Trinity College Dublin is to de-name the Berkeley Library because the renowned Irish philosopher after whom it is named was a slave owner on Rhode Island in America in 1730-31.
The university, which is Ireland’s oldest, was founded in 1592. It said that the continued use of Bishop George Berkeley’s name on the library was inconsistent with the university’s core values of human dignity, freedom, inclusivity and equality.
Trinity has also decided to adopt a retain-and-explain approach to a stained-glass window commemorating the clergyman who studied, lectured and became a librarian at the university.
Portraits depicting him will be assessed in the future by a new overall college policy on artwork. Academic gold medals memorialising the philosopher will be reviewed by the relevant academic department.
The university said that these decisions represent a nuanced approach and are the result of careful consideration. They followed several months of research, analysis and public consultation overseen by the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group, which is considering legacy issues. Just under 100 submissions were received from the general public, alumni, current students and staff about the library.
Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, senior dean and chair of the group, said: “Especially influential on our thinking has been the pioneering work at the universities of Glasgow, Dalhousie, Brown and Harvard, all of which have faced similar issues to those we face at Trinity as we reckon with our past. We are committed to addressing issues around Trinity’s complex legacy, from an evidence-based perspective and on a case-by-case basis.”
Bouquets and brickbats
The move has been welcomed by the Trinity Students’ Union which had supported a petition calling on the university to drop Berkeley’s name from the library which was opened in 1967. The union has been referring to it as the X library since August 2022 and will continue to do so until a new name is agreed.
The response elsewhere has been mixed, with the predictable bouquets and brickbats on Twitter. Some praised the decision while others saw it as another woke example of ‘cancel culture’. A few wondered if Berkeley City and the University of California at Berkeley (UC-Berkeley), which also bear his name, would follow Trinity’s example.
When asked to comment on Trinity’s decision, Dan Mogulof, UC-Berkeley’s assistant vice-chancellor, Communications & Public Affiars told University World News via email: “We acknowledge that the university’s founders chose to name their new town and campus after an individual whose views warrant no honor or commemoration.
“At the same time, we are cognisant of the fact that over the course of the ensuing 155 years since the university’s founding, ‘Berkeley’ has come to embody and represent very different values and perspectives – including our belief in, and actions in support of equity, inclusion, diversity, social mobility and the application of academic excellence to support the greater good.”
Trinity’s decision prompted several letters to The Irish Times including one arguing that: “The question that now must also be considered is whether naming the college after the Christian theological concept of the Trinity is appropriate in the modern era. Surely it must be offensive to other religious beliefs and is the ‘othering’ of these students.”
Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin (UCD), said that “Trinity dates back so long that it has been associated with so many different eras of Irish history and various things that a 21st century audience would find grossly offensive. But does that mean that you start eradicating?”