Amid growing backlash for firing an English teacher over a video on masculinity, Eton College has said that it is “not an issue of freedom of speech.”
Teacher Will Knowland was dismissed from the school—which has famously educated over one-third of all British prime ministers, including Boris Johnson—after he refused to take down a lecture from his private YouTube channel that questioned “current radical feminist orthodoxy.”
The school initially refused to comment since an appeals process is underway.
After growing accusations of bending to woke progressivism, the school has now defended its actions, insisting they made the decision based on legal advice.
“The dismissal of Mr. Knowland was not an issue of freedom of speech,” the college said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times.
“The school was advised by specialist lawyers that the content in question was in breach of the Equalities Act and the Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations. There was simply no other choice than to ask for it to be taken down.”
Pupils at Eton College hurry between lessons wearing the school uniform of tailcoats and starched collars, in Eton, England, in this file photo. Eton is one of the most expensive and prestigious private schools in the world. (Graeme Robertson/Getty Images)
Eton says that they repeatedly asked Knowland to remove the video temporarily from his YouTube channel “pending further discussion” but that he refused.
He was sacked for gross misconduct by a disciplinary panel.
The Patriarchy Paradox
Knowland has taught English for nine years at the £42,500-a-year boys school, which is a byword for privilege and traditional private education.
His video was based on a lecture entitled “The Patriarchy Paradox,” which he had prepared earlier this year, as part of a course to encourage critical thinking in older students.
Before presenting to students, he pre-recorded a video of the lecture, which was circulated among other teachers on the school’s intranet. According to the Telegraph, when one of the teachers complained, the headmaster asked for the video to be removed. It was removed.
Knowland, however, refused to remove the lecture from his personal YouTube channel.
“Because I believe passionately in free speech, I said I would only take it down if given a clear reason, which is how I ended up being dismissed,” Knowland said, reported The Telegraph.
The Provost of Eton (chairman of the governing body), Lord Waldegrave, responded to what he described as a “fake news” narrative that Knowland had been sacked for preparing the video lecture itself.
“It is alleged that he was sacked for having the temerity to articulate such views,” Waldegrave wrote in a statement sent to The Epoch Times. “This is false.”
A student walks in front of Eton College, in Eton, west of London, on Oct. 1, 2015. (Jack Taylor/AFP via Getty Images)
Waldegrave said that Eton “prides itself on encouraging open-minded, independent, and critical thinking.”
Knowland’s personal video was, with the school’s permission, “clearly identified with Eton,” according to Waldegrave.
He said that the dismissal “is not about free speech within the law, behind which Eton stands foursquare. It is about a matter of internal discipline, quite properly now subject to appeal.”
A Letter from Pupils
Knowland said his intention was to present different views from “the current radical feminist orthodoxy”—but not to necessarily endorse them.
“In my lecture, I pointed out that, historically, masculine qualities like strength, courage, and tenacity have often been as beneficial to women as they have been to men,” he said according to the Telegraph.
A crowdfunding site set up in the name of Knowland says, “I have been dismissed from my employment. My wife and I will be made homeless, along with our five children. I am raising money to challenge my dismissal in the Employment Tribunal if necessary.”
The funding site has currently raised almost £35,000 ($46,700) of a £60,000 target.
Meanwhile, a petition letter written by current pupils at the school has been steadily gaining signatures from current and former pupils, reaching almost 2,000 as of writing.
The Epoch Times cannot verify signatories are all as stated.
The authors said that the disciplinary action could not be separated from the content of the lecture.
“We struggle to identify where Mr. Knowland’s video steps out of the realms of academic debate and into genuinely discriminatory private opinion,” the letter said.
“The boys have concluded from watching the video that the problem cannot lie in the way he sets out the ideas, but in the ideas themselves.”
The letter urged the school to be kind.
“The dismissal of Mr. Knowland—at least on the facts available to the boys—points to a heartless and merciless spirit at the top of the school,” they wrote. “Mr. Knowland is loved by all who have encountered him. He is an obviously and thoroughly good man.”