The Spectator

Letters: Eton is failing to protect freedom of speech

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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.

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