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putting forward the same outdated prejudice for some time and it cannot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
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