Judges reverse Jeffries's appeal

November 25, 1994

The case of Leonard Jeffries, the New York professor who was demoted three years ago after a fiercely antisemitic speech, has been reopened by the United States Supreme Court.

Last week the justices set aside a ruling that the college violated Jeffries's rights to free speech when it demoted him.

They told the appeals court in New York to reconsider its ruling that Jeffries be reinstated as chairman of the black studies department at City College in the light of a separate high court decision in May.

The May decision, involving a hospital nurse who was fired for criticising a training programme, reaffirmed the broad power of government bodies to restrict the speech of their staff.

Jeffries had been chairman of his department for 19 years when he lost his job -- though not his tenured teaching post.

He had long been a thorn in the side of City College because of his pronouncements, including his argument that skin pigment, the amount of melanin in the skin, produces differences in the races. Blacks were "sun" people, he said, pacific, co-operative and cheery, whereas whites, the "ice" people, were competitive, aggressive and driven.

But a speech he gave in 1991 caused a furore. In it he said that Jews had played a major role in the slave trade and were responsible for a conspiracy in Hollywood to disparage blacks in the movies.

The college removed Jeffries from his departmental chairmanship, but its decision was challenged in the courts and Jeffries won. He was reinstated and won $360,000 in damages.

City College appealed to the Supreme Court, and the result is last week's unexpected reassessment of the case.

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