Campus storm over 'racist' don

Anushka Asthana and Jessica Salter
Sunday March 5, 2006
The Observer
Students and lecturers are calling for a Leeds University don to be sacked after he said he supported a theory that black people were inferior to whites.
In a row that has reignited the debate on the limits of freedom of speech, Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian and Slavonic studies, sparked anger after stating, in an interview with the university's student newspaper, that he was an 'unrepentant Powellite' who thought that the BNP was 'a bit too socialist' for his liking.
Ellis said he supported right-wing ideas such as the Bell Curve theory, which held that white people were more intelligent than black people. '[It] has demonstrated to me beyond any reasonable doubt there is a persistent gap in average black and white average intelligence.' Repatriation would get his support, he added, if it was done 'humanely'.
Now students are preparing to picket his lectures, protest on campus and bombard the vice-chancellor with emails calling for Ellis to be removed from his post.
Hanif Leylabi, a student at Leeds and a member of Unite Against Fascism, said: 'Knowing that he's a lecturer and that he holds views that black people are inferior and that women can't achieve the same as men, it's disgusting and certainly not conducive to an academic environment.'
But while the university called his views 'abhorrent to the overwhelming majority our staff and students', it said he had a right to express them. A spokeswoman said that there was no evidence his extreme theories had affected his teaching. 'The question of discrimination does not arise in student assessment. All work counting towards a degree in Russian and Slavonic studies is double-marked. Ellis has a right to his personal opinions, but he does not have the right to treat students or colleagues in a prejudicial or discriminatory manner. We have no evidence that this has happened, but we will look carefully at any such evidence if it is presented to us.'
Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West, whose constituency contains 20,000 students, said the university had a duty to check whether his employment was sustainable, given the impact his words would have on racial relations. Ellis's 'extraordinary views', he said, were 'narrow-minded, intellectually bankrupt and morally reprehensible nonsense'.
The angry reaction has not deterred Ellis, who wrote a follow-up article in the Leeds Student,in which he argued: 'Multiculturalism is doomed to failure - and is failing - because it is based on the lie that all people, races and cultures are equal; that no one race or culture is better (superior) than any other.' Such lies were propagated by the 'Guardian-reading classes', he said. He also made insulting remarks about Africans, citing research that claimed the average IQ on that continent was 70. He said: 'In the West, an individual with an IQ of 70 would be regarded as being very close [to], or within the range of, mental retardation.'
Mulholland dismissed his assertions: 'Not to acknowledge that much of the problems experienced by African nations are down to exploitation by Western nations over the years and centuries is simply to ignore the reality of history.'
Psychologists have said that IQ has been discredited as a reliable measure of intelligence. Robert McHenry, chairman of the psychology consultancy OPP, said: 'It was developed by white researchers and tested on white populations, so is not suitable for measuring other cultures.' He said the Bell Curve theory was out of date and showed lower achievements among the black population because they were economically worse off.
'There is no scientific data that supports the idea that the difference between blacks and whites is genetic.'
Kat Fletcher, president of the National Union of Students, said that she supported academic freedom, but Ellis's beliefs were 'academic nonsense'. She called for the university to launch an investigation into his teaching.