Still my university

So Frank Ellis has been suspended. My feelings and thoughts on this have ran the gamut over the past month, from initial revulsion to a more considered argument, but never forgetting that Ellis’s comments are deeply wrong and offensive. However, I think that Leeds University’s reasons for suspending him are all good, particularly the third one:

Dr Ellis has failed to comply with reasonable requests given to him by his employer. For example, we asked him to apologise for the distress which his remarks on race and other matters have caused to many people inside and outside the University. He has not agreed to do that. Nor has he given us an undertaking to make it clear in public that scientific questions about the differences if any between different racial groups are questions which lie a long way from his own area of academic expertise as a lecturer in Russian and Slavonic Studies. And he has failed to give us an undertaking that he will make no further public comments suggesting that one racial group is inherently inferior (or superior) to another unless there is no possibility whatsoever that anyone hearing or reading his comments might reasonably associate him with the University of Leeds. The University is clearly and publicly distancing itself from Dr Ellis’s comments on race.

The apology argument IMO is that as his employer, Leeds Uni has the right to ask him not to stir up trouble in the workplace – and that was all it was, a request – which he refused (see this post on Ellis’s Irving-esque free-speech-marytyr complex) He is not being silenced for fear of “stirring up” the student population – there are no reports of Mohammed cartoons-style organised protests designed to intimidate. Moreover, the fact that he’s also refused to recognise the difference between his published comments and the scope of his work is sure grounds for disciplinary charges (which, as the university press release notes, “is not in itself a disciplinary penalty”).

The press release concludes with the statement that “The disciplinary process might take some time to complete … the University intends to make no further public comment on the case until the conclusion of that disciplinary process.” In the absence of a comment from them, I will simply say that they have done the best they could from a tricky situation. I await the outcome of the disciplinary procedure for further comment, but until then, I’m still proud to study at this institution, and that a degree from the University of Leeds means something beside the amount of credits notched up.

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