Political Correctness and the Current Abandonment of Academic Autonomy to the Culture of Comfort
John J. Furedy, University of Toronto
Professor of Psychology and President (1994-8) of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship For published version, see Furedy, J.J. (2003). Reflections on the Duehring and Brand cases: Political correctness and the current abandonment of academic autonomy to the culture of comfort. Journal of Economic Studies, 29, 332-44.
As with most politically-loaded expressions, the concept of "political correctness" (PC) does not have a clear and simple definition on which there is even majority, let alone universal, consensus. Nevertheless, during the last decade, and especially in North America, a series of events and positions have emerged to which the term PC is at least partially applicable. I shall begin by alluding to North American PC -in institutions of higher education and in scientific organizations, which I have discussed elsewhere in more detail. In the section C of this chapter I suggest that North American PC has crossed the Atlantic. This suggestion will be elaborated by discussing the recent dismissal of a tenured member of the teaching staff by Edinburgh University, and relating this case to the Duehring dismissal.
B. NORTH AMERICAN PC IN INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND SCIENTIFIC ORGANIZATIONS
One of these PC manifestations has become influential in institutions of higher education: I have labelled this the "culture of comfort" (Furedy, 1997a). The central assumption (not always made explicit) in this position is that the propriety of the epistemological activities (i.e., for the acquisition of knowledge) of the academic community (faculty and students) is determined not by considerations of disciplinary relevance, but by whether those activities offend (or are uncomfortable for) the sensibilities of others.
The PC influence is often ‘extra-academic’ in the sense that it is external to the central, epistemological function of higher education. Even if the Equity Office (or its American equivalent, the Equal Opportunity Office) is located on campus, it is extra-academic because its primary function is not epistemological (the advancement of knowledge through teaching and research) but political (i.e., the improvement of society). To the extent that such extra-academic influences predominate, there is a loss of academic autonomy that is more fundamental than the loss incurred when, as has happened lately in the U.K., the government, through its financial powers, exerts its external influence on institutions of higher education. So, in the Brand case (which I discuss in more detail below), the political desire to protect society from the evils of paedophilia was the predominating extra-academic influence that led the vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University to summarily dismiss a tenured member of his teaching staff for the expression of "disgraceful" opinions.
Another ominous aspect of PC is that it appears to have produced a marked lowering of self respect or epistemological confidence among working academics. The North American faculty member, in particular, used to be the main authority in matters pertaining to disciplinary issues in the classroom. There was not even the constraint of external examiners who, in the U.K. system, regularly check whether marking standards in each department are adequate. In the nineties, in contrast, instructors seem to have accepted, with little protest, that persons who are not only unqualified in the relevant discipline, but who often lack the qualifications of ‘any’ higher degree, are competent to direct faculty on curricular matters. These advisers are the commissar-like "equity" or "equal-opportunity" officers who have come to play an increasing role in the epistemological, scholarly enterprise of higher education, in the interests of promoting "diversity" (of people viewed as members of different sexual and racial groups, rather than of opinions) and comfort.
PC in North America has recently become manifest in a second context: scientific professional organizations whose members are biological and physical scientists. It has been obvious for some time that PC influences are considerable in the humanities and social sciences, but I have documented four recent incidents that indicate that the physical and biological scientists are not immune to these extra-academic, non-disciplinary pressures (Furedy, 1997b, c). The stories indicate how scientific organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Society for Neuroscience, and the Behavior Genetics Association have handled controversial and (and to some people) uncomfortable issues related to group race and sex differences. For example, the AAAS accepted a poster for presentation at its annual 1996 meeting, for which the abstract referred to the relation between intelligence an brain size, but did not indicate that the poster would also refer to the relation between intelligence and race. In his later public apology for accepting this poster, the program chair promised that in the future the AAAS would "more carefully edit" poster abstracts, because the organization did not wish "too overt" controversies to be discussed at its meetings. Had the abstract mentioned race, he said, that would have "raised a red flag", and the program committee might well have not allowed the poster to be presented.
I have characterized these assertions as "astounding public policy statements for any modern scientific organization to make" (Furedy, 1997b, p. 59), mainly because the race/intelligence issue, though obviously very controversial and uncomfortable, is of scientific (i.e, epistemological or disciplinary) interest. This story, like the other three stories, indicates the strength of extra-academic influences having to do with comfort, when these influences conflict with disciplinary, epistemological considerations.
