vote on a name. Since then, University Council has recognised the opportunity to raise money by naming the college after a donor and is refraining from specifically naming the college before one is found. This means we have gone from having student and academic co-creation, to the decision being completely taken away from us, despite the Vice-Chancellor coming out publically to say that this would be a collaborative effort”
It continues to state: “It is embarrassing that our 16 colleges, named after people who have achieved great things, or are renowned in history, could be followed by colleges simply named after someone who is willing to cough up enough cash. So many of our colleges are in need of refurbishment, what if donations are only supplied to colleges if the college takes the donor’s name? Would the University go so far as to rename Hild Bede if someone offers to pay for the extensive refurbishment necessary there? Does this set a precedent for all colleges in future?
“Durham students now come together to say that we won’t permit our community to go to the highest bidder. Sign the Durham SU petition to draw a line for the sake of our community
“We’re calling on the University to commit to the consultation with students that had initially been agreed to as outlined in the motion which can be read here.
“As the University’s estates masterplan will see the introduction of more colleges over the next decade, we want the University to commit to meaningful consultation on these colleges too.”
On her official Facebook page, Students’ Union President Megan Croll stated:
“Remember when the University promised students would be involved in the naming of the 17th College? Wasn’t that great? WELL, bad news folks, they’ve decided not to bother honouring that commitment, and are going to name it after a donor instead.
“We have 16 colleges that are named after inspirational, or historically renowned people. It is EMBARRASSING that 17 will just be named after Mr Moneybags.
“We had a shortlist of 4 incredible women with connections to Durham. To tear that up in favour of letting someone whack their name on a college just because they can afford it is disgusting.”
When asked to confirm reports about the naming of the new college after a donor and whether students would be given the opportunity to contribute ideas for the name, Jennifer Sewel, University Secretary told Palatinate: “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.”
When asked by Palatinate for access to the University Council’s meeting minutes of February 2018 which documented the discussion surrounding the naming of the new college, the University commented that the minutes will be published online “in due course”.
Photograph: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier via Flickr