Members of UCC’s governing body criticise university’s Watson decision

Members disassocaite themselves from decision to name a new building after controversial professor

Prof Watson has proven a controversial figure in the world of science and beyond. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Prof Watson has proven a controversial figure in the world of science and beyond. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Two members of the governing body of University College Cork have criticised the decision by university management to honour controversial Nobel laureate, Prof James Watson by naming a building at the Cork campus after him.

Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí, a lecturer in geography and Dr Angela Flynn, a lecturer in midwifery, said that as elected members of the governing body of UCC, they wished to formally disassociate themselves from the decision to name a new building after Prof Watson.

“Prof Watson is an eminent scientist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962, with Professor Francis Crick, for describing the double helix structure of DNA. However, he has been responsible for unfounded, unscientific and inaccurate statements of a racist and misogynistic nature,” they said

“In the circumstances we do not believe that it is appropriate to honour Prof Watson by naming a building after him. Moreover, we believe that such a decision is grossly disrespectful, in particular, to women and ethnic minority members of staff and the student community.”

Prof Watson was in UCC on Wednesday where a building at the Brookfield Health Sciences complex was named in his honour.

However Prof Watson has proven a controversial figure in the world of science and beyond, over his 2007 comments regarding Africans in a Sunday Times interview. He suggested that black Africans were less intelligent than white people.

In the interview, Prof Watson said that he was”inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really”.

He went on to say in the interview with his former student, Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe that it was his hope that everyone was equal but the reality was that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

Prof Watson was compelled to resign from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on New York’s Long Island and he apologised for his comments, telling the BBC in 2008 that “I have never thought of myself as a racist. I don’t see myself as a racist. I am mortified by it. It was the worst thing in my life.”

However Prof Watson has also proven a controversial figure due to his comments on women and sexuality, telling a British newspaper in 1997 that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual.

He has also argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that “stupidity” could one day be cured and he has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great.”

The criticism by Dr Mac Éinrí and Dr Flynn follows similar comments by former Green Party TD, Dan Boyle who said that he could see no good reason why UCC which awarded Dr Watson an honorary doctorate in 2010, was now honouring him by naming a building after him.

The university could not divorce Prof Watson’s scientific achievements from his view on race and he had “big question marks over his character because of what he has said about African people” and “what he perceives as a general lack of intelligence.”

However UCC defended its decision, describing Prof Watson as “a scientist of world renown who is responsible for one of the most profound discoveries of the 20th century” and the university was pleased to acknowledge his scientific prowess.

“In naming this facility after Dr Watson we are building on his contribution to science and recognising his strong association with UCC as an honorary doctorate alumnus and scientific advisor to many UCC researchers.

“The decision to name the building was made within the recognised university processes and the President informed Governing Body of this decision,” said UCC in a statement adding that Prof Watson’s grandmother came from Co Tipperary and he was proud of his Irish ancestry.