A piece in The Times:
Dozens of Old Etonians have threatened to withhold millions of pounds in bequests and a Conservative peer has called for the resignation of the head master amid a row over free speech.
Lord Bellingham, a former pupil, chairs a dining club of 45 alumni and claims that they have put on hold plans to give £2 million because of their disquiet at the dismissal of Will Knowland, an English master.
Mr Knowland was sacked after he refused to remove a controversial lecture he uploaded to YouTube about patriarchy in society.
Lord Bellingham, a former Conservative foreign minister, has written to the school calling for Simon Henderson, the head master, to resign over the handling of the matter.
He said that although he did not agree with much of the content of the lecture, which made claims that men are raped more often than women, he believed that the dismissal was a suppression of free speech.
He said that many of his teachers at the school “caused trouble and heartache to the authorities . . . but they were worshipped by their students”.
The £42,500-a-year school has previously said that the master was dismissed for failing to remove the lecture when asked to do so, not for its content.
Lord Bellingham wrote: “Through his woeful handling of this issue, the head master’s own credibility and authority, which was already looking very shaky, has taken a very serious blow. He comes out of this looking like a small and mean-minded individual, and as a direct consequence of his actions the school has suffered dreadful publicity and very severe reputational damage. In my own humble judgment the only decent course of action is for him to resign.
“I chair a small dining club of 45 old boys from my generation, and pretty well each and every one of us have either given money to the school or plan to leave generous bequests. At last count, these proposed bequests amount to well over £2 million, but the vast majority of us are now going to put everything on hold it so long as Simon Henderson remains in post.”
“In the highly unlikely event of the case ever getting to court, Will Knowland would have been able to launch a robust defence, but is it not sad and pathetic that the head master and provost took such a risk-averse stance? Would it not have been brave and honourable to have stood four-square behind Will Knowland and made it crystal clear they would not be bullied into supporting censorship?”
This month Mr Knowland lost an appeal against the decision to sack him after the governors backed the original decision.
A petition calling for Mr Knowland to be reinstated has been signed by 2,700 people and £60,000 has been raised for his legal fees.
Separately, a letter supporting the school’s decision and signed by dozens of Old Etonians has been published.
The school said: “We are sorry some Old Etonians have taken this position but the school must act in the best interest of current pupils and staff and this includes complying with regulations which Mr Knowland’s video breached. Many other Old Etonians have sent the school messages of support, telling us that we have done the right thing.”
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