No freedom lost

November 9, 2006

In their comments on what lessons might be drawn from the Frank Ellis case, Dennis Hayes and Gargi Bhatta-charyya ("What were the lessons learnt from the case of Frank Ellis?", November 2) are entirely right to be concerned about the protection of academic freedom.

As Hayes suggests, an open public debate at Leeds University would have been extremely healthy for us and for academic freedom generally. The idea of a racism teach-in with invited speakers and specialists (to challenge publicly Ellis's statements regarding the scientific basis ofJIQ tests and, especially, the Bell Curve theory) was actually floated by staff of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at a specially convened local union meeting, but it was overtaken by the speed of events in the spring and by our vice-chancellor's decision to suspend Ellis on March 23.

As a former colleague of Ellis's in the department of Russian and Slavonic studies, and eventually as his head of department, I affirm, for the record, that in the many years he worked for this university he was afforded ample freedom of speech, even after the extreme nature of his views on race, politics and culture became generally known. I don't see that too many tears need to be shed for him.

Working at close quarters with Ellis for ten years, I noticed that he used his right to freedom of speech to the absolute full. He was immensely consistent (here, also, read "predictable") in using that right to bad-mouth individuals, institutions (including universities in particular) and entire categories of people, as eventually spelt out baldly and unrepentantly across the pages of our student paper on February 24.

Jonathan Sutton
Leeds University

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