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March 17, 2006

More on Frank Ellis

Yup, the witch hunt against Frank Ellis is gathering adherents.

The campaign against a university lecturer who claims that black people and women are genetically inferior is spreading to campuses around the country following a demonstration in Leeds yesterday.

Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian and Slavonic studies, sparked anger after stating he was an "unrepentant Powellite" who thought the BNP was "a bit too socialist" for his liking.

In a row that has reignited the debate about academic freedom, Mr Ellis said he supported rightwing ideas such as the theory developed by Richard J Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their 1994 book, The Bell Curve, which claims that white people are more intelligent than black people. He also told the Leeds Student newspaper that women did not have the same intellectual capacity as men and that repatriation would get his support if it was done "humanely".

I’ve been over the details of his views before. The important thing is that he has every right to believe as he does and to state his thoughts. This is, just as much with the Motoons or David Irving a simple matter. I do have and should have the right to state my beliefs up to the point just short of incitement to crime. People don’t like my views? Or his? Fuck ’em.

Yesterday more than 300 students and staff gathered in Leeds to call for him to be sacked and campaigners said the struggle was picking up momentum at other universities. Hind Hassan, treasurer of Unite Against Fascism at Leeds University, said: "This is a fight that is going to go on and on until we get rid of this man. It has gone beyond an issue of freedom of speech or academic freedom and now directly impinges on the rights of students to live and work in a safe and tolerant environment. How can female students or those from ethnic minorities possibly get a fair educational experience?"

Students from several universities attended the rally. Shaheed Fazal, who travelled from Warwick University, said: "It is completely inappropriate for a lecturer in his position to push these views."

Pav Aktar, NUS anti-racism organiser, said the campaign was gathering national momentum. "For someone in a senior position to validate racist and fascist opinions on campus represents a real danger to all students, not just those at Leeds."

That would include the above, of course. One person seems to be standing firm:

Leeds University secretary Roger Cair, one of its senior administrators, has resisted calls for Mr Ellis to be sacked, although he said the views expressed were abhorrent to most staff and students. Staff had the freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and put forward controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs, he said.

Slightly weak but still welcome. The important point about free speech was encapsulated in this statement by the owner of Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt:

"If the law will protect scumbags like me it will protect you."

You don’t like what Ellis believes or says? Fine, that’s your right. Get upset about it? Fine, that’s also your right. But he is allowed to say it, you should in fact be supporting his right to say it. Having the odd nutter spouting hurtful views is exactly the price we pay for living in a free society.

Don’t like it? Bugger off then.

March 17, 2006 in Idiotarians | Permalink


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Amen to that.

What does interest me though, is whether or not Mr Ellis actually bothers with teaching blacks or women.

If so, surely that betrays a certain lack of confidence in his own ideas?

Posted by: N.I.B. | Mar 17, 2006 9:16:54 AM

Tim, do you believe a company should have the right to sack someone if their employ is damaging the business?

Btw, it's not a "Witch hunt", as witches didn't exist.

Tim adds: We’ve been through this before. Depends what’s in the contract.

Posted by: Matthew | Mar 17, 2006 9:28:04 AM

Ok, but if there was a catch-all phrase like 'bringing the organisation into disrepute' it would be fine with you?

Posted by: Matthew | Mar 17, 2006 9:40:14 AM

It seems to me this post is coming very close to saying that he is at risk of being censored, by the threat of losing his job.

When you say:

But he is allowed to say it, you should in fact be supporting his right to say it.

That in no way means you have to support his right to be employed by Leeds University. The other day you said that censorship can only come through a government law. He'll be allowed to start a blog, for instance, even if he is no longer employed by Leeds.

Posted by: Matthew | Mar 17, 2006 9:43:59 AM


He belives that women and blacks are inferior but he doesn't say they are completely useless. Maybe he feels that some worth can be garnered by educating the brighter ones, even if they are destined never to reach the standards of his pale male students.

On a more general note:

Surely, censorship exposes the censors to the charge that they are actually afraid of something in the message they wish to supress. And if they are afraid of it, then it must contain at least an element of truth. In a perverse way, those calling for Ellis to be censored are actually validating his ideas.

I would have thought that the best way to counter idiotic ideas like Ellis's is to give them the maximum exposure. Out in the open he can be attacked using a whole host of tactics; logic, morality, ridicule whatever. By kicking him out and driving him underground he becomes a mythical figure to his adherents; a martyr sacrificed to appease some sort of jewish/feminist/minority conspiracy.

Still, logic was never the strong point of either the extreme right or the extreme left so I doubt we'll see much change in the antics of either.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Mar 17, 2006 9:46:58 AM

I agree with you 100% that he has a right to his views. However, the fact that he is a teacher does cloud what otherwise would be a perfectly clear "test case" of freedom of opinion. If I were black, or a woman, I'd have qualms about being taught by him, and I don't think that would be an unreasonable position.

I still don't think you have to be Einstein with a chalkboard to predict that he will be sacked soon.

Posted by: Mr Eugenides | Mar 17, 2006 10:38:09 AM

RM: Yes, I thought there might be a get-out clause like that. Or in other words, he won't be proving himself wrong until more than half his students are black or women... Clever, that.

