By Tom Mitchell
A joint-letter from Chair of Council Robert Gillespie and Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge has rejected proposals given in an open letter from students regarding the controversial plans for the naming of the 17th college, claiming that their “original decision remains appropriate”.
The original open letter, which was signed by 40 of Durham’s elected student representatives, stated: “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.”
The original letter continued: “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.”
However, Mr Gillespie and Mr Corbridge offered a stern riposte to the letter, stating concern about “the impact on extant and potential donors of some of the more unhelpful language used in your letter”.
They went on to defend the University’s stance of naming the 17th college after a donor: “the University Strategy…is designed to deliver excellent teaching, outstanding research and a brilliant wider student experience.
“It is incumbent upon us to safeguard the financial sustainability of the University and to provide value for money to current and future students. To achieve these goals requires…not only extremely careful management but also greatly enhanced levels of philanthropic funding”.
In an attempt to further justify the legitimacy of this policy, the letter continued: “the need for philanthropic donations is an explicit part of the University Strategy which was only adopted after extensive debate with staff and students.
“We can give you absolute assurance that the University has clear policies around the acceptance of gifts. This ensures that it does not accept gifts from any source without due diligence and careful ethical consideration in light of the University’s Values. The eventual naming of the new college will reflect these Values.”
As a result of this ruling, the University authorities will select a “neutral” interim name until the identification of a suitable benefactor after whom the 17th college will be officially named.
Photograph: International Office, Durham University