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 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 an 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 Memorandum of Understanding 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.