It is also important to note that the AAAS actions were organizational rather than individual choices. It is one thing for individual scientists to choose not to enter into controversial areas like the relations between race and intelligence: to do so can carry serious risks both to one's scientific reputation and ability to obtain governmental funding for one's research. It is quite another thing for an organization to have this policy of avoiding "too overt" controversies. When scientific organizations have this sort of policy, they indicate that their scholarly self esteem is so low that it is the degree of offensiveness or discomfort that determines their actions, rather than the disciplinary relevance of the controversy. And in starting down this path of accommodating extra-disciplinary concerns of comfort, the scientific organization in question begins to transform itself to a religious or political pressure group.
C. PC CROSSES THE ATLANTIC: THE DISMISSAL OF CHRIS BRAND
1. The Brand case up to January 1998
On August 8, 1997, the principal of Edinburgh University, professor sir Stewart Sutherland, issued a press release announcing the immediate dismissal of a long-tenured member of the university's teaching staff. Mr. Chris Brand had held his tenured position in the department of psychology for 26 years. His dismissal followed the completion of a report by a specially constituted three-person disciplinary tribunal, which met in secret and which failed to issue a public report of its findings.[] In its private report to the university's Principal, as stated in his August 8 press release, the tribunal asserted that Mr. Brand was "guilty of gross misconduct", and that aspects of his conduct "have been of a disgraceful nature, incompatible with the duties of [his] office or employment." Furthermore, according to the press release, the tribunal, in a majority view, recommended that the Principal "consider dismissal". The Principal not only "considered" dismissal (which itself was only recommended by two of the three members of the tribunal), but acted immediately following his own considerations.
What were the grounds for the Principal's immediate application of the most severe penalty that is available to an academic administrator, an action that went beyond even the Tribunal's already quite severe recommendation?
The principal's press release quotes from the (secret) tribunal report that Mr. Brand's "remarks were clearly chosen to inflame an already difficult situation, through a series of deliberate actions". Given that the principal (whose academic speciality is theology) did not describe the nature of the situation, nor identify the actions that the tribunal had in mind (during its ‘in camera’ meetings), this hardly constitute strong grounds for his action.
The principal referred to "Mr. Brand's public comments on paedophilia", as "particularly" constituting "conduct" that justified Mr. Brand's dismissal. The comments to which the principal presumably [] referred were made by Brand in his internet newsletter in an article that was critical of the indictment and trial in the United States of a Nobel Laureate for alleged paedophiliac activities. In bolstering his critique of the indictment, Brand asserted that "Academic studies and my own experience [as a choir boy] suggest that non-violent paedophilia with a consenting partner over age 12 does no harm so long as the paedophiles and their partners are of above-average IQ and educational level."
It must be noted that it was the media that publicized Mr. Brand's remarks. Brand stressed later that he was referring to psychological harm (an issue which was within his disciplinary expertise as a lecturer in psychology), and not to questions of morality or jurisprudence. He also indicated that he did not condone paedophiliac behavior, nor wish to see any changes in the law concerning such behavior. Accordingly, as the acting president and executive director of the American National Association of Scholars (NAS), Bradford Wilson, put it in a comment posted on NAS's website, "It is difficult not to conclude that the Principal's dismissal of Mr. Brand is an abandonment of the defence of Mr. Brand's freedom of opinion", and that "Mr. Brand's comments on psychological harm are also within his field of academic competence ... [so that he has the right] to be free from administrative punishment for the utterance in question".[]
2. Superficial similarities between the Brand and Duehring cases.
In his fifties, Brand, like Duehring, held a relatively low rank on the academic totem pole. A lecturer with 26 years of experience, he had little prospect of promotion to the rank of professor, and still less hope of (nor, probably, any aspiration to) any high-level academic-administrative position. Another feature shared by both is their iconoclastic, undiplomatic characterization of their academic superiors. In Duehring's case, his charge that Helmholtz was not a serious scientist is one that was totally inappropriate even when he made it, and seems even more ridiculous in terms of Helmholtz's present scientific reputation. During the year leading up to his dismissal (when he was the target of "anti-racist" groups who despised his view on group racial differences in intelligence, as well as an emphasis on the genetic basis of IQ), Brand made a number of undiplomatic statements in his emailed newsletter. One practice (which he later dropped) was to call the principal of his university Dame Stewart rather than Sir Stewart []. Again, characterizing radical feminists as "feminazis" was less than diplomatic. Finally, characterizing himself as a "scientific racist" during a TV interview designed to promote his book on intelligence that had just been published raised a storm of reaction. It may have been logically defensible (Brand meant to connote someone who studies group race differences scientifically in humans, just like within-species differences are studied scientifically in animals), but it was rhetorically inadvisable during an interview with the media. The publisher (John Wiley and Sons) improperly withdrew the book from sale following this.
