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23 April 1996

Racist Psychology Lecturer Faces Ban

Edinburgh University Psychology lecturer Chris Brand has been threatened with the withdrawal of his book on intelligence after he said that he was a 'scientific racist'. Publishers John Wiley and Son told the Guardian on Thursday that they would not publish his book 'The G Factor' and students have started a campaign to have him sacked. Penny Robson explains why she opposes the ban.

The student union and the student newspaper are running a campaign to persuade Edinburgh University Rector to sack Chris Brand the self-confessed racist psychology lecturer. Yesterday some students started a lecture boycott and the paper splash was 'sack him'.

This is the second time this year that the union and the paper have run a campaign to get a member of teaching staff dismissed. Last term their investigative reporter claimed that muslim lecturer Dr. Dutton was associated with an Islamic sect.

This term, to our surprise, we learn that there is a member of staff that puts forward racist and elitist ideas. Chris Brand, in his new book 'The G Factor', draws a spurious link between race and intelligence and argues that blacks are less intelligent because of their genes. Brand has been putting forward the same outdated prejudice for some time and it cannot be news to his students that he is a racist, so why all the fuss now?

The answer has little to do with the question of anti-racism and everythingto do with 'politically correct' censorship.

With little confidence in the ability of students to resolve questions for themselves, the college authorities and the Anti Nazi League both have a basic instinct to solve all problems with bans and regulations. Bans are attractive because they look like doing something. But every time 'doing something' means demanding that the authorities 'do something' instead of us doing it for ourselves. Bans and censorship only ever help the authorities to reinforce their control over our lives.

The union, the paper and the Socialist Workers Student Society are at the forefront of a campaign to censor anything that they find offensive. They would like the university to be a haven for nice people with polite politically correct ideas with a library that only stocks 'sound' books and a culture that bears no relation to the realities of the real world.

The PC thought police believe that students are incapable of making up their own minds and that they could be influenced by the cunning arguments of biological racists like Brand. Brand must go, they say, because black students will suffer if they have to go and listen to him. Undoubtedly many students black and white will be angered by Brand but to suggest that they could not make up their own minds about his or other lecturers runs against the whole purpose of higher education.

Brand's ideas about racial difference are marginal and outdated. When Charles Murray made similar points in his book 'The Bell Curve' last year - academics and scientists were queuing up to rubbish his arguments. People like Brand and Murray, odious as they are, are not exactly mainstream figures. There is a big job to be done challenging racism today but it does not involve chasing sad bigots like Brand around campus.

After all we are not talking about an attack on an establishment figure. Brand already faces a ban from his publishers because he has offended the current outlook of the psychology academia. Now that he is about to be censored the students' union decide to get in a few kicks of their own. The whole thing is distasteful and wrong. I was surprised to learn that a friend of mine had studied under Brand some years earlier. When confronted with his racist views she argued back vociferously. I asked her if she thought he
should be banned and she said no 'only someone who had no confidence that they could win the argument against him would want him banned, but the argument is easy.' She added that she did not remember hearing from the Anti Nazi League when she was challenging Brand's racist views.

If you are concerned about the democratic rights of black and white people then you should campaign for free speech on campus, and take a stand against the self appointed censors of the student union. Universities are not democratic bodies, we do not appoint the staff or make up the rules - so why should we trust them to act in our interests? Education should be about developing the ability to distinguish between fact and prejudice, but if the thought police get their way even that will be lost. Part of the struggle against racism is to learn to challenge racist ideas not to sweep them under the carpet.
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