Keele sale calls for change to law

January 8, 1999

I was dismayed when I heard early last summer that Keele University intended to sell the Turner collection of books on the history of mathematics. Although not a member of senate, I wrote to all senators and to all members of the university council urging rejection of the proposal.

Senate rejected the sale, to be told that its vote was merely a straw one and that it was a matter for council decision. Those with a research or teaching interest in the collection were not consulted, even though it has been used as a teaching aid and for research for over 30 years.

Nor was there an opportunity for interested parties to express their views or for any coordinated opposition to be mounted. So far as I know, no independent scholars were asked to advise the university as to the merits of the collection.

Now that the sale has attracted public attention, through no action by members of the university's own community, I join with David Singmaster ("It doesn't add up", THES, January 1) in calling for an inquiry into the matter. What is the point of anybody giving valuable collections of an overtly scholarly kind, and containing works that belong to our national and European heritage, to a university to be available without let or hindrance to students and scholars alike, if the university then disposes of it by making a private sale, perhaps depriving public access to that inheritance for ever?

The matter is so serious that it calls for a public inquiry and legislation to prevent this happening again. If the university wishes to right its wrong it should ask the unknown purchaser to return the collection and the university to return his (or her) money. Anything less is a public statement that potential donors cannot regard any such donations, contrary to their charters, as safe in the hands of our universities.

John Rogers. Professor of the history of philosophy, Editor, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, department of philosophy, Keele University

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