The final similarity is the nature of the academic penalty imposed. In both cases the dismissal was only from a specific university, but in practical terms it really meant expulsion from the academic community. When Bertrand Russell was dismissed by the City University of New York for moral turpitude, his academic eminence was easily sufficient to ensure that this did not mean expulsion from the academic community, and he could easily take up a position in some other university. No such practical option was available to either Duehring or Brand. It is in this sense that the penalty incurred by both can be considered to be the academic analogue of capital punishment.
3. Some fundamental dissimilarities between the Brand and Duehring cases
The first important dissimilarity is that the university Administration in the Brand case had a broad range of academic penalties available. Mr. Brand was a paid employee of the university, with various privileges that go along with a tenured teaching position. At the lowest end of the punishment scale might have been an official letter of reprimand, but the university could also have chosen more severe options that included financial penalties or the withdrawal of some privileges. Instead, the university, or rather the principal, chose the ultimate academic penalty (dismissal), which, moreover, took effect immediately.
In contrast, Duehring was not a paid employee of his university, his only association with it being the right to teach students at the university. This meant that the university, or rather the faculty of philosophy [], had only a two-point punishment scale available to it. And, having employed the reprimand option following an earlier transgression by Duehring (who failed to respond appropriately to this formally-issued, and quite specific reprimand; in contrast, Brand received no such formal warning prior to his ultimate dismissal), the university was then faced with only two choices: no further punishment (which implied implicit acceptance of Duehring's conduct) or dismissal.
The second difference relates to the degree to which the punished behavior can be considered to be academically inappropriate conduct (act) rather than the expression of an opinion. In Duehring's case, his opinion was expressed in a personal tone. Moreover, he was addressing himself to an audience of journalists and other non-academics who would not be able to evaluate the validity of such claims as whether Helmholtz was really a scientific dunce.
Accordingly, although Duehring's behavior was certainly not criminal, it can be validly considered to be academically improper, which appears to be exactly the terms in which he was formally warned by the university prior to his actual dismissal.
Brand, in contrast, made assertions about paedophilia that were impersonal in tone, in the sense that they cast no aspersions on individuals. Moreover the content of Brand's assertions was intelligible to, and could be evaluated by, the lay public. So in Brand’s case, no clear academic impropriety in conduct was established, especially as the exact statement that supposedly constituted his allegedly "disgraceful conduct" was never specified.
The third way in which the two cases appear to be markedly different is that there was a greater degree of academic control in the decision to "remit" Duehring. (For my interpretation of the Duehring's remission I rely on Prof. Drechsler's detailed account of the Duehring remission in this column). Superficially, the two cases do not seem to differ. In both cases, an academic committee met to consider the issues, and a high-level academic administrator announced the penalty to be imposed.
However, the predominant influences operating in the Duehring's case appear to be academic. Following a specific warning which indicated the way in which he should conduct himself in the future, Duehring was essentially "remitted" for conduct unbecoming an academic, rather than on the content of his opinions as evaluated by society at large.
In contrast, although Brand's dismissal announcement came from an academic, I suggest that even a cursory reading of the August 8, 1997 press release (reproduced in Appendix C) indicates that the criteria employed for the dismissal decision were non- or even anti-academic. The criteria appeared to involve concepts like offensiveness (to society) and comfort. These concepts are touted by pressure groups that label themselves as "anti-racist" but that, in fact, have interests that are contrary to the epistemic, scholarly interest that should be predominant in any academic institution. The release also contains the conceptually primitive notion that one can be in favor of academic "freedom" but not "licence". The label is primitive, because licence, in the end, is determined by how offensive a statement is, and this concept has no place in an institution of higher education.
In brief, Duehring exercised a lack of control over his conduct when he personalized his disputes with senior academics, and took the dispute to the court of public opinion, a court that was not qualified to judge issues like whether Helmholtz was a competent scientist. Brand, at worst, offended the sensibilities of certain interest groups in society by asserting uncomfortable opinions concerning whether paedophilia of all varieties inevitably resulted in psychological harm, and it appears that it was pressure from these interest groups, rather than the academic facts of the case, that led the principal both to decide to immediately dismiss Brand and to issue a press release that justified the dismissal on non-academic (or even anti-academic) grounds.
