Letters: Eton is failing to protect freedom of speech

12 December 2020

9:00 AM

12 December 2020

9:00 AM

Eton mess

Sir: As much as I am a great admirer of Charles Moore, as a former Eton master and head of the Perspectives lecture series (over which Will Knowland has been dismissed), I must disagree with his analysis (‘The Spectator’s Notes’, 5 December). The format of the lecture series is designed for individual speakers to defend an academic point of view on a controversial topic, which is then discussed in class. Perhaps Mr Knowland’s lecture contained certain errors, but that should not have constituted a reason to discipline him. The initial decision not to allow the lecture to be used was lamentable.

The headmaster has the right to exert discipline within the school, and masters must do anything he reasonably requests of them. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the further request to remove the lecture from Mr Knowland’s YouTube channel was not reasonable. The insufficiency of Eton’s case that this is purely a matter of disobedience is rendered more powerful by the revelation that Eton’s own working group on this matter found that the use of the lecture on one occasion alone would have constituted grounds for ‘gross misconduct’. Indeed, the Provost’s second intervention in the public debate confirmed that the content of the lecture itself was a salient factor.

It is regrettable that the leadership of the school saw fit to escalate this to the level of taking legal advice. The school stands to lose an outstanding teacher.

I hope Eton’s leadership does not feel that the pressure to conform to current equality and inclusion orthodoxies should trump 500 years of academic integrity at an institution which holds a moral duty to teach its pupils to think critically. Eton should pride itself on a courageous willingness to stand in contrast to the zeitgeist. At present, it seems it is failing.
Gavin A.J. Rice
Eton College Master, 2013-18
London SW1V

The praise-and-blame game

Sir: I think there is another Sturgeon paradox (‘Queen of Scots’, 5 December): that getting independence might actually damage her modus operandi. Currently she is able to pin anything which goes wrong on Westminster and take anything which goes right for herself. Lower prevalence of coronavirus in Scotland? Well, that’s because of Scotland’s control over health policy. What about the higher Covid death rate in Scotland then? Well, that’s because Scotland doesn’t have enough control over health policy. The sharing of powers allows blame and praise to be attributed as it suits. Yet only Sturgeon and the Nationalists can play this game. If the Unionists did so it would play straight into Sturgeon’s hands: ‘The Westminster elite are blaming us for their mistakes.’ This tactic is part of what has enabled the independence cause to surge so swiftly these past few years. But if Sturgeon gets what she wants, the game’s over. With independence, that narrative no longer works. Any blame would fall squarely on her shoulders.
George Campkin
Seaview, Isle of Wight

I blame Boris

Sir: I fear Douglas Murray is wrong to just blame China (‘China needs to make reparations’, 5 December). It wasn’t the virus that removed our liberty while destroying our economy, culture and education system. This time last year I was actively campaigning for this government to be elected because I thought Johnson was the only politician with the courage to lead the country the way it needed to be. I can assure Melissa Kite I know a lot of people who feel as embarrassed as she does (‘Real Life’, 5 December), and as betrayed as I do.
John Harris
Chelmsford, Essex

Why rugby league wins

Sir: Roger Alton describes a number of rule changes he’d like rugby union to embrace to reduce reliance on kicking and stifling forward play (‘Rugby must try harder’, 5 December). If he wants to see the ball in play more and the backs throwing it around with tremendous skill, then he should watch rugby league. The recent Super League Grand Final was an unbelievable 80 minutes of drama and entertainment. I say this despite my team losing the contest in the last second of the game.
David James Pilkington
London SE1

Fungi theory

Sir: As a Loughborough student, I’d like to thank Rod Liddle for bringing to my attention Dr Lenka Vrablikova’s lecture on mushroom intersectionality, which had been due to take place here last month (‘The march of the fascist mushrooms’, 21 November). Curious to see how my tuition fee is spent, I attended the online talk. Dr Vrablikova suggested that ‘mushroom-phobic’ English culture looks upon the ‘mushroom-philic’ cultures of eastern Europe with suspicion. This, she thinks, led to Brexit. Besides being obviously untrue, her talk was symptomatic of two things. Firstly, of an intellectual class that has never truly come to terms with what happened in 2016; and, secondly, of a ‘clickbait’ model of academia which rewards some of the silliest research proposals with funding.
Thomas Griffiths,

Robins across the pond

Sir: I enjoyed John Sturgis’s Notes On… robins (28 November) but surely Batman’s Robin is named after the American bird of that name, which is not only a different species to our own, but belongs to a completely different taxonomic family? A similar mix-up occurred in the original Mary Poppins film when, in spite of its London setting, the robin perched on Julie Andrews’s hand to illustrate a line in the song ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ is clearly Turdus migratorius, not Erithacus rubecula. To be fair, the American robin was likely named after the European, because it does at least have a red breast.
Matthew Pickhaver
Briston, Norfolk

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