King’s College, one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious universities, has been embroiled in controversy on account of some of their staff’s remarks about the recently deceased Prince Phillip. The catalyst for the scandal was an email bulletin sent to members of staff that had contained a photograph of the late prince. A seemingly innocent photo of the Queen and the Prince leaving Maughan Library in 2002 has caused offense among some staff members, which prompted others to issue a grovelling apology over its publication.
Vanessa Farrier, the college’s head of partnership and liaison, who is also a member of the university’s Anti-Racism Community of Practice, was reportedly one of those who reacted angrily to receiving the photo of Prince Phillip, quoting his alleged insensitive comments made in the past as a reason. Incidentally, she is one of the members of staff entrusted with “decolonizing” the university’s library. Regarding the process, the KCL’s own website states that “Libraries & Collections has a responsibility to make available multiple narratives and perspectives that challenge coloniality and make available counter-forms of knowledge.”
Reacting to multiple complaints, Joleen Clarke, associate director at King’s College libraries, was forced to issue an apology in which she states, “The picture was included as a historical reference point following his [the Duke’s] death. The inclusion of the picture was not intended to commemorate him. Through feedback and subsequent conversations, we have come to realize the harm that this caused members of our community, because of his history of racist and sexist comments. We are sorry to have caused this harm.” Clarke is reportedly also a member of the university’s anti-racism program.
The Duke of Edinburgh is remembered for some of his fairly old-fashioned remarks, such as referring to the Chinese as having “slitty eyes” during his 1986 visit to the country. Yet, the incident is perhaps more telling about the simmering resentment towards top-ranking representatives of the British monarchy among the liberal academic elite, for being the living link between Britain’s present society and its colonial past. The Queen and heirs to the throne have usually been spared public criticism in the past, yet the incident is a sign of changing attitudes when the country’s progressive opinion makers fell to be emboldened to reach at the heart of their country’s traditions and constitutional setup.
As a sign of some damage control, a King’s College spokesman said: “Prince Philip had a long association with King’s which continued right up until his retirement from public life. We value immensely, and remain very proud, of his friendship and support for King’s.”
The prince was a Life Governor of KCL since 1955, an honorary role he had fulfilled throughout the years, such as during his last visit to the institution in 2012.
The scandal is only the latest in a series where radical left-wing staff and students have made attempts to censor more conservative opinions and some of the KCL’s traditions. Reacting to such activities, Conservative MP Sir John Hayes said: “King’s College London is at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to inhibiting free speech. We need to flush out people in our universities who are determined with an almost Maoist zeal to close minds in places which ought to be bastions of free and open debate.”
Reacting to the controversy surrounding KCL’s treatment of Prince Phillip, Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly had tweeted “This is just getting silly”. While the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis tweeted that “This is beyond silly. As an alumni myself, I’m embarrassed about this.
HRH was an amazing public servant & this reaction by the University, to a very fair message, is beyond parody.” Toby Young, of the Free Speech Union has added “The irony is that if it wasn’t for people like Prince Philip putting their lives on the line to defend liberty and democracy, university lecturers wouldn’t now enjoy the freedom to attack people like him. When a war hero dies, shouldn’t these republican firebrands just say ‘Thank you for your service’, and save the political point-scoring for another day?”