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UK Business School Drops Slave Trader’s Name

Sir John Cass was an 18th century British merchant who played a major role in the development of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. City University of London has decided to drop his name from its business school.

The reckoning with racial horrors of the past continues on both sides of the Atlantic. In the latest sign of a new willingness to confront the dark history of slavery and its remnants in modern society, City, University of London’s Business School is dropping the name Cass, whose owner was a slave trader in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The school was named for Sir John Cass 18 years ago after a donation by the Sir John Cass Foundation. After an internal review of Cass’ ties to the slave trade — and following consultation “with a wide range of stakeholders,” including students who started a campaign to have the name removed — City’s Council voted July 3 to drop Cass’ name. The B-school will be known simply as City’s Business School until a new name is decided.

“We acknowledge the great pain and hurt caused to members of our City and Business School community and to many Black people by the association of the school’s name with the slave trade,” Julia Palca, chair of City’s Council, said. “Any continued use of Sir John Cass’ name would be seen as condoning someone whose wealth in part derived from the exploitation of slavery. This is incompatible with our values of diversity and inclusivity. We have therefore taken the decision to remove the name.”


Professor Paolo Volpin, interim dean, City’s Business School

Cass, a Tory Member of Parliament, was “a major figure in the early development of the slave trade and the Atlantic slave economy, directly dealing with slave agents in the African forts and in the Caribbean,” according to a BBC reportThe Sir John Cass Foundation was founded 30 years after his death, in 1748, as a charity for, among other causes, the education of London’s youth. It continues to fund projects around London. In 2002, the foundation gave the donation that earned Cass a place atop City, University of London’s B-school letterhead.

On the foundation’s website, Sir John Cass is described as “a merchant and politician, whose wealth posthumously was used to create the Foundation to deliver educational benefits to disadvantaged children.” Notably, however, the foundation has announced that it will also remove Cass’ name.

Paolo Volpin, professor and interim dean at City’s Business School, said that the school’s removal of Cass’ name is only “the first step” and that more will follow.

“It is important that we follow it up with clear and measurable actions that demonstrate our commitment to racial equality and inclusion,” Volpin said. “The school’s BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) community is leading a consultation to explore how we can increase inclusion across our school community in practical and measurable ways to ensure we celebrate uniqueness and work harder to enhance our vibrant sense of belonging.”


City’s Business School was ranked 50th in the most recent Financial Times ranking, up from 64th the previous year. The triple-accredited school, established in 1966, is best known as an academic redoubt in actuarial science, finance, banking, energy, and real estate; it has a one-year MBA, two options for a two-year executive MBA, and a huge slate of specialized master’s programs and is widely seen as one of the country’s most prestigious B-schools.

The removal of Cass’ name from one of the UK’s premier B-schools is the latest in a series of developments sparked by the toppling of a statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol in June. Insurance market Lloyd’s of London and the Bank of England, among others, have begun [publicly grappling with their legacies relating to the slave trade, and to acknowledge their past misdeeds. Other B-schools in the UK are acting, too, among them the University of Bristol, which “is reviewing the names of its buildings amid criticism of those linked to its first vice-chancellor, Henry Overton Wills III, whose family made its money from tobacco farmed by slaves in the U.S.,” according to FT.

The racial reckoning will continue, at City’s Business School and elsewhere, says Professor Sir Paul Curran, president at City, University of London.

“The announcement of our decision to change the name of City’s Business School by no means marks the end of the issue,” Curran said in the school’s announcement. “The work we are doing to address racial inequality and to ensure City is an inclusive place to work and study will continue. We have listened to the concerns of the City community about the naming of the business school and we have also heard about their individual experiences of racism and inequality in today’s world.”