In response to representations from students inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement Imperial College’s President, Professor Alice Gast, has announced they are dropping their “imperialist” Latin motto.
“I have heard from many of you with concerns about the university motto and its appearance on our crest. The Latin motto appears on a ribbon below the crest and is commonly translated to ‘Scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire’. We have removed this ribbon and the motto in a revised crest you can see below in this briefing. This modified crest is already in use by my office and the Advancement team and will be integrated into all of our materials over the coming year. We will commission a group to examine Imperial’s history and legacy. We have a long way to go, but we will get better. We will build upon our community’s spirit, commitment and drive. We will draw strength from your commitment and support.”
The College’s motto, coined in 1908, was ‘Scientia imperii decus et tutamen’ which translates as ‘Scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire’. As Titania McGrath might say this motto “is a reminder of a historical legacy that is rooted in colonial power and oppression”. That’s an actual quote from the college’s President, in the interests of diversity she is erasing the past. As someone once wrote “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
UPDATE: This old article from 1995 describes the arms and motto of Imperial College, paying particular attention to the deliberate ambiguity of the Latin:
Thus DECUS ET TUTAMEN translates as ‘an honour and a protection’. The rest of the motto is deliberately ambiguous. SCIENTIA means ‘knowledge’ but is also intended as a pun on the English word ‘science’. IMPERII could mean ‘power’, ‘dominion over’, ‘universal’, ‘of the empire’, ‘of the state’, or ‘superior’; and again is intended as a pun on the English word ‘imperial’.
Because of this ambiguity the full motto can be translated in many different ways. One translation could be: ‘Dominion over science is an honour and a protection’. A more politically correct translation might be: ‘Universal knowledge is beautiful and necessary’.