City, University of London, is to rename its business school after the 18th century statistician, philosopher and Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes, ending a 20-year association with slavery-tainted Sir John Cass.
The school has also agreed to set aside £5m from its scholarship budget — the same amount donated by Cass’s education foundation, the Portal Trust, when Cass Business School was named in 2001 — that will fund full tuition fees and a £6,000 a year stipend for black UK-domiciled degree students.
The scholarship scheme, which includes outreach to encourage more black undergraduate applicants, is driven in part by a recognition that they are under-represented on City’s business degree programmes. Just 2.06 per cent of the business school’s undergraduate population between 2015 and 2019 were black, about a fifth of the proportion [10.6 per cent] of the UK population aged 18 to 24 that is black.
Professor Sir Paul Curran, City’s president, said: “The renaming of the business school marks the start of a new chapter in City’s history, but certainly not the end of our work to address racial inequality.”
The new title, Bayes Business School, was decided through consultations with staff, students and alumni, launched after City dropped its Cass association last July in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the US and the Black Lives Matter protests. The school has in the interim been The Business School (Formerly Cass).
In addition to being an MP and philanthropist, Cass was in the early 18th century a prominent member of the Royal African Company, which traded enslaved people on the west coast of the continent.
Bayes, whose theorem provided a simple way of calculating how likely a certain hypothesis is given some observed evidence, is buried in Bunhill Fields graveyard, close to the City campus.
However, his alma mater was the University of Edinburgh. It used the name for a £45m research centre connected to its informatics department, which opened in 2018, but the Scottish university said there was no objection to a second Bayes branding.
“One of the great things about science is that the whole world benefits from the ideas of great people like Thomas Bayes,” Edinburgh added. “The more organisations promote their importance, the better.”
Caroline Wiertz, a professor of marketing and associate dean for entrepreneurship at City, said the choice of Bayes was driven by the academic achievements of the man, whose theorem is credited with helping develop among other things machine learning, rather than other aspects of his life.
“We are associating ourselves very much with the theorem, not the person whom we know so very little about,” Wiertz said, adding that Bayes was by far the most popular choice among the alternatives: Mais Business School, in honour of former Lord Mayor of London and pro-vice chancellor of City Alan Mais, Quaro Business School, a play on the Latin word quaero, meaning to seek to know, and City of London School of Management.
However, some students and alumni have questioned the logic of a rebranding exercise.
Harish Jani, who graduated from the MBA programme in 2019 and had voted for City of London School of Management, said he would rather the name had been left alone. “Cass was such a well known name, a trademark,” he said. “By giving it another name, the risk is the school loses its ring.”