In subtext 196’s letters page, referring to the previous issue’s article on Lancaster’s honorary graduates, our correspondent Sam Dillane wrote that, as well as Sir Cyril Smith (LLD, honoris causa, 1993), there were two other recipients of honorary degrees that the University might, on reflection, regret awarding. Who could they be?
Step forward, Field Marshal William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim (1891-1970), Burma veteran and former Governor-General of Australia (LLD, honoris causa, 1964) and Prof Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), Romanian historian, latterly of the University of Chicago (DLitt, honoris causa, 1975).
Viscount Slim was one of the first five recipients of a Lancaster honorary degree, alongside luminaries including Harold Wilson, and extracts from the ceremony at which he received his degree are available on YouTube:
He was also patron of the Fairbridge Farm school for migrant children in Western Australia. In 2009, long after his death, the ABC broadcast serious allegations of abuse at the school, including abuse perpetrated by Slim, based on David Hill’s 2007 book ‘The forgotten children’ (ISBNý 978-1741666847). In 2019, following a campaign, the Australian Capital Territory agreed to rename a road, William Slim Drive in Belconnen, to Gundaroo Drive. Viscount Slim is of course not around to defend himself, and the University was hardly likely to know about these allegations in 1964.
By contrast, Prof Eliade’s political allegiances during the late 1930s, where he was an active supporter of Romanian fascist party the Iron Guard, were and are well known, although his post-war views are more contested. His politics, including his relationship with Julius Evola, were discussed in the recent paper ‘One Knows the Tree by the Fruit That It Bears: Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology’ in the journal ‘Religion’:
Was he a wise choice for the University to honour in 1975? Is he still a wise choice to have on our ‘roll of honour’ in 2021? Do send us your letters.