The fourth and perhaps most important difference between the two cases is in the reactions of the academic community. In Duehring's case, there was a lot of protest in the academic and intellectual community, even though whether the University of Berlin acted improperly was not at all clear (Drechsler, in this volume, argues that Duehring's demotion by his department of philosophy was not only "legal", but also academically "legitimate"), and the only possible punishment, if found guilty, was dismissal. In Brand's case, the propriety of the charge was academically doubtful, and, even if Brand was guilty, there was a whole range of punishments that were less extreme than immediate dismissal, that were available to the principal. Accordingly, Brand's dismissal was, as the joint SAFS/NAS press release (see Appendix B) indicates, very chilling for all academics who are considering expressing an opinion which may be uncomfortable for some group of people. Yet, at least at the time of the writing of this paper, there has been silence on the part of the British and European academic community and organizations.[] Indeed, soon after the press release, the Scottish branch of the Association of University teachers averred that those with "unpopular opinions" have to be careful of "crossing the line into conduct of a disgraceful nature." (Holden, 1997, p. 1045).
In my experience, British academics have been rather complacent about the problems of PC, considering that such excesses are specific to North American institutions of higher education. What the Brand case suggests, however, is that PC is present across the Atlantic in a virulent form. That, at any rate, was the impression given by the science reporter Constance Holden's report that came out two weeks after the principal's August 8 press release (Holden, 1997). She quotes a Northwestern University psychologist Michael Bailey, saying that "I can't imagine a U.S. university acting as Edinburgh did".
Professor Bailey appears to be right as regards the U.S.--there have been one or two outrageous cases in colleges in the USA, but nothing like this at an eminent university. Even Canadian university administrators have only suspended rather than dismissed academics for what are clearly statements of opinion rather than unacademic acts. So, for example, when in 1993 mathematics professor Matin Yaqzan at the University of New Brunswick wrote an opinion piece on date rape in a student paper in which he expressed a conservative Muslim position, the university's president and the vice-president academic (‘sic’) decided to act immediately, even though the opinion was stated outside the classroom, and turned out to be not out of line with Canada's already quite stringent "hate" (speech) laws, but even with the university's own more restrictive speech code. Still, President Robin Armstrong and Vice-President Tom Traves did not go as far as firing this long-tenured member of their teaching staff, they only suspended him in the middle of a teaching term. This was certainly an unwarranted abuse of the academic freedom not only of professor Yaqzan, but of the students in his classes. Nevertheless, the punishment was not as severe as that visited upon Brand by his university's principal.[]
The fifth and rather ironic difference between the two cases, I suggest, is that despite the fact that the current Western world is more democratic and free than the world of the German Kaiser and his Iron Chancellor, the social pressures against the academic's freedom to state opinions are actually greater now, on both sides of the Atlantic. Along with the weakening of the concepts of academic freedom and autonomy, there has been a severe deterioration in the academy's epistemological, scholarly self esteem, in the value that it places on the importance of defending the right and responsibility of all its members to state controversial, uncomfortable Opinions.
Although all controversial cases like that of Christopher Brand are susceptible to different interpretations, I suggest that the facts of that case constitute a dramatic illustration of the force that PC exerts on the contemporary academy. The culture-of-comfort criterion rather than disciplinary relevance or academic propriety seems to have been the sole consideration that governed Principal Sutherland's decision to immediately apply the ultimate academic sanction. This penalty was applied because Mr. Brand was said to have stated an opinion (unspecified) which was "offensive" to some people. The fact that Principal Sutherland would actually characterize an opinion as "disgraceful conduct" in his university's only public statement on the matter is a testament to how conceptually weak his understanding of the concept of academic freedom is.
That weakness, moreover, appears to have been the result the pressures exerted by the "anti racist" groups that had demanded Brand's dismissal because they objected to his views not only with regard to paedophilia but also in connection with group race differences in intelligence. The Principal's abuse of academic freedom in his press release also constitutes, as my title suggests, a significant undermining of academic autonomy in the epistemic, scholarly sense.
Organizations like the British Council for Academic Freedom have recently spoken out in favor of financial autonomy for institutions of higher education, which has been eroded by governmental moves to micromanage universities by using financial pressures to ensure that university work becomes more "relevant" and "cost effective". The defence of this sort of financial academic autonomy against governmental interference is important for higher education. How much more important, however, is the defence of ‘epistemic’ academic autonomy, according to which the issues to be discussed and how they should be discussed are determined by the academic community. Controversial issues in that discussion should be resolved in terms of the relevant disciplinary expertise of the participating discussants. And in that discussion, the feelings (no matter how strong) of "anti-racist" and other anti-academic, political pressure groups should play no role, let alone any determinative roles as apparently occurred in Principal Sutherland's infamous and conceptually primitive press release.
