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The Kathleen Kenyon Building

Published: 20th March, 2019

Weathering the equinoctial gales that battered the celebration of International Women’s Day during the UCU pensions dispute of 2018, staff of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History renamed their building after Dame Kathleen Kenyon.  Kenyon is renowned for pioneering projects in the Middle East, at Jerusalem and Jericho, and she led the Institute of Archaeology during the Second World War, but her career was launched in Leicester, at her excavation of the Roman baths basilica at Jewry Wall. 

At the height of a massive downpour, we hung a large sheet with the new name outside the building (see the photo below), and temporary new labels were added by staff to their doors. A formal request from the School to have the renaming authorised was later submitted to the University Leadership Team (ULT).

During this year’s International Women’s Day students and staff revisited the occasion. Drawing on their multiple talents, members of the student society created a new banner, inspired by Leicester’s famous Roman monument.

Leicester UCU erected a small stall to show where the idea had been first realised and commandeered the support of a medieval king of rather dubious reputation was also commandeered.

The new banner proudly erected (see top photo) during a lively celebration, led by the student society.

When Archaeology and Ancient History first moved into its current building in 2006 the idea of a new name was toyed with. Kathleen Kenyon was proposed, but rejected, on the grounds that the then-University leadership had ‘never heard of her’.  Sadly the present ULT has again poured cold water on the project. In January it decided to reject the request:

…the naming of buildings on campus needs to follow set criteria (such as a clear link between the individual and the University)

Some comments from colleagues identify the flaws in this :

Good luck with reflecting diversity if they are limiting themselves to the pool of worthies who have directly contributed to the university.

In which case, could we feed back that this contributes to structural gender inequality?

Another missed chance to get staff on side. Have they no brains?

The ULT response shows the limited ambition that, alas, affects other areas of the institution’s thinking.  But a cynic might also wonder if the naming of buildings on campus has now just become another monetised commodity, for sale to a potential donor, flattered by a visible marker of their generous patronage – the library and the new medical sciences building spring to mind.  Here the offering of cash usually seems the only clear link with Leicester University.

But surely universities, of their nature, have natural links with all sorts of people who have inspired the pursuit of human understanding, knowledge and justice rather than just big grants? In 2018 UCU identified a number of inspiring women after whom buildings could be named. There are plenty more – artists, writers, scholars and scientists – whose works are the bedrock of our business. Leicester University is much more than a physical place.

There is currently a small poster exhibition commemorating Dame Kathleen and International Women’s Day in the foyer of the Archaeology and Ancient History Building.

Whose University? Our University?  Maybe not for now.  But the labels on the doors are still there….

As another colleague observed:

If everyone uses the name often enough, it will happen eventually.