Academics and students have united to criticise University College Cork for naming a new research building after Nobel laureate James Watson, who has been roundly condemned for his racist and sexist views.
They spoke out yesterday as Dr Watson, 88, the US scientist who co-discovered the structure of DNA, delivered a lecture in Cork to celebrate the naming of the Watson Building on UCC’s Brookfield medical campus.
Two elected members of UCC’s governing body, Dr Angela Flynn and Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí, said Dr Watson has been responsible for unfounded, unscientific, and inaccurate statements of a racist and misogynistic nature, and that it was not appropriate to honour him in this way.
“Moreover, we believe that such a decision is grossly disrespectful, in particular, to women and ethnic minority members of staff and the student community,” they said.
Law lecturer Declan Walsh, a Government-appointed member of the Higher Education Authority, vented his anger on Twitter, and said it was shameful that UCC was hosting Mr Watson.
“He may have an eminent academic record but he is also a racist and should not be welcomed,” he wrote.
Former Green Party TD and senator Dan Boyle, who graduated from UCC with a master’s in 2014, said it was wrong of the university to afford this honour, and threatens its reputation.
“The decision opens the university to accusations that it is prepared to either ignore or accept Watson’s controversial social views,” he said.
“I have no problem with him delivering a lecture in UCC — he is obviously a scientific expert — but naming a building like this is giving him recognition beyond what he deserves.”
Dr Watson, whose grandmother was from Tipperary, shot to world fame in 1953 when he and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA. He also led the Human Genome Project.
However Dr Watson has been accused over the decades of racist and sexist comments. In 2007, he told The Sunday Times
that while people like to think all races are born with equal intelligence, those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
UCC students’ union president Adam Coffey wrote to UCC president Dr Michael Murphy criticising the naming decision, and questioned the process, which, he said, seemed to have been “decided by a relatively small management group, with little consultation or openness”.
UCC said Dr Watson is a world-renowned scientist responsible for one of the most profound discoveries of the 20th century. “We are acknowledging 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 the governing body of this decision.”
The Watson Building at the Brookfield campus houses the ASSERT Centre and laboratories for the INFANT research centre.
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