Blogs > Liberty and Power > What Price Academic Freedom?

Mar 24, 2006 2:25 am

What Price Academic Freedom?

This story comes to us from Britain, where there is no First Amendment and, specifically, no First Amendment interpreted to protect the free speech of faculty at public universities.

"Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian and Slavonic Studies, was sent home on full pay by the University of Leeds, which accused him of breaching its obligations to promote racial harmony under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

"It is the first significant test of academic freedom since the introduction of the Act, which places a duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between different races."

"He voiced support for the theory set out in The Bell Curve, a book published in 1994 by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, that white people had higher average IQs than blacks. He said the study had 'demonstrated to me beyond any reasonable doubt there is a persistent gap in average black and white average intelligence'.

"Dr Ellis also told Leeds students that women did not have the same intellectual capacity as men and that feminism, along with multiculturalism, was “corroding” Britain. His views outraged students, who staged a campaign to have him dismissed from the university.

"Leeds responded initially by stating that Dr Ellis had a right to express his views, although they were 'abhorrent to the overwhelming majority of our staff and students'. Officials said that they had no evidence that his beliefs had led him to discriminate against students or colleagues.

"Yesterday, however, it announced that the ViceChancellor, Professor Michael Arthur, had suspended Dr Ellis and that disciplinary proceedings had begun. Roger Gair, the University Secretary, said that in publicising his views Dr Ellis had 'acted in breach of our equality and diversity policy, and in a way that is wholly at odds with our values'.

"The lecturer had 'recklessly jeopardised the fulfilment of the university’s obligations under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000'. Mr Gair said: 'As a public body, the university is required under that Act to promote good relations between people of different racial groups. That is a requirement we are happy to accept.'"

Whatever they may think of Frank Ellis’s views, or the truth of Herrnstein and Murray's Bell Curve, I imagine most readers will find this story very disturbing. To read the full story, go here.

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Aster Francesca - 3/28/2006

The piece I refer to is Willis' own book _Don't Think, Smile: Notes on a Decade of Denial_. (;n=283155). She takes on Murray's social theories in an early chapter unfortunately unavailable online. Her critique of market libertarianism, "Their Libertarianism and Ours",(
which is the final chapter of the book, reviews Charles Murray and David Boaz. Generally I think her social and cultural analyses are brilliant, her economic reasoning far less so.

Mark Brady - 3/28/2006

Please provide a URL for the story about Ellen Willis. I'm interested in reading more. Thank you.

Aster Francesca - 3/28/2006

Censoring Frank Ellis was certainly an evil and shouldn't have been done. But I think it just as important to emphasise that his ideas are precisely as vicious as his protesters assert. If I was attending the University of Leeds, I would oppose any censorship while simultaneously advocating a total boycott of the bastard's classes. Actually, to some degree simply publicising his views might cause this spontaneously. How many women or people of colour would want to attend the class of someone with this kind of openion of them- at least in a society progressive enough that other professors can be expected to be better?

I hope that libertarians- those who are children of the Enlightenment- oppose racism as firmly as they oppose statism. The statist left has made considerable capital out of the fact that a disingenious racist like Charles Murray has also described himself as a libertarian, while the left-libertarian and pro-sex feminist Ellen Willis invoked Murray as a symbol of her distrust of market libertarianism. If libertarian opposition to the censorship of racists is to appear as a matter of principle, rather than a rallying to the defense of a hearfelt ally, then libertarians should take pains to distance themselves from Ellis's and Murray's racism. The fact that this kind of attitude does crop up repeatedly in the libertarian movement (for instance, in the recent 'H.H.' Hoppe scandals) should be a source of shame among free-marketers as well as an urgent call for house-cleaning.

john j trainor - 3/25/2006

Well there's de jure and de facto considerations here. However it might be accomplished if an American professor said similar things, law or no law I don't think he'd be retiring from the university where he said them. As for the professor's comments about women, I immediately thought about David Stove's similar remarks. I guess they play a little rougher in Australia.

David T. Beito - 3/24/2006

Disturbing but not surprising unfortuantely.