Nor should it be thought that because an actual dismissal is a rare event, those with an interest in the viability of genuine institutions of higher education can afford to be complacent. As I have indicated elsewhere (Furedy, 1997a), every time an academic self-censors himself (e.g., does not raise an issue for fear of offending someone) a concession has been made to PC and the culture of comfort. Even if an issue is raised, if the way in which it is discussed is influenced by fear of offense rather than solely by the logical requirements of the discipline, the PC influence has been manifest.
It is this sort of "freezing fear" which appears present in the hearts of most academics (including tenured ones, for in most cases the punishment is not loss of job but rather loss of reputation), and explains why most are unwilling to publically discuss, let alone defend, academic freedom. It also makes apt the ironic remark that, in liberal democracies, campuses have become "islands of repression in a sea of freedom", so that faculty are more "comfortable" discussing controversial topics like group race and sex differences in intelligence on the golf course off campus than in the classroom.
Finally, however, returning to the spectacular Brand case, the most striking aspect to me is the almost universal silence of the academic community when the academic freedom of one of their number is abused in this conceptually crude way. Where has the sense of self respect gone in a profession that, on the face of it, is defined by its epistemological mission: the right and responsibility to search for truth?
Both my attendance at the conference, and the writing of this chapter was supported by a grant from the Donner Canadian Foundation to support research on Canadian academic issues, a field that is considerably different from my academic speciality, experimental psychophysiology. As is the case with most of my papers on higher education, the conceptual and editorial help of Christine Furedy has been significant, and especially so in this case because, during the writeup, I was plagued with recurring flu symptoms. I am also indebted to comments made on earlier drafts of this chapter by Sakire Pogun, J. Philippe Rushton, and Bradford Wilson. __________________________________
Furedy, J.J. (1997a). Academic Freedom versus the Velvet Totalitarian culture of comfort on current Canadian campuses: Some fundamental terms and distinctions. Interchange, Vol.28/4, 331-350.
Furedy, J.J. (1997b). The decline of the ‘Eppur si muove’ Spirit in North American Science: Professional Organizations and PC Pressures. Mankind Quarterly, Vol.37, no.4, 55-66.
Furedy, J.J. (1997c). Essay. Political Correctness and the Culture of Comfort. An Impediment to Observation, Objectivity, and the Conflict of Ideas. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, October-December, Vol.32, No. 4, 299-304.
Holden, C. (1997, August 22). Controversial Academic Gets the Axe. Science, 27, 1045.
Russell, Conrad (Ed.). (1993). Academic Freedom. London & New York: Routledge.
[] By an enquiry to the principal's office in August, 1997, I confirmed that, according to the Communication office, the "Tribunal report is not to be published" and "the statement dated August 8 is the substantive document from the University".
[] Presumably, because the principal never specified exactly which of Brand's comments constituted the "disgraceful conduct" that justified dismissal.
[] The account of some of the facts of the Brand case given in the preceding few paragraphs relies heavily on Bradford Wilson's internet posting. (http://www.nas.org/comments/freedom/brand.htm). Appendices A and B contain, respectively, an early (September 17, 1997) reaction from the board of directors of the Canadian Society for Academic Freedom (SAFS) to the principal's August 8 press release reporting the dismissal of Mr. Brand, and a joint SAFS-NAS press release (January 26, 1998) that closely preceded an Appeal hearing set for February 10-11, 1998.
[] In the German university structure of the time, each faculty of the university made such dismissal decisions, and reported not to the university in question but to the Minister of Culture. There are obviously many other structural and administrative differences when one makes comparisons across nations and times, but roughly speaking one can consider Edinburgh University's principal (and his administration) and the University of Berlin's faculty of philosophy as being directly responsible, respectively, for the decision to dismiss Brand and Duehring. As those dismissal decisions can be deemed to be made on behalf of the academic community or university, it is in this sense that the dismissals constitute ‘academic’ decisions made by two institutions of higher education, which have in common considerable eminence, but differ widely in time, place, and administrative structure.
[] Being not completely `au fait' with Scottish christian names, for several months I had the impression that the university's principal was a woman.
[] Particularly noteworthy has been the silence of the British Council on Academic Autonomy, whose president, Earl Conrad Russell has written clearly and forcefully on academic freedom in a book (Russell, 1993) where he indicates that part of the motivation for writing it was the dismissal of his father for "offensive" opinions first by Cambridge and then by the City University of New York.
