FFS Investigation: How much does UCL spend on the upkeep of Jeremy Bentham?

FFS Investigation: How much does UCL spend on the upkeep of Jeremy Bentham?

Welcome to FFS: For Freedom’s Sake, a regular investigations instalment where we tell you everything you really didn’t think you needed to know about where UCL’s money goes, through the power of Freedom of Information requests.

How much does it cost per year to maintain the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham? Is this where my £27,000 really went? Is Jeremy Bentham taking a sizeable salary for activities unknown to the UCL student body? Is his weird clothed skeleton costing us hundreds of thousands of pounds a year? (Spoilers: no.)

For the new students joining us: Jeremy Bentham was an 18th-19th century legal philosopher, and is considered to be the “spiritual father” of UCL – though contrary to popular belief, he didn’t found the university.

He’s also the dead guy in the box in the South Cloisters. Yes, the figure in the glass-front case is Jeremy Bentham’s actual skeleton, topped by a wax head. The original intention was to use his real head, but that looks super weird now (see bottom of featured image).

Legend has it the head sits in UCL Council meetings as it’s written into by-laws Bentham must be present at every single one. Legend also has it he’s wheeled in to sit at the Council table. UCL says both of these are false, but for the sake of having something interesting to tell mum and dad, let’s ignore that. Plus we have photo evidence of Bentham’s presence at Malcolm Grant’s final UCL Council meeting as Provost.

Lifeless and hollow; UCL board members sit with the auto-icon

On to the really good stuff: how much does it actually cost to maintain him, and how is it done?

In the last four years, which is the full period since UCL Public and Cultural Engagement has been caring for the auto-icon, Jeremy Bentham has cost UCL £5,348.24. That’s an average of £1,337.06 each year. The breakdown of costs is as follows:

pie chart jb maintenance

The larger figure for staff time refers to total cost over two staff over the four year period, while the smaller figure refers to the time of a new conservator hired in 2014-15. The environmental monitoring system was subjected to a one-off installation payment of £350, as indicated, and was calibrated twice, costing £30 each time. Conservation supplies cost £10 per year.

So as it turns out, Jeremy Bentham is probably the least expensive Professor at UCL. He even incurs fewer expenses than your average sabb (averaging £3k in expenses a year).

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