Key factors in the fall of a 'scientific racist'

April 10, 1998

Last week saw the end of 18 months of disciplinary proceedings against psychology lecturer Chris Brand, Edinburgh University's self-styled "scientific racist". The university has insisted that the case revolved around his conduct and not academic freedom. Olga Wojtas reports.

Proceedings against Chris Brand began in November 1996 as a result of a complaint from Edinburgh's dean of social sciences following a press report of Mr Brand's comments on paedophilia in an Internet newsletter. This included the quote: "The vast majority of young partners suffer no harm, especially where there is a cash payment involved." Mr Brand had already attracted controversy with the publication of his book The g factor, which linked race and IQ.

Edinburgh has stressed throughout that its disciplinary proceedings resulted from Mr Brand's conduct rather than his views, and that senior staff have gone out of their way to defend academic freedom.

Penny Holloway, national president of the Association of University Teachers, said: "Protecting academic freedom and the individual must lie alongside the proper need to remove someone who is unfit to do the job. This is a conundrum other areas of work don't share."

The tribunal report which ultimately recommended Mr Brand's dismissal said: "It is incumbent upon any citizen to act responsibly in the manner of his public utterances. This is particularly true of the academic in exercising his academic freedom, which does not give licence to express any opinion in any way one chooses. One must be acutely aware of the manner in which material is expressed and individual views should be set in a suitable framework with due care to the sensitivity of the issue and regard to the implications of controversial statements made."

It appeared that Mr Brand's remarks were clearly chosen to inflame an already difficult situation through a series of deliberate actions, the tribunal said. And quite apart from how these were seen by the general public and students, they had undermined the remaining confidence which staff in the psychology department might have had in him.

The procedures Edinburgh University used in the case of Mr Brand were new and designed to protect the interests of both the staff member and the institution. They were modified in the wake of the Education Reform Act of 1988 and subsequent 1992 Ordinance of University Commissioners, which established model statutes designed both to protect academic freedom and ensure that university disciplinary codes are sufficiently rigorous.

The legislation brought employment issues under employment law, rather than leaving them as the province of the university visitor. Statutes also had to be changed to allow institutions to remove tenure, so that new staff could be fired because of financial exigency and not just good cause.

The commissioners have approved revised statutes for each institution, but these are not uniform since changes are made in light of individual charters.

Mr Brand did not deny the reports of the newsletter, and was suspended from teaching and administration as disciplinary proceedings began. He was accused of gross misconduct and behaviour which both fell short of that required within his department and which damaged the university's reputation.

An initial probe by a vice-principal concluded that there was a prima facie case against Mr Brand. In April 1997, the court set up a tribunal of two lay court members and a senior academic chosen by senate. Mr Brand was entitled to be represented and both sides were able to call witnesses and submit documents.

The tribunal members unanimously found Mr Brand guilty of gross misconduct, with the majority view that he should be dismissed. Principal Sir Stewart Sutherland authorised dismissal in August 1997, which gave Mr Brand an automatic right of appeal.

An appeal must be heard by a judge or lawyer of at least ten years' standing, preferably with experience of industrial tribunals, appointed by the university court but not a university employee. Edinburgh appointed Gordon Coutts QC, who chose to sit alone rather than with court and senate nominees. Mr Brand was represented by counsel.

In a written decision, Mr Coutts rejected all the grounds of appeal, saying Mr Brand's gross misconduct meant "dismissal cannot be said to have been improper or inappropriate". Mr Brand can still fight the decision in the courts or an industrial tribunal.

Mr Brand criticised the ruling. He said that it meant that "Edinburgh University and any other university can sack any academic for any ****ing thing it likes at any time of the day or night."

Asked why he thought he had been dismissed, he said: "It comes down to a matter of style. What I'm guilty of is an unfortunate manner of expressing myself. I tell the truth, I get on with it, and I talk back to feminists."

Ms Holloway said that despite the initial common model from the university commissioners, even within higher education there was a lack of consistency among different institutions, particularly those which failed to develop guidelines on how to operate the model procedures. There was also often inconsistency within an institution in terms of implementing procedures.

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