It is with a rather heavy heart that I pen this note to a rather wider readership than I might have anticipated. The contents of this letter relate to the recent publication and promotion of a “naked calendar” produced by my final year veterinary students at the Royal Veterinary College and our response to public reaction to the calendar.
Let me be clear, at the outset, about three things:
- The RVC stands by its students and works with them through the good times and the more challenging ones.
- The RVC expects the highest of standards ranging from professional behaviours to animal welfare.
- The RVC student body is committed to the same standards and recognises that they enjoy a privileged position and one in which they can provide charitable assistance to others less fortunate than themselves.
Some facts – for a number of years, the RVC student body in final year have produced a calendar, a proportion of whose proceeds go to nominated charities. With a genesis in films like Calendar Girls, this approach has had a broad acceptance in society and our students have raised significant sums of money for worthy causes over the years.
Yet, there can be no denying that in more recent times these activities have started to divide opinion, both within the RVC community and in wider society. Furthermore, with the implicit or obvious involvement of animals, the potential for perceptions of the compromise of animal welfare has been an increasing issue.
The calendar has received both support and criticism in the past and the use of animals has been raised as a concern in particular. For the avoidance of doubt, the issues of public nudity or a lifestyle that includes animal protein as a food source may be of interest to some but are not germane to this communication.
With the publication of this year’s calendar, there has been a very significant backlash against the RVC and our students. Some of the threats communicated have been obscene, threatening and, in my view, illegal and will be reported as appropriate to relevant authorities.
To be clear, the current cohort of students had followed a tradition and were producing the calendar with the intent in part of supporting external charitable causes. Furthermore, they did this with the knowledge of some of my staff.
So, when the furore started, it became apparent two things needed to happen:
- The calendar, or elements of it, needed to be removed from public circulation and an apology offered for any offence caused regarding any unnecessary handling that was not for the direct benefit of the animal.
- The RVC community collectively needed to re-examine the values we bring to our day-to-day life, recognising the changing views on issues such as the contribution of animals in teaching.
As Principal of the RVC, I am privileged to be leading one of the best schools of our kind. What we get right as an organisation reflects well on all of us; but when we get it wrong, I must take responsibility and, in this case, we got it wrong on a number of fronts.
From this most recent episode, we will learn lessons about shared values, timely communication, standing by our students and the need to understand a changing world. No student is being blamed, individually or collectively, and we will work together to ensure these events do not happen again.
And, to those who have taken offence at the calendar, I apologise. There is no place for harassment or threats directed at my students. They were doing something with the best of intentions. It may have fallen short of the standards some expect in terms of animal welfare - but that responsibility is mine. The complaints and attacks should be directed to me and me alone.
I would be happy to speak with any individual but hope that this explanation and apology might help to draw a line under an episode we all wish to see resolved.
I have shared this message with the President of our Students’ Union who made helpful suggestions and endorses the final version.
8th November, 2019