Posted by: N.I.B. | Mar 17, 2006 11:52:07 AM

There is a difference between censoring someone and sacking them. There are no criminal charges being brought here, surely. No one is campaigning to have him publically gagged. They are campaigning to have him sacked. If he were sacked, he would then be perfectly free to express his views to whoever will listen. That is not censorship.

Posted by: Katherine | Mar 17, 2006 12:05:38 PM

Universities ought to be able to compete as to the degree of extremism they will tolerate on the part of the teaching staff. Some could offer as their selling point that students will have their horizons widened by hearing every view from racism to Stalinism. Others might offer the students, "no crackpot professors here."

Unfortunately, state funding of higher education tends to make such competition difficult, if not forbid it absolutely.

I am not clear on whether the protestors against Ellis seek to change the rules to prevent him working anywhere. That would be out of order in my book, whereas telling Leeds that it would be better off without him is allowable. (Though hypocritical, I bet. Pound to a penny the same NUS protestors defend extreme left-wing professors with ringing declarations on the value of freedom of speech.)

Posted by: Natalie Solent | Mar 17, 2006 12:30:10 PM

There is no avoiding it. The BBC has to be closed down for posting this on its website:

Percentage within ethnic groups getting 5+ A*-C GCSEs including English and maths in 2004:

62.9% Chinese
54.1% Indian
41.5% Asian
40.9% White
32.1% Bangladeshi
30.8% Pakistani
26.4% Black
22.8% Black Caribbean

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4528292.stm

Posted by: Bob B | Mar 17, 2006 12:33:46 PM

Don't start, Bob B. The arguments on all sides are a little more sophisticated than that.

Posted by: Natalie Solent | Mar 17, 2006 12:46:12 PM


It is true that sacking Ellis will not gag him. In fact it is likely to make him more vociferous. But it is punishing him for expressing his views. In most organisations the "bring the organisation into disrepute" charge might have a chance, but universities are supposed to be places where thought and speach are unshackled thus permitting new ideas to blossom.

Sacking Ellis for expressing his thoughts, however odious they may be, sends out a strong message that deviating from approved doctrine is not permitted. That sort of environment is hardly the sort of place one can expect great breakthroughs in any of the fields of human endeavour.

I think Roger Cair is taking the right stance on this issue. Sadly I suspect he won't be admired for it.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Mar 17, 2006 1:40:01 PM

I'm not sure what he's accused of doing. It's one thing to hold a view, and to privately express it if asked; and quite another to go on a lecture to promote it.

Posted by: Rub-a-dub | Mar 17, 2006 2:00:31 PM


Probably some daring leftie infiltrator recorded him at a BNP meeting.

I don't actually believe that but it'll be fun to watch the BNP run around trying to find the spy in their midst if they take the bait.


Tim adds: It all comes from an interview with hte student newspaper.

Posted by: The Remittance Man | Mar 17, 2006 2:12:05 PM

Universities aren't place where thought and speech are unshackled. They are certainly places where new ideas are born, but I wonder how far a creationist would get in the geology department. It's a point of view, after all. A crap and incorrect point of view, but a point of view nonetheless.

One of the things missing from this debate of course is the recognition between a subjective issue and an objective one. Saying that 1 + 1 = 3 is a point of view, after all. But since it is a point of view on something that can be measured objectively, it is perfectly acceptable to say that 1 + 1 doesn't equal 3 and that a maths teacher who says otherwise should be sacked. That is not censorship.

So is the view of IQs of racial and gender groups and the interpretation of those figures objective or subjective? Well, I'd argue that it's a bit of both and that our lovely Mr Ellis is talking bollocks. Among other things - IQ tests are notoriously rubbish at measuring anything meaningful and, as always, correlation is not necessarily causation, statistics for arbitrary groups can tell you nothing about individuals etc etc etc.

Anyway, I don't think Mr Ellis should be sacked either, because that would give the odious man far more publicity than he deserves. I just hope that students avoid his Russian classes so that he ends up with no one to talk to. I was just pointing out that sacking him is not censoring him.

Posted by: Katherine | Mar 17, 2006 3:03:53 PM

Natalie: "The arguments on all sides are a little more sophisticated than that."

I think you are very probably right this time.

Posted by: Bob B | Mar 17, 2006 9:12:59 PM


I know universities aren't places where freedom of speach is absolute, but that is the ideal to which they hold themselves. Obviously if this freedom exists stupid ideas will be floated (flat earth, wierd maths, Ellis's opinions,) but equally they should be countered with logic, reason or ridicule, not censorship.

As well as giving some sort of credence to the bad ideas censorship illustrates laziness and/or fear on the part of the opponents. They can't or won't argue against ideas they simply cut them off. Hardly an edifying examplewhen you think about it.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Mar 18, 2006 8:01:01 AM

PS I would have thought that depriving the guy of his job and effectively any chance of any other academic post is a form of implicit censorship -"shut up or loose your livelyhood and any chance of earning a crust anywhere else in your chosen profession" is a pretty heavy htreat.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Mar 18, 2006 9:45:54 AM

Given the subjects he is teaching, I suspect he has quite a high female audience. Or did have, once.

Posted by: auntymarianne | Mar 18, 2006 2:53:45 PM