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Decision to rename David Hume Tower was ‘naive’, Sir Tom Devine tells The Student

ByRob Lownie

Sep 25, 2020

Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Professor Sir Tom Devine, last night criticised the University of Edinburgh’s removal of David Hume’s name from a campus building as a result of the philosopher’s comments on race, calling it “a sudden decision which shouldn’t have been taken.”

Speaking exclusively to The Student, the former Edinburgh academic said that, following the international furore surrounding the decision, “great damage has been done to the University’s international reputation, at a time when reputation is all.”

Professor Devine has spoken widely in recent days on the matter, and has been one of the most vociferous public critics of the way in which university management handled the issue, an issue largely prompted by a student petition which was published over the summer and amassed fewer than 2000 signatures.

“Due process was not followed,” according to Professor Devine, “and if they can make such a mess of this, what is their capacity to govern a university? This has the hallmark of a rush to judgement…the University has been naive in this case.”

Having worked in administration as Deputy Principal at Strathclyde University in the 1990s, he made clear that he “would have resigned if this had happened on [his] watch. Other institutions will tread very carefully to avoid such a controversy.”

Professor Devine, who once held the prestigious Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History and Palaeography at Edinburgh, was one of nine prominent academics behind an open letter to vice-chancellor and principal Peter Mathieson, opposing the move to rename DHT as 40 George Square.

Another of the signatories was Dr Michael Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology at Edinburgh and an expert in nationalism and sectarianism. Also speaking exclusively to The Student, Dr Rosie stated that he “was concerned by the manner in which the decision was made…the usual process of consultation was completely short-circuited. Something as big as this needs investment of time, resources and academic discussion.”

He continued, saying that the University’s response “ticks a lot of boxes,” but that it was an ultimately “symbolic act, a tokenistic gesture that won’t bring any greater understanding of race, or diversify the student body and academic staff.”

Dr Rosie reiterated that the renaming decision “causes me great alarm. I cannot see how they can go back on this now…it is going to rebound really badly on the university, especially when a great deal of the ridicule has come from respected, progressive individuals,” as opposed to internet commentators with no scholarly background or ties to Edinburgh.

Another source claimed that Professor Mathieson has corresponded privately with the signatories, but as of yet has made no public comment.

Image via The University of Edinburgh

By Rob Lownie