Mon | Jun 5, 2023

London School of Economics names building in honour of Sir Arthur Lewis

Published:Wednesday | March 29, 2023 | 12:07 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
The Sir Arthur Lewis Building at the London School of Economics.
From left ; Journalist Brian Walker, with Sir Arthur Lewis’ granddaughter Samantha Virgil and her husband Khari Montayne.

When journalist Brian Walker received the Chevening Scholarship to pursue graduate studies in 2018 at the legendary London School of Economics (LSE), he wanted to do more than just return with a master's degree, which he did and with a distinction.

As he pursued studies, Walker saw two photos of Sir Arthur Lewis, the Saint Lucian-born economist well known for his contributions in the field of development economics at the school.

Lewis in 1979 won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and served as an economic adviser to many international commissions and to several African, Asian, and Caribbean governments. At the University of The West Indies, Mona, where Walker completed undergraduate studies in journalism at the Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication (CARIMAC), the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) stands out in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

“When I started at LSE in 2018, I would look around the campus and I only saw two photos of him, and coming from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, where we have the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES); Princeton, the University of Manchester and they all have tangible expressions of the pride of place he holds ... .” Walker said, describing his push for something more than two photographs.

“I was not satisfied that there was enough tangible recognition here. And for the whole year I was, like, how can we embed Sir Arthur in the iconography of the school, in the environment, giving him more recognition and visibility that he thoroughly deserves. And I felt the building for the world-renown Department of Economics at London School of Economics was probably the most tangible expression of respect,” he told The Gleaner.

In consultation with other black interests, he decided that a fitting tribute to the economist would be to have a building named in his honour. Before that, however, he had to sensitise the student body to the work and worth of Sir Arthur Lewis.

“He was the first black academic at LSE, where he did his graduate and post-graduate studies. So, pretty much, LSE was his intellectual home. Back in 2019 when I completed my dissertation, I got a three-month contract with the communication division at LSE. I told my boss that October 2019, broadly speaking, marked 40 years since he won a Nobel Peace Prize in Economics. Black History month in the UK is October, so I pitched to him the idea of doing a short film on him,” Walker told The Gleaner.

Walker received permission to do so and co-produced a short film that looked at his legacy and how it continues to shape economics and debates at the institution. It provided the spring board for the other part of the plan. He wrote a proposal at the end of October, which was signed by the general secretary of the Students' Union, as well as the education officer, both of whom are black students, for the building that houses the Department of Economics to be named in his honour.

“Writing directly to the president in October 2019, I followed it up through the COVID-19 pandemic, through the whole global transnational reckoning – the Black Lives Matter movement. I kept it on the agenda right here from Kingston, writing to the key people and reminding them that it needs to be done,” Walker said from the United Kingdom last week.

The school's president, he notes, is a global economist and recognises the importance of Lewis' work.

Two weeks after the proposal was submitted, Walker received favourable word that it was being considered but that time was needed to establish the school's' naming policy. The COVID-19 pandemic sent the efforts into gestation, but the former print and television journalist was relentless. About a year later, it was confirmed that it would happen, with a date to be decided.

Last Thursday, in the presence of Sir Arthur's daughter and granddaughter, the change occurred.

Walker was invited to witness the renaming.

“The building that houses the Department of Economics and a range of other economics- related centres in honour of Sir Arthur ... was previously known as 32 Lincoln's Inn Fields. It was changed on March 20. The ceremony was Thursday night. It is now (the) Sir Arthur Lewis Building and will be called (SAL) for short,” Walker said.

His daughter, Elizabeth Lewis-Channon, said her father would have been pleased.

“It's a great honour. I think my dad would have been very pleased. He had very fond memories of LSE. That's where he got his start, and to have this level of recognition, it's just great,” she said in an interview conducted for The Gleaner.

The recognition, she said, is a fitting tribute to his life and work and for the Nobel Laureate who received a Nobel Prize for something other than literature or peace.

She said that her father came at a time when development economics was being explored and (discussions around) what could be added.