[] Another interesting comparison across time and place is with the Orr case in the fifties in Australia. Professor Orr held the chair of philosophy at the University Tasmania, and was fired by that university for sleeping with an undergraduate student. Despite the fact that this behavior involved conduct rather than opinion, a very prominent professor of philosophy at the University of Sydney, John Anderson (a graduate of the University of Glasgow, who would not, it is safe to say, have approved either of Edinburgh University's dismissal action, or of the implicit support for this action provided by the Scottish branch of the Association of University teachers), was able to mobilize academics to the cause of Orr's academic freedom to such an extent that the Tasmanian department was blacklisted for over a decade: no philosopher applied for any position there during this period. The contrast between the reactions of academics to the Brand and Orr cases is quite stark, and suggests a considerable difference in epistemic self-respect for the profession.
A file: brandboard September 17, 1997 PRESS RELEASE Statement from the Board of Directors of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) regarding the press release of Edinburgh University Principal Sir Stewart Sutherland announcing and attempting to justify his decision to dismiss a member of his university's teaching staff It is the considered view of SAFS Board of Directors that the press release of August 8, 1997, issued by the Principal of Edinburgh University and entitled CHRIS BRAND DISMISSED FOLLOWING DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL, represents an assault of international significance on academic freedom. This is particularly regrettable in view of the fact that it comes from a fine university.
There are at least three serious problem areas in the Principal's press release as follows:
1. ‘Conceptual’. The Principal's concept of academic freedom is far more restricted than that which is acceptable in a free society, let alone an internationally respected institution of higher education.
The press release asserts that Edinburgh university protects academic freedom, but not "licence", and that "due care to the sensitivity of the issue" as well as "acute awareness of the manner in which material is expressed" must be taken by the academic in exercising his academic freedom. Further requirements given for the exercise of academic freedom include the condition that opinions espoused by members of the academic community "should be set in a ‘suitable framework’ with due care to the sensitivity of the issue" (our emphases), and the condition that those opinions should not be "disgraceful". These assertions place so many restrictions upon the usual exercise of academic freedom as to render it meaningless at Edinburgh university.
2. ‘Procedural’. Even if one accepted the severely limited concept of academic freedom proposed in the Principal's press release, there were serious procedural flaws in the manner in which the Principal's decision to dismiss Mr. Brand was reached. Not only was the Tribunal conducted in secrecy which may have been justifiable in the context, but the actual Tribunal report will not be released. According to the University's Communications Office, the "Tribunal Report is not to be published" and "the statement dated 8 August is the substantive document from the University. Yet the press release does not give a single direct quotation from Mr. Brand's writings to support the charge that his opinions are "disgraceful", or that they were expressed without adequate "sensitivity".
3. ‘Substantive’. Even if the evidence for Mr. Brand's guilt were strong and clearly laid out, the imposition of the ultimate penalty (dismissal) is, given the nature of the charges, unjust. Dismissal in the present circumstances with the Tribunal having been conducted in secrecy and the University refusing to release even the Tribunals' report, coupled with the press release's failure to provide even one example of Mr. Brand's purportedly improper conduct, indicates a flagrant abuse of power on the part of the University's administration.
Until the Principal's August 8 press release, the Board of SAFS had not commented on the dispute between Edinburgh University and Mr. Brand. It was the Board's hope that the Tribunal's procedures and the University's actions would be based on a fair and expert evaluation of Mr. Brand's academic conduct in teaching, research, and administration rather than feelings about the degree to which his opinions have been offensive within and outside the university community. The Board had some confidence in this hope because, in previous actions with regard to Mr. Brand, Edinburgh University showed considerably more respect for the principles of academic freedom than that shown recently by several North American universities. However, the Principal's August 8 press release clearly indicates that his policy (and hence that of his University) is to follow the "culture-of-comfort" path in focusing on feelings about opinions, rather than on academic conduct. Moreover, the Principal's evaluation of Mr. Brand's opinions (an evaluation that represents the University's only public document) appears to have been totally subjective and completely unscholarly.
Finally, the Board of SAFS emphasises that it is in no way supporting or opposing the validity of Mr. Brand's views, or his manner of expressing them. It does assert, however, that the Principal's action in applying the ultimate academic sanction on the basis of subjective evidence, inadequately documented, is reprehensible.
