One of Britain’s top universities has apologised for the “harm” caused to staff after they complained about being sent a photograph of Prince Philip who had a “history of racist and sexist comments”.
The photograph of the late Duke opening the university library was included in a recent email bulletin to staff at King’s College London.
However, a King’s College London spokesman later said that bosses at the institution remained “very proud” of its long association with Prince Philip.
Joleen Clarke, associate director at the King’s College libraries, sent the email apology to staff after some workers complained about being offended by a photograph of the Duke featuring in a staff bulletin previously sent via email.
Members of the university’s Anti-Racism Community of Practice reportedly reacted angrily to the photo, which showed the Duke alongside the Queen opening a library at King’s College in 2002, due to his “history of racist and sexist comments”.
Vanessa Farrier, the college’s head of partnership and liaison, was reportedly among the staff angered by the Duke featuring in the email. In June, she was asked to “decolonise” the King’s College library.
The Duke was notorious for his controversial comments, most famously for referring to “slitty eyes” during a 1986 trip to China.
Ms Clarke was subject to what a source said was “a kangaroo court” among King’s College workers, who judged the use of the photo to be offensive.
The offending photograph in the staff bulletin, sent shortly after the Duke died on April 9, was accompanied by a caption reading: “As the nation marks the death of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, we thought you might like to see this photo of the Duke at the official opening of the Maughan Library in 2002, which some colleagues will remember.”
Ms Clarke has reportedly been active in King’s College’s anti-racism programme. In the subsequent apology email, sent in the week beginning May 10, she wrote: “The picture was included as a historical reference point following his [the Duke’s] death.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 realise 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.”
On Saturday a King’s College spokesman said: “As we previously highlighted in an official university tribute on April 9 2021, Prince Philip had a long association with King’s which continued right up until his retirement from public life. We valued immensely, and remain very proud, of his friendship and support for King’s.”
The Duke’s association with the College began in 1955, when he became a Life Governor of the institution. He and the Queen visited King’s College many times, most recently in 2012, for the opening of its Somerset House East Wing (pictured below).
The statement the spokesman referred to was released on the day of the Duke’s death. In it, Prof Evelyn Welch, King’s College’s interim principal, said that the Duke “always took an active and friendly interest in King’s and our students”.
She said: “As a King’s community we mourn the loss of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and our sincere condolences are with HM The Queen, the Royal family and those close to him during this time.”
In February the Government announced plans to protect free speech in universities, with education secretary Gavin Williamson warning of the “chilling effect” of students and staff not feeling safe when expressing opinions.
Sir John Hayes, the Conservative MP, 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.”