Sussex urged to reopen its race row case

March 31, 2006

A professor who stated that there is 'nothing wrong with racism' could be reinvestigated. Claire Sanders reports

Leeds University's decision to begin disciplinary proceedings against Frank Ellis after he stated that black people were on average less intelligent than white people could prompt a new investigation into a Sussex University academic who expressed similar views.

Emiko Okoturo, a black student who studied at universities in Scotland and is now a campaigner on race issues, has written to Sussex asking it to reconsider the case of Geoffrey Sampson, a professor of natural language computing at the university.

Mr Okoturo has told the university he might make a formal complaint to the Commission for Racial Equality about the case.

In 2002, Professor Sampson wrote an article headlined "There's nothing wrong with racism". He was subsequently forced to stand down as a Conservative councillor, but he kept his university post.

But his views are still on his website, which is liked to the university's.

In an article reflecting on events of 2002, titled, "How the British Government classed me as a dissident", he writes: "We have known for a long time that the yellow-skinned races have on average slightly higher IQs than whites, who in turn have on average higher IQs than blacks."

He says that he felt he was being condemned for believing in statistical differences in intelligence among the races. "It really did feel as though civilisation had slipped back a few centuries and I was being threatened for publicly admitting that the Sun is the centre of the solar system."

In a letter to Alasdair Smith, vice-chancellor of Sussex, Mr Okoturo says he does not want Professor Sampson suspended because he made racist comments, but he is concerned about the impact he has on students.

"I think you should give students the opportunity to challenge his academic judgment if it is considered unfair, and indirectly or directly made as a result of his racist or elitist beliefs, bearing in mind your obligation under the Race Relations Act to promote cultural diversity," he writes.

Mr Okoturo says he is concerned that under existing regulations the grounds on which students can question academic judgment are very restricted.

He has already made a formal complaint to the CRE about Dr Ellis. In his letter to Professor Smith, he says he may make a complaint about Professor Sampson "if I feel not enough has been done to protect students from bigotry which has been sheltered due to indifference".

Professor Smith's reply says: "The issues concerning Professor Sampson's views were dealt with in 2002, and I have no intention of reopening the matter."

But Mr Okoturo said he was still not convinced that students taught by Professor Sampson were not being disadvantaged. "I feel lecturers who use pseudoscientific arguments to justify racist views should not be teaching."

Professor Sampson was unavailable for comment.

A spokesman for the CRE said it would have to assess the merits of any complaint received.

Leeds reviews Ellis remarks

Leeds University announced last week that it is to begin disciplinary proceedings against Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian and Slavonic studies. Dr Ellis has made a series of highly controversial remarks on race in recent weeks. The university is looking into three issues:

  • Dr Ellis, in publicising his personal views on race and other matters, has acted in breach of the university's equality and diversity policies and in a way that is "wholly at odds" with the university's values
  • He has "recklessly jeopardised" the fulfilment of the university's obligations under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 - in particular, the university's duty to promote good relations between people of different racial groups
  • He has failed to comply with reasonable requests made by his employer.
  • For example, the university says that it asked Dr Ellis to apologise for the distress his remarks on race have caused but that he has not agreed to do so.

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