Note to SAFS email members and joint SAFS-NAS press release
Date: Tue, 27 Jan 1998 13:15:39 -0500 From: Society for Academic Freedom Dear SAFS email member,
I attach a press release in which SAFS, joined by NAS, condemns Edinburgh University for its abuse of academic freedom, and urges its administration to correct its ill-founded administrative error. Please note that the release in no way supports Brand's opinions, nor even his mode of expressing these opinions. Nevertheless, the university's action in administering the ultimate academic penalty in such a case requires condemnation even when the case has occurred on the other side of the Atlantic, and especially because, so far, European academic organizations have remained silent.
All the best, John
John J. Furedy, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto and President, SAFS
SOCIETY FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND SCHOLARSHIP
Board of Advisors
Steve Balch, U.S.A.
Gordon Chong, Canada
Board of Directors
John Furedy, Ph.D., President
Doreen Kimura, PhD., F.R.S.C., Past President
Alan D. Gold, Canada
Ruth Gruhn, Ph.D.
J.L. Granatstein, Canada
Paul Marantz, Ph.D.
John Meisel, Canada
Dr. Phil. Eva Ryten, U.K.
Harvey Shulman, M.A.
Peter Suedfeld, Ph.D., F.R.S.C.
Philip Sullivan, Ph.D.
PRESS RELEASE January 26, 1998
SAFS, JOINED BY NAS, CONDEMNS VIOLATION OF SCHOLAR'S FREEDOM
In Scotland, on 10 and 11 February 1998, a Queen's Counsel will hear for Edinburgh University (E.U.) an Appeal against that body's peremptory dismissal of psychology lecturer (tenured) Chris Brand. The Society for Academic Freedom in Canada and the National Association of Scholars in the United States are organizations that defend academic freedom and standards of scholarship among all members (faculty as well as students) of the academic community. It is our considered opinion that the conduct of Edinburgh University's senior administration transgresses the fundamental principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech which govern institutions of higher learning in the civilized world. We urge the Queen's Counsel to reverse Brand's dismissal and thereby vindicate the freedom that is the source of the university's ability to transmit and advance knowledge useful to individuals and their societies.
By the secret process of an internal E.U. Tribunal lasting three days, Mr. Brand, tenured for 26 years, was found to have behaved "disgracefully." In his e-mailed newsletter of 16 October 1996, concerning US Nobel Prize winner Carleton Gajdusek, Brand had expressed his doubts as to the invariable harmfulness of paedophilia to adolescents of above-average intelligence and education; and, when firing Brand on 8 August 1997 for this "gross misconduct," Sir Stewart Sutherland, the E.U. Principal, particularly criticised Brand for "courting publicity." (The offending message is now posted on the internet at http://www.crispian.demon.co.uk>.)
Among the disturbing features of E.U.'s action are the following:
(1) to fire a professor without warning for offering an evaluation of how evidence stands on a controversial topic must seriously inhibit academic discussion;
(2) to censure Brand with the ultimate academic penalty for "courting publicity" is extraordinary. It was not Brand who had brought his e-mail to the attention of Scottish tabloid journalists. Such punitive reaction must put many academics in fear of arbitrary dismissal once targeted by a tabloid;
(3) that Principal Sutherland had in April 1996 publicly condemned Brand's alleged views on IQ and race as "false and personally obnoxious" creates an appearance of an E.U. official passing final sentence on Brand without the necessary detachment and objectivity required for fair judgment.
It bears emphasis that our condemnation of E.U.'s conduct constitutes neither support for Brand's opinions nor approval of the manner in which he has chosen to express them. Nonetheless, it is particularly salient that E.U. has never publicly specified a single passage of Brand's writing which they condemn; nor does E.U. say what it thinks wrong or disgraceful in Brand's statement about paedophilia.
We trust that, even without being ordered by the appropriate appellate authority, the University of Edinburgh, mindful of its reputation as a distinguished academic institution, will act immediately to correct its ill- founded administrative error, and reinstate Brand forthwith.=20 Dismissal of a tenured member of an academic staff merely for stating his opinion as a psychologist is an act unworthy of Edinburgh or of any British university.
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Professor John J. Furedy, Ph.D., President Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship Phone: (416) 978-3020 Fax: (416) 978-4811 Email: mailto:email@example.com Bradford Wilson, Acting President and Executive Director, National Association of Scholars Phone: (609) 683-7878 Fax: (609) 683-0316 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to SAFS email members, transmitting principal's August, 1998 dismissal of Chris Brand from Edinburgh university.
Date: August 13, 1998 From: Society for Academic Freedom Dear SAFS email member,
This is an imperfectly decoded email version which, however, contains essential points. I have since received faxed copy.
Please note that the main grounds of dismissal were his comments on paedophilia, and that the Principal asserts the doctrine that academic freedom, but not "licence" is supportable, and that "due care to the sensitivity of the issue" as well as "acute awareness of the manner in which material is expressed" must be taken by "the academic in exercising his academic freedom".
In my immediate view, this implies such a weak definition of academic freedom that the concept is rendered almost meaningless.
Note also that no specific ‘quotes’ are given of the way in which Brand was supposed to have gone from "freedom" to "licence", so this distinction is a completely subjective one, or an application of the culture of comfort in the tradition of North American PC.
John J. Furedy, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto and President, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (email: email@example.com)
------------------------------------------------------- immediate release
CHRIS BRAND DISMISSED FOLLOWING DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL
Mr Chris Brand has today been notified that, following the completion of the proceedings of the University's duly-constituted Disciplinary Tribunal and its unanimous conclusion that he has been guilty of gross misconduct in relation to the principal charge laid against him, the Principal of the University has authorised termination of his employment as a Lecturer at the University, to take immediate effect.
Mr Brand was suspended from his teaching and administrative duties in November of last year, following complaints about his conduct. An initial report by one of the University's Vice-Principals led to the decision to establish the three-person Tribunal, appointed by the University Court.
The Tribunal has had several meetings since then, at which Mr Brand and his adviser were present and presented statements, and to which a range of witnesses were called and questioned both by the officer representing the University and Mr Brand/his adviser, as well as by members of the Tribunal. The Tribunal recently submitted its final report to both the Principal of the University and to Mr Brand himself.
Mr Brand now has some 28 days in which to lodge an appeal against dismissal, if he wishes to do so.
The Principal of the University, Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland, has now made known his decision, in the following terms:
"Given the degree of publicity previously associated with this matter, I think it necessary to take the exceptional action of summarising, via this public statement, why the proceedings instituted by the University against Mr Brand have led to this decision."
"This outcome arises from an independently-reached judgement on the principal charge made against him: that aspects of Mr Brand's conduct - and particularly his public comments on paedophilia - have been `of a disgraceful nature, incompatible with the duties of (his) office or employment'."
"I advisedly use the word `conduct', because this is, in my view, in no sense a conclusion which inhibits the entirely proper exercise of academic freedom, under which academic staff must be able to undertake exacting research, carefully assess the evidence and publish and speak about their conclusions. `However', in the words of the Tribunal report, `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 an 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'"
"Neither I nor my colleagues at this University have sought in any way to censor Mr Brand's researched conclusions on ethnic background and intelligence, for example - indeed, we went out of our way to defend his right to express them in a reasoned manner, however unpopular it was for the University to make that case - but it was made clear to him, well before he publicised views on paedophilia, that he also had responsibilities to act with care, whether in a departmental, teaching or wider situation; advice which he apparently chose to ignore".
"The Report continues, 'What makes Mr Brand's case extraordinary, and his statement on paedophilia different from the general case, is the way he has courted further controversy and showed a desire to pursue his own goals at the expense of others.... it appears his remarks were clearly chosen to inflame an already difficult situation, through a series of deliberate actions...” Quite apart from the issue of how this was perceived by the public at large and by students, `The effect was to undermine completely any of the remaining trust and confidence which members of the Department of Psychology might have had in Mr Brand as a colleague'".
"The Report of the Disciplinary Tribunal is a long and thoroughly-argued document’. Three charges were brought against Mr Brand: the principal one referred to above; a second one alleging his conduct within his Department (of Psychology) had fallen short of due performance of his duties; and a third, alleging that references to the University/ Department of Psychology in his Internet Newsletter involved publication of material damaging to the reputation of the University or its Departments. Charge 1 was unanimously found proven; Charge 2 was found proven by a majority judgement; as regards Charge 3, the majority judgement was that a disciplinary offence had clearly been committed, but that the evidence did not support the University's charge. The majority view of the Tribunal was that I should consider dismissal, but all took the view that were I, as Principal, not to proceed on these lines, it would not be appropriate for Mr Brand to return to the Department of Psychology'".
"Having given careful consideration to the findings, recommendations and background arguments within the Report, I have come to the conclusion that termination of employment is the most appropriate decision. I see no case for continuing to employ such a member of staff at this University, effectively at the expense of others carrying out their duties and at a continuing cost to what is, ultimately, the public purse".
‘It is the first case to be heard at the University under internal regulations designed to meet the requirements of the relevant 1988 Parliamentary legislation and subsequent Commissioner's Ordinance, specifically designed both to protect academic freedom and require properly rigorous procedures within any university disciplinary code.
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