'The Independent', 18 viii '97, p. 15


-- Paedophilia is the new demon, but the betrayal of academic freedom is a greater disgrace, writes Glen Newey [a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sussex]. --

Paedophilia has replaced witchcraft and communism in popular demonology. Last week Edinburgh University's principal, Sir Stewart Sutherland, sacked a university psychology lecturer, Chris Brand, after a disciplinary tribunal judged that an e-mail article by Brand on paedophilia was "disgraceful."

The university says it " went out of its way" to defend Brand last year, when the National Union of Students demanded his dismissal for having written a book, 'The 'g' Factor', a study of race and intelligence, which was also withdrawn by the publishers, Wiley in the US. Now it transpires that the underlying principle was: two strikes and you're out. Brand's offence was to defend, via an e-mail message, the Nobel laureate Daniel Gajdusek, who claimed -- pause for sharp intake of breath -- that sexual activity by adolescent Polynesians might not be harmful in all cases.

It's hard not to conclude that Edinburgh found Brand an embarrassment and wanted to be rid of him. The official judgment -- or rather the press release put out in its stead, as the judgment itself remains secret -- talks about "undermining trust", which seems to mean that Edinburgh decided to back Brand over 'The 'g' Factor' as long as he kept quiet thereafter.

According to the press release, the tribunal's procedures conformed to 1988 legislation designed to "protect academic freedom" and its report "is a long and thoroughly argued document" -- claims which would be more persuasive if the report had been made public. It adds that Brand's dismissal "in no sense...inhibits the entirely proper exercise of academic freedom."

Arguments about academic standards might carry more weight if this were not the institution which accepted an endowment from Arthur Koestler to establish a professorial chair in "parapsychology." But, of course, there's lolly about and defending paedophiles, one suspects, is bad publicity, is fewer applicants, is less cash.


This is not to say that Brand is someone you'd want to marry your daughter. {Ouch!} His Web site dispenses some would-be 'epatant' stuff about clerics {Hoi! I never said "clerics." - Ed. } pressing florins into choirboys' sticky little palms and lampoons the principal as "Dame" Stewart Sutherland. All very puerile, no doubt, and not a little galling for the top biscuit. But snook-cocking is not an indictable offence.

The media's paedophilia obsession -- a characteristic mix of prurience and moralism -- must rank among the great hypocrisies of our time. Recently a schoolteacher was driven to suicide after being charged with an offence (possessing child pornography) which, on any plausible view, ranks in the roll call of human villainy some way below wife battering, drunken driving or supplying torture equipment to foreign dictators.

The proposition which Brand endorsed was that paedophilia had been proven not always to be harmful to 14-year-olds. That is a controversial claim, which may well be false: Brand would have been on safer ground claiming that paedophilia had not been proven always to be harmful to them. Still, there clearly must be grounds for arguing that sex between 14-year-olds is not the same as an adult having sex with a three-year-old.

The arguments surrounding the debate on whether the age of consent for homosexual males should be lowered to 16 have shown that there must inevitably be something arbitrary about the thresholds which the law has to impose. In such matters, notoriously, the law has to make judgment about not just an individual's development, but also the rate of development between individuals. The result leaves the law open to accusations of failing to protect victims of adult sexual predation, on the one side, and of "heterosexist" double standards on the other.

Perhaps these issues are as simple as simple-minded tabloid headlines claim -- though I doubt it. Even if they are, we still need to know why the opposite view should be stifled, and why anyone should lose their livelihood for expressing it. The real disgrace is not Brand's remarks, but Edinburgh's betrayal of academic freedom. As the great Noam Chomsky has pointed out, nobody wants to ban things they don't dislike. Whether someone favours censorship depends on whether they favour banning things of which they disapprove.

(‘Science 277’, 5329, 22 viii 1997, Constance Holden)

Controversial Academic Gets the Axe

Edinburgh University has fired psychologist Christopher Brand for "gross misconduct" on the grounds that his defense of Nobelist Carlton Gajdusek, convicted last year of pedophilia, appeared to condone pedophilia. Brand, a 27-year-tenured professor, claims the university was looking for an excuse to toss him overboard because of his unpopular views on race and IQ.

The clamorous professor became a source of discomfort to the university last year with public comments that racial differences in IQ are partly genetic (Science, 3 May 1996, p. 644). Then, in October he wrote in a personal online newsletter that pedophilia is not always harmful to young males. That statement prompted the university to suspend him.

On 8 August a three-person tribunal recommended Brand be dismissed for his "disgraceful" remarks. Academic freedom, it said, "does not give license" to ignore "the sensitivity of the issue" or "the implications of controversial statements." Brand is appealing the decision. "My fault merely has been to have spoken the truth about intelligence, race differences, sex differences, and pedophilia," he says.

Few U.K. colleagues are rushing to Brand's defense. The Scottish branch of the Association of University Teachers issued a statement that those with "unpopular opinions" have to be careful of "crossing the line into conduct of a disgraceful nature." But in the United States and Canada, scholars are troubled by the decision. "Outrageous," says psychologist John Furedy of the University of Toronto, head of Canada's Society for Academic

Freedom and Scholarship. Northwestern University psychologist and sex researcher Michael Bailey says "I can't imagine" a U.S. university acting as Edinburgh did.

 Canada's Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship

From: John J. Furedy, Ph.D.

Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto and President, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship

Department of Psychology
100 St. George Street, 4th Floor
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 1A1
August 20

To: Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland, Principal of University of Edinburgh

Re: Your August 8 Press Release on Your Decision to Dismiss Mr. Chris Brand

In my view, both as president of SAFS and as a member of the international academic community, your press release (CHRIS BRAND DISMISSED FOLLOWING DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL) represents a serious assault on academic freedom, and one which is particularly regrettable in view of the fact that it comes from a fine university.

In the press release you assert 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" (my 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.

Moreover, even if one accepted the seriously limited concept of academic freedom that your press release espouses, justice does not appear to have been done in your decision to fire Mr. Brand. The Tribunal was conducted in secrecy; the actual Tribunal report will not be released (according to your Communications Office, the "Tribunal Report is not to be published" and "the statement dated 8 August is the substantive document from the University"); yet, you do 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". The imposition of the ultimate penalty (dismissal) under these circumstances smacks of an abuse of power that would be inappropriate for any institution, let alone an academic one.

In an article published in the SAFS Newsletter, August, 1997, #17, 9-10, I reported on the Brand case before the findings of the Tribunal were known and your press release had been issued (text of article attached as brandn17 file). In my concluding paragraph I wrote that I hoped that the "tribunal's procedures have been based on a fair and expert evaluation of Mr. Brand's academic conduct in teaching, research, and administration rather than *feelings* (my emphasis) about the degree to which his opinions have been offensive within and outside the university community". Contrary to this hope, your press release clearly indicates that your policy (and hence that of your university) is to follow the "culture-of-comfort" path in focusing on feelings about opinions, rather than on academic conduct. Moreover, your evaluation of Mr. Brand's opinions appears to have been totally subjective and completely unscholarly.

In this memorandum I am in no way supporting or opposing the validity of Mr. Brand's views, or his manner of expressing them. The SAFS's Board of Directors will be issuing a press release in early September. While that press release may not match the negative tone of this memorandum, I expect that it will be consistent with my main message: that your action in applying the ultimate academic sanction on the basis of subjective (comfort-based) evidence, inadequately documented, is reprehensible in the eyes of anyone to whom the concepts of academic freedom, fairness, and due process are